My Life As An Episode Of House

Don’t ever assume you know what’s going on.

Although this blog is primarily about gluten-free living, gluten is only one of my dietary concerns. I have a large, and constantly-changing list of allergies.

Wheat, rye, and barley were all on the first allergy test results, so I did not bother getting tested for celiac disease, as the net result was no different from a dietary perspective – I had to adopt a gluten-free diet.

My wheat allergy was not what I was at the allergist to discover. I had been having problems with seafood that became too obvious to ignore after a visit to Gladstone’s seafood restaurant in Malibu one afternoon following a trip to the Getty Villa (before it closed for remodeling and before the Getty Center construction, which should date this part of the story a bit). I had a shrimp and crab sandwich, and partway through the meal, my throat began to swell up. Gladstone’s has lines painted on the floor leading to the bathroom, which should be somewhat suspicious, but for which I am ever grateful.

My uvula swelled along with my throat and It took me a couple days to recover, but still I didn’t seek medical counsel. That would wait for an unfortunate salmon incident that occurred the first time eating with future in-laws, several years later.

The Gladstone’s culprit turned out to be crab, not the shrimp. But adding salmon, cod, and trout to the list of potentially life-threatening food allergies essentially swore me off all seafood.

The initial test turned up some other foods that I used to eat all the time, as well as foods I have always hated. The big revelation was wheat. I remember walking through the supermarket and reading the ingredients of all the pre-packaged foods I used to buy and seeing all the wheat-derived ingredients.

But the wheat allergy diagnosis was a godsend, as I didn’t realize how horrible I had been feeling for years (decades) because of it. It is one of the most difficult ingredients to avoid (as I have no need to tell you) so it has been the focus of my “special” dietary needs.

Fortunately, avoiding gluten has become considerably easier over the last 10+ years.

Continue reading

Fresh And Easy

One of the first L.A. Fresh & Easy Markets is in my neighborhood. There’s also an old Trader Joe’s as well. Both stores are similar – not quite full supermarkets, but bigger and more well-stocked than a convenience store. They both carry mostly store-brand products, manufactured mostly to be somewhat upscale gourmet yet affordable.

Trader Joe’s used to publish a Gluten Free guide to products in their store. Unfortunately, they rarely updated it and eventually discontinued it. I suspect their sourcing methods made it impossible to guarantee the food’s gluten-free status.

There isn’t a whole lot I can eat from Fresh & Easy, other than relatively unprocessed foods like produce, cheese, meats, etc. They have a line of pudding that is suspiciously similar to Kozy Shack, and is labelled “Gluten Free”.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a small-ish (two 4-foot shelf sections) dedicated Gluten Free section at Fresh & Easy. It’s mostly other brands, but it’s pretty awesome that they’ve recognized the need. There are other GF items in the store not in this section (the obvious stuff) but there’s a nice selection of pasta, snacks, sweets, and baked goods, all labelled gluten free.
Continue reading

P.F. Chang’s GF Tax

I love P.F. Chang’s and the fact that they put a gluten free items right on the menu.

Today is my birthday and I’ve been craving P.F. Chang’s lately, so we that’s where we went for dinner. The menu was re-designed since I was last there. Giselle noticed that the GF Ginger Chicken With Broccoli was a dollar more expensive than the non GF-version of the same dish. We asked the waiter about it and he wasn’t sure why it was more. Maybe the GF sauce was more expensive, he said.

Turns out all of the dishes (except for the Egg Drop Soup) are more expensive on the GF menu.

By one dollar. Each dish.

The menu says this about the GF menu:

All Gluten Free items are served on a special plate with the P.F. Chang’s logo. These menu items are either gluten free as prepared, or are modified to be gluten free.

The following ingredients are used in P.F. Chang’s gluten free sauces: chicken broth, oyster sauce, rice wine, sugar, water, wheat free soy sauce and white pepper. The marinades for beef, pork, chicken, shrimp and scallops are gluten free and contain cornstarch. The soy sauce on the table is not gluten free. Please ask your server for our gluten free soy sauce.

I’ve honestly never compared the GF menu pricing. It’s probably always been that way. But why? There’s nothing particularly expensive in that list of ingredients. Certainly they use all that stuff in the kitchen anyway. Maybe not cornstarch, but cornstarch is so cheap it is basically free (at least the teaspoon they use of it).

I appreciate that they go out of their way to make it possible for GF folks to eat there. It may cost them to stock ingredients they might not otherwise use. But by being generally GF friendly, they’re getting customers they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Given their prices, an extra dollar isn’t that much money. But I feel like I’m being punished for having a wheat allergy and patronizing their restaurant.

We pointed out the extra cost on the ginger chicken to our waiter. Without us asking, he deducted a dollar from our bill, which was rather excellent of him. But we paid the extra dollar on the other three things we ordered off the GF menu.

I expect upscale prices when I go to P.F. Chang’s. It’s not an everyday restaurant. And I never objected to the GF menu prices. And them being careful and using special ingredients is worth something. But it seems an arbitrary and nonsensical upcharge for something I’d think they would be willing to do to for their customers.

Chex Gluten Free TV Advertisement!

I’m a little behind on some of my TV. I’m still trying to finish watching the pilot of the SyFy channel series Alphas. I’m feeling sick today, so I put it on the TiVo while working on some spreadsheets and what do I see? A Chex commercial that’s all about the gluten free varieties!

I like at the end they say “Wheat Chex and Multi-Bran Chex are NOT gluten free.”

Easy Eats Kickstarter Campaign

Kickstarter is a great crowd-funding site that lets people propose projects and seek funding from the internet. If the project meets its goal, pledges are collected. Occasionally, a gluten-free food project pops up.

There’s a new one called Easy Eats – It’s Good To Be Gluten Free. It’s a digital magazine that’s looking to expand.

Santa Catalina

When eating out is difficult, travelling to unfamiliar places becomes almost impossible.

Sunday was my seventh wedding anniversary, and to celebrate, my wife planned a trip to Catalina Island. It was my first trip, despite having lived in Los Angeles more than 20 years.

Catalina is only about 20 miles off the coast of L.A., a one-hour boat ride from San Pedro or Long Beach (or 15 minutes by helicopter). We actually drove farther to the port at San Pedro than the boat carried us to the island. Once there, it feels a million miles away. It’s well worth the trip, even if for a day. There is quite a lot of stuff to do on the island, some of it very active, some of it very laid back.

Continue reading

Ooh – Agave

My biggest pet peeve on nutritional information labels is “natural flavors.” I find it aggravating that a food manufacturer is not obligated to tell consumers what is in a product, but there are a couple loopholes. If the ingredient does not add nutritively to the product, and is derived from a plant, they don’t have to. They just use the “natural flavors” catch-all.

There are different reasons why they want to keep ingredients a secret.

  • They might be considered a trade secret – a secret recipe, for example.
  • They are just one of multiple ingredients that can be used, and the manufacturer wants to be able to change periodically, based on what is cheapest or easiest to obtain.
  • The actual ingredient sounds unappetizing and they’d prefer not have to tell anyone.

“Natural flavors” presumably look better to consumers than “artificial flavors” which are simply chemical concoctions engineered to taste like something.

Of course, if you are allergic to something, it doesn’t matter how “natural” it is. I prefer knowing what is in my food.

Continue reading

Conte’s Pasta Pizza Shells

I haven’t eaten wheat bread in several years, and I honestly don’t even remember what it tastes like, so most of the time, it doesn’t bother me.

But pizza is a different story. I miss pizza. Sometimes, I miss it badly.

Fortunately, there are a lot of GF options for pizza crust. Some of them are quite yummy. Some others, not so much. I’ve never had a GF pizza crust that tasted like the real thing (no matter how much others claim it’s just-as-good).

Continue reading

Pam MacD’s

My wife and I both work in Burbank, but on opposite sides of the city. It’s not a big city in comparison to Los Angeles proper, but over 100,000 residents, it’s certainly not a small town. So it’s not too surprising that we’ve never had lunch together. There are so many food options on my side of town, so I’ve never had to go over there.

But when she told me about a new gluten-free market opening up over on her side of town, I had to go visit.

Pam MacD’s is a small market, but it’s jam-packed with all kinds of gluten-free goodies. They’ve got all the stuff you expect – Bob’s Red Mills flours, Glutino crackers, Gorilla Munch cereal, etc. – they also have a whole range of products I’ve never heard of before. And they don’t just focus on snacks and breakfast food (the easy stuff) – they’ve got stuff for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert. They focus on gluten-free foods, of course, but many of the products are also free of other allergens, and I saw some vegan cupcakes in the refrigerator case. I was easily able to fill a shopping bag with lunch and safe goodies for the office and home.

They’re at 3516 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505 and are open 7 AM to 7 PM every day in their “preview” period. I assume hours might change after their official opening on Friday.

There just aren’t a lot of stores like this in Los Angeles. It’s nice to have a store that not only gets it, but is actively supportive of the GF community.

Garam Masala

The best way to avoid gluten (or any other ingredients) is to cook from whole foods. Processed foods are are risky, generally of lower quality, and less healthy.

It’s easy to get into a rut with routine food preparation, though, so it’s handy to have some tricks up your sleeve.

Garam masala (literally “hot mixture”) is commonly used in Indian cuisine. It is a mix of a variety of spices such as pepper, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom and coriander seeds. The mix of ingredients varies by region and chef, so there is no official recipe.

Just because it is considered an Indian seasoning doesn’t man it isn’t useful for other things. There’s a reason it’s enjoyed by over a billion people – it’s good on just about everything. It is a great mix of spice and sweet, and adds dimension to most anything.

There are commercial mixes available, but you should try grinding your own. Whole foods and all that. Also, ground spices do not keep their flavor as long as whole. Most commercial garam masala mixes include chili pepper powder, which causes me trouble.

There are a lot of places to buy whole spices. You can get some at your local supermart, but look for an Indian market in your town. And there is always the internet.

It is said there are as many garam masala recipes as there are families in India. There aren’t quite that many recipes to be found on the internet, but there are quite a few. Take your pick.

But what do you do with it? You can use it to season meats and vegetables. Sprinkle it in cooking rice and you have pilaf. And it is the basis of curry. Garam masala would add an extra punch to soups, risotto, cream of buckwheat, or oatmeal.

Whole spices keep a long time when stored in a cool, dry place. So you should prepare garam masala in small batches, toasting and grinding the spices as you need them.