Monday, October 10, 2011

Gluten Free at Taco Loco Philadelphia

I can't tell you how many times I drove past the generator powered culinary hot-spot known as Taco Loco, without even knowing it existed!  Located near the intersection of 4th street and Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia, Taco Loco operates out of a camper parked on the side of the road.  Tables are set up on the nearby sidewalk, but most people seem to just use the fold-down counter-tops or take their food to go.

I hear that Taco Loco is not located in the safest of areas.  So just to be safe, the earlier you go, the better.  Regardless, you shouldn't let anything stop you from sampling this little Mexican-American foodie gem! There were lots of options, but I kept it simple and asked for the tacos with shredded pork.  Don't get the fried pork, since cross-contamination will be likely.  Actually, go with the chicken to be extra safe.  I asked to read the corn-tortilla package to assure myself that there were no "gluten" ingredients included. None found!

The smell of the cilantro, and the spices, and the pork were too much for me to stand.  I took a few bites a bit too early, and burned the top of my mouth.  Soooo worth it:)  My take-away meal included sides of green and red chili sauce, which were both excellent.  So when you're in Philadelphia, and you're looking for some great Mexican-American cuisine, stop by Taco Loco and be prepare for some good eats!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A GF Battle of the Big 3 Burger Joints!

When I'm short on time and money, yet big on appetite, I'll typically go to one of the 3 three main burger joints: McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's.  Each has its own challenges related to keeping things gluten free. For example, did you know that McDonald's has wheat ingredients in its fries?  Unfortunate but true.  Wendy's fries are gluten free, and if you make sure by asking, are sometimes fried in their own designated fryer, making them gluten free. Burger King's fries are gluten free, but they are always fried in the same oil as wheat-battered food = off limits!

I decided to document the way that each of the big 3 serve their burgers minus the buns.  Although I love Wendy's burgers, their staff never seem to be knowledgeable about gluten issues, and always look at me like I have an additional alien head growing out the side of my head.  The presentation of their bun-less burgers is typically less than spectacular. Here's what a few burgers with lettuce and tomatoes looks like served up.  Wendy's came in THIRD in my little secret shopper GF competition.

Burger King actually has a button stating "Carb-Free" that they use when people order burgers with out buns.  Burger King staff also seem to know a little about gluten issues and never make me feel like I'm some kind of neurotic picky food person.  Although I'm always happy with the service and the product, their presentation could use a little improvement.  Here's what their GF burger presentation looks like. Burger King came in SECOND PLACE.

Finally, the champion of GF Burger presentation is McDonald's by a mile!  Every time I order bun-less burgers from McDonald's, I'm treated with courtesy and the presentation is often exceptional.  McDonald's does GF burgers the best, which is why they've earned FIRST PLACE in my secret shopper GF competition.  Here's their burger presentation.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gluten Free Banana Walnut Pancakes at Atiya Ola's Philadelphia!

I started out my day with a very special treat!  My good friend Brianna told me a few weeks back about a little place near her apartment in West Philadelphia that offered gluten free pancakes at any time of the day.  The little restaurant is called Atiya Ola's Spirit First Foods, and specializes in vegan, vegetarian, raw and organic foods.  They also offer blueberry, banana walnut, and fried apple gluten free pancakes!!

It has been over 5 years since I've ordered pancakes for breakfast, and I am so glad the drought has ended:)  I love going to diners for breakfast, but am always jealous when I see people enjoying their steaming stacks of flapjacks, drizzled with maple syrup and topped with dollops of melting butter:)~

Atiya Ola's is a small and personable place with a lot of character.  It's located on Baltimore Ave, a handful of blocks away from the Green Line Cafe.  When my plate of banana walnut pancakes were placed before me I experienced a moment of zen.  Brianna and I were told that the GF pancakes were thin, but the flapjacks on my plate were far from thin... they were thick, dense and absolutely yummy!!  Atiya Ola's did not have any maple syrup on hand, but they did have bottles of agave nectar on each table, which actually turned out to be a great substitute.  However, next time, I'm bringing some of my Aunt Vicky's homemade maple syrup:)

For those of you who can't remember the last time they ordered pancakes, you have to visit Atiya Ola's!  I'll be back for sure!!

Atiya Ola's Spirit First Foods
4505 Baltimore Ave
Philadelphia PA 19143

Gluten Free in Roma Italy

Rome was a beautiful place.  The final part of a three-week international journey... Rome proved to be an excellent ender. I was excited to arrive in Rome, not only because it was what it was, but because  I've read that Italy is a sweet place for living gluten free.  From what I've read, it is common to find restaurants offering a variety of gluten free pasta, breads and desserts.  Soon after arriving in Rome, we met a friend, who had a friend with Celiac Disease; and said he would be happy to bring us to a nearby restaurant that specialized in gluten free options called Il Maggiolino. So we said "let's go!"... and we did.  My very first meal in Italy was completely gluten free.  It was pure heaven!

I started with a small bottle of local red wine and gluten free focaccia bread drizzled with olive oil
and dusted with freshly chopped herbs. Yum!  The menu was loaded!  It took me a while but I finally settled on the gluten free gnocchi.  I have not had gnocchi for more than 5 years.  The last time was a gnocchi and Gorgonzola cheese dish I put together in our little dorm kitchen at Buffalo State. That was real good, but this was even better! I ate my gnocchi slowly and deliberately, not uttering a word for blocks of time.  Awesome...

For dessert I ordered the gluten free tiramisu.  It was drizzled with a cream cheese sauce and covered in cocoa powder.  I thought the presentation could use a little work but the taste was out of this world.  When I left the restaurant I was drunk with food more than wine.  It actually heart to move for an hour or so.  The remainder of my stay was filled with being a tourist, going to some of the historical areas, eating great gluten free meals, snacking on gelato, sipping cappuccinos and watching the world do its thing.  Italy...  We're far from done... I'll be back.

Here's all the information off the card from the restaurant "Il Maggiolino": Ristorante - Pizzeria Forno a Legna Pesce e Carne. Specializzati anche in PRODOTTI FRESHI Pizza - Pasta - Pane - Dolci - Gelati SENZA GLUTINE.  (Address) Via Alessandro Cruto, 9 - 00146 Roma. Tel. 06 557448.

Gluten Free Pizza at Carmen's!

About a week ago a fellow graduate assistant, Maria, told me about a small pizza place around the corner from me that sold Gluten Fee Pizza.  I asked her if it was any good, and she gave rave reviews.  Since I usually have to drive into Philadelphia to order gluten free pizza, the discovery of a local venue was exciting. Less than a week later I took my partner Mindy on a pizza date.

Carmen's is a nice little BYOB tucked between Ridley Park and Chester on Macdade Blvd. We ordered a gluten free pepperoni  pizza.  It cost about $10, and was 10 inches round. Both Mindy and I were very impressed, not only by how good it was, but also by the kindness and attentiveness of the staff.  The pizza crust was both crispy around the edges and soft beneath the cheese... just how I like it!

Here's a direct quote from Carmen's website: "Carmen's now offers a 10" gluten free pizza, available in red, white, or tomato pie. Since we make our own dough fresh every morning, we could never guarantee our equipment to be sufficiently flour free to make our own gluten free products. Therefore we purchase this dough from and outside vendor, and it contains both dairy and egg. We use separate and sterile smallwares for baking and slicing the gluten free pizzas. Please don't order meatballs as a topping, since we use our own breadcrumbs when we bake our meatballs and they are not gluten free."

Biting into a hot slice of gluten free pizza, located just minutes from where I live was a blissful experience I didn't think would be possible anytime in the near future.  Another good day in the life of a celiac sufferer:)

Carmen's is located at the corner of Mac Dade Blvd. and Milmont Ave. in Milmont Park, PA, a Delaware county suburb just ten minutes southwest of the Philadelphia International Airport. They are centrally located on Mac Dade Blvd. between Rte 476 (the Blue Rte) and Rte 420, within easy reach of I-95, Chester Pike (Rte 13, the Industrial Highway (Rte 291) and Baltimore Pike.

Gluten Free Sandwiches and Beer at the Foodery, Philadelphia!

I know I've posted a lot about the Foodery, but their efforts at making my life as a celiac disease sufferer easier and more enjoyable deserve recognition:)  Not only does the Foodery offer a wide array of gluten free beers, but now they even offer gluten free bread for all their sandwiches!!  I couldn't believe my eyes when I first read the poster exclaiming the option of gluten free flatbread that could be substituted on any sandwich for an additional dollar.  It seemed too good to be true... but it was!  And I am so happy about it:)

I ordered the Roast Beef and Swiss on GF bread, which comes with romaine, cucumber, tomatoes and horseradish sauce.  The sandwich originally cost $6.00, so with GF bread it was $7.00.  I watched the deli-man make sure to cover his working area with paper before constructing the sandwich in order to avoid cross contamination.

As he was finishing up, I wandered over to the gluten free beer section and picked out something I had yet to try, the St. Peter's Sorgham Beer.  It was light, smooth, and the perfect companion to the spicy horseradish sauce in my sandwich.  Once again, I found myself in pure gluten free heaven:)

According to their website St. Peter's Sorghum beer, also known as "G-Free Beer" was launched in August of 2007. It's accurately described as a clean, crisp gluten free ale with a pilsner lager style finish and aromas of citrus and mandarin from American Amarillo hops.

The Foodery is located at 2nd and Poplar in Philadelphia.  If you're GF, and you live anywhere near Philadelphia, it's a must visit!  Yet another example of how much easier it's getting for us celiac sufferers.   Good stuff!

Gluten Free Restaurant Review: Tortilla Press Cantina

Collingswood, NJ has it going on for GF dining choices!  Not long ago I was asked by Lydia and Chef Mark from Tortilla Press Cantina to stop by for a complimentary dinner to discuss their new GF-friendly menu.  There were four of us Celiac sufferers present, including one other GF blogger, Michael, from Gluten Free Philly.  On top of being served some amazing food, we were allowed to communicate our opinions about what would make Tortilla Press Cantina as GF friendly as possible. Some of our suggestions were: Advertise the fact that they have a designated GF fryer; place a "GF" next to every gluten free item on their menu; advertise on the outside of their restaurant that it's a GF-Friendly establishment; and educate the waitstaff about gluten sensitivity issues.  They were more than happy to work on all of our suggestions:)

This is Chef Mark

Although I don't have any good pictures of the food I ate that night, I've got to tell you, their Coffee Rubbed Braised Baby Back Ribs "slow simmered in our famous rub and served with mango bbq sauce and maple glazed sweet potatoes" were out-of-this-world!  And although they contract out for the GF dessert (Boston Cream Pie) I picked out, it was absolutely mouth watering scrumplicious! I'm sooo happy they have that on their menu:)

Not only have they taken our suggestion to list all their gluten free menu items with a (GF), they even went so far as to create a special GF Valentines Day menu! How cool is that!  Below I've pasted their menus for you to check out.  If you're ever in the area, I highly suggest you take the 15 minute trip from Philadelphia to chow down at Tortilla Press Cantina.  The prices are fair, the food is delicious, and the GF-friendly atmosphere is like an Oasis in a desert of unsympathetic, GF-ignorant eateries!

Here's the link:  Tortilla Press Cantina

Gluten Free Restaurant Review: Outback Steakhouse

Last night, after a super tasty vegetarian/GF dinner, Brianna, Mindy and I all headed to Outback Steakhouse for dessert.  For those of you that don't know, Outback has quite a few GF options to choose from.  Just click HERE to see for yourself!  They only have one GF dessert option, but it is by far, the best dessert on their menu.  I'm talking about the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under!  It's a flour-less chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with warm chocolate fudge, and topped with whipped cream.  It's a chocoholic's pathway to nirvana. From talking to the wait-staff there, a lot of people show up just to feast on the chocolate thunder from down under, celiac disease or not.  If you get a chance, I highly suggest you give it a try. It's like biting into a piece of heaven:)

Gluten Free Restaurant Review: CASONA in Collingswood NJ

If you have any kind of issue with gluten, and you happen to live less than an hour from Collingswood, New Jersey (about 10 minutes from Philadelphia), you absolutely MUST make a GF pilgrimage to Casona! Casona is a stylish little BYOB located on the main thoroughfare in Collingswood, NJ. Collingswood is actually a cool place to visit with loads of specialty shops, coffee houses, and restaurants serving a wide array of diverse ethnic and domestic cuisines.

My friend Brianna and I were starving when we arrived at the tail end of their lunch menu hours. We may have been the only ones in the place. The service was exceptional! Our waiter was amazing, and once we mentioned our "condition", it was obvious by the way he responded that he was fully informed about gluten issues.

Now before I talk about what we ordered, I must pay homage to the fact that Casona labels all their gluten free options with a "GF" beside the title of the dish. They also take great care to avoid cross-contamination. This is such an important characteristic of any restaurant looking to increase their GF customer base. It's such a load off of one's shoulders to not have to ask a million questions about the food one is to order. I just wish all restaurants were as aware and accommodating!

On to the food! The first thing we ordered for our appetizer was a plate of YUCA FRIES. Yuca fries are made from Yuca root. They come with a side of guacamole and a light horseradishy dipping sauce that packed a bit of a spicy kick. Brianna and I loved them! Yuca fries are a lot like regular potato fries, except that they are a bit more dense.

For the main dish I ordered the Habana Maduro, which was a ripened fried whole plantain filled with choice of seasoned chicken, ropa vieja or lechon topped with chihuahua cheese, sour cream sauce and chayote salad for $9.95. I chose the pulled flank steak (aka ropa vieja). Talk about a taste explosion!! Holy cow! I fell in love after the first bite:)

Brianna, also a vegetarian, ordered the Huevos Rancheros, which was corn tortilla with black beans, mixed cheese, avacado, pico de gallo, and two eggs any style with sour cream, avacado sauce and ranchero sauce for $10.95. She gave her dish rave reviews, and I would have tried it out for myself if I hadn't been so uncomfortably full from eating only half of my dish!

So if you're ever in the area, I urge you to check out Casona. You'll leave with a full belly and a smile on your face:)

Casona of Collingswood
563 Haddon
Collingswood, NJ 08108
(856) 854-5555

Gluten Free Restaurant Review: Pho & Cafe Saigon

Whooooo Hoooooo! This is my 100th posting!!! I can't believe I've written a hundred entries for this website already. And I'm sure I'll feel the same way when I reach 200:) Besides hooking people up with easy gluten free recipes, links to great resources, and tips to living a GF lifestyle, I write this blog to document my own journey into a life of reading labels, questioning the ingredients for all the food put in front of me, and of course... to have a written and visual history of my culinary adventures.

The people who read this are often faceless, often voiceless, but nevertheless, when I see the number on my site-visit counter it makes me smile:) I do this just because I enjoy it. Thank all of you who visit and follow me. Knowing there are others alongside me on my journey gives me a warm feeling.

Speaking of warm feelings, this entry is all about my absolute favorite Vietnamese Pho restaurant, located on the west side of Philly near U-Penn. It's called Pho & Cafe Saigon, and is located at the corner of Spruce and South 43rd street. I've been going there solely for their Pho for over three years, and to tell you the truth, I've never known the name of the place. LOL! Just yesterday I took a friend/colleague to share in the enjoyment of sitting in front of a large, steaming, deliciously smelling, completely comforting bowl of noodle soup. I'm pretty sure she was digging it. I was! As I always do:) Sometimes I even have a few taste-bud orgasms before the end of my meal. It's that good... not kidding at all.

I ordered the chicken pho, and Brianna ordered the vegetarian pho. It comes out at lightening speed, and is accompanied by a plate of fresh basil, lime wedges and bean sprouts. Hot green tea is also included for free. The noodles are made of 100% rice flour, and the stock is homemade (so no hidden gluten). The hot-sauce on every table is gluten free, but the plum sauce is questionable. Since first walking foot into the establishment over three years ago, I've pretty much tried every variety of pho they have; even ones that include chunks of cow stomach, intestines and gizzard. All AWESOME!!! Although the pieces of cow throat have a texture which takes some time to get used to.

If you are ever in the area, I highly suggest trying the place out. The staff isn't the most friendly or social, but who cares! Their Pho is out of this world!!!

Pho & Cafe Saigon
4248 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(Average cost of a bowl of Pho = $5.95-$6.95)

Gluten Free Restaurant Review: Everything Jamaican

I live right outside philadelphia in a little township called Folcroft.  As far as local eateries are concerned, the pickings are slim.  We have a little diner called Miller's Cafe, a couple pizza places, a few sub joints, and of course... inexpensive Chinese take-out.  These options are fine, that is if you don't have to worry about gluten.  The only place I can safely eat is Miller's Cafe, since they have a variety of simple breakfast foods, and know of my neurotic insistence to keep toasted bread as far away from my plate as possible. However, about a month ago a small Jamaican cuisine restaurant opened up called Everything Jamaican.  After strolling in and sparking up a conversation with the owner, a friendly Jamaican transplant, I was informed that just about everything on their menu is gluten free. She told me that relatives of hers have the same condition and that she's very familiar with what we need to avoid eating.

After looking over the menu, which included dishes like Ox-Tail Soup, Jerk Chicken and Goat, Fried Plantains and Bean & Rice dishes, I decided to try the Curried Goat.  With the memories of Curried Mutton I ate in Ocho Rios playing through my head, I looked forward to seeing if what Everything Jamaican served up matched the tastes in my memory.  I wasn't disappointed! The curried mutton I was served tasted exactly like I remembered.  And just like in Jamaica it was served bones and all, which of course adds to the flavor.  It came with a side of rice & beans, and I ordered a Jamaican Ginger Beer.  I left full, and very happy. Next time I'm trying the Ox-Tail Soup!

If you are ever out this way I highly recommend stopping into Everything Jamaican and filling up your guts with some delicious, authentic Jamaican Cuisine.  Everything Jamaican is located at 10 Glenolden Avenue, at the corner of Chester Pike & Glenolden Ave.  Their phone number is 484-540-8342. Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am - 7pm, Fri - 11am - 8pm, and Sat - 12pm - 8pm.

Here's a glimpse at their menu:

Jerk Chicken (L) $10......(s) $8
Oxtail with Butter Beans
(L) $10......(s) $8.50
Raggae Chicken (L) $10......(s) $8
Curry Chicken (L) $10......(s) $8
Curried Goat (L) $10......(s) $8
Ackee (salted cod with garlic, onions and other seasonings) $8

When you arrive just let her know that you can't have any gluten and she'll take care of you. No problem!

Gluten Free Wedding Tasting

My wedding day is two weeks away now.  Most everything is ready to go and the buzz of excitement among family and friends is palpable. Not long ago Winterthur Estates, the location of our reception, invited us in for a tasting of the gluten free options they came up with.  The people at Winterthur have been great. They were very accommodating regarding my food restrictions. However, they did make a pretty big mistake, but I'll get to that in a moment.  What I knew for certain was that this would be their first gluten free reception menu.
First they gave us some appetizers to test out.  They included beef on potato cakes, strawberries topped with goat cheese and grilled pancetta, leek cakes, and teriyaki chicken skewers with peanut sauce.  My favorites were the beef on GF potato cakes, strawberries with goat cheese and the teriyaki chicken.
Next they brought out the soup, which was a simple but delicious tomato-basil soup. As they set it down in front of me I started to examine the pyramid shaped topping that was floating on the thick soup.  It had chopped herbs, and what looked like puffed rice.  When I looked closer I realized it was a pile of steamed barley.  I let them know that barley was one of the three main sources of gluten. The woman's face that set the soup in front of me, turned bright red and she quickly carried it back to the kitchen. Another bowl of soup came out and it was definitely less spectacular looking.  
The main entree I chose to sample was the Mediterranean Grilled Chicken.  I loved the presentation and it smelled wonderful.  It had a topping that included capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta, drizzled with a creamy pesto sauce. It was sided with broccoli rabe.  It was absolutely delicious!  After the tasting was over we continued to talk with the Winterthur people about the wedding cake.  We decided to have them only make the top cake gluten free, which would give us plenty of cake for us at the reception, and to save in the freezer for our next anniversary. It will be served with homemade vanilla-bean ice cream with fresh berries and a berry-sauce. 

Later that night I didn't feel very well.  The next day I was foggy and bloated.  Now I'm not sure of it, but it felt like I may have come into contact with gluten during the tasting.  Perhaps they used barely broth for the soup, or the potato cake wasn't completely potato?  Whatever the case, I was definitely feeling the tell-tale signs of a gluten encounter.  We later called to make sure they completely understood exactly what gluten was in.  They assured us that everything would be completely gluten free for the reception and I believe them.  What can you do? Everybody makes mistakes.  I'm just happy that I'm able to have a gluten free reception party.  I have a few friends with Celiac Disease, so this is going to be food-eating heaven for them and me:)

Eating Mofongo in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!  Every year my partner Mindy and I fly to Chicago to spend turkey day with the Massaro clan.  It's an event I always look forward to, not only for the great food and company, but also to enjoy some much needed down-time amidst my busy grad-school schedule.  Right now I'm chillaxin at Melanie's house, one of Mindy's 5 sisters. The crowned pork roast is in the oven, and the two salsas I made are marinating in the fridge.  In an hour or so it will be off to the parent's to begin the feast! I think I just drooled on myself.

When I get time to relax, I begin to reminisce about the things I've done over the semester. A few weeks ago I was lucky to have the opportunity to spend time in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was awesome! I loved it!  One of the first things I wanted to do when I arrived, was venture out and sample some local foods.  Mindy and I ended up finding a great little place called El Jibarito Puerto Rico. The wait-staff were extremely friendly and helpful. I explained my gluten issues and he let me know exactly what to avoid on the menu. He seemed pretty knowledgeable about food allergies, and was happy to help me. I asked what would be one of the most traditional Puerto Rican dishes on the menu, and our waiter immediately said "Mofongo!"  So Mofongo it was!  I'm so glad too, because I absolutely loved it!  It was pure comfort food.  Mofongo is basically mashed plantain with garlic and spices, stuffed with a variety of fillings.  The mashed plantain is shaped into a bowl, then filled with things like pork, shrimp, steak, etc., and then sealed with more mashed plantain. It is traditionally served with rice and beans and salad.  I went with the waiter's recommendation, the Mofongo filled with Grilled Flank Steak ($14.95).  The spices were amazing! The steak was tender and juicy, and the mashed plantain was delicious and filling.  If you are ever in Old San Juan and you get the chance, stop by El Jibarito. You'll love it!

Here's a recipe I found that is exactly what I ate at El Jibarito. Enjoy!

  • 4 green plantains, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 cups gluten free beef or chicken stock
  • oil (for deep frying)
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite seasoned filling (pork, beef, shrimp, etc.)
  • 1 tblsp. chopped garlic
  • Fresh ground black peppercorns 
  • Sea Salt
  • Cilantro leaves (chopped for garnish)

Cooking Directions
  1. Mix a handful of sea salt into a bowl of cold water and soak the chopped plantain. 
  2. Warm stock in a saucepan over low heat.
  3. Bring at least 1 inch of oil to around 350 degrees F. in a deep skillet.
  4. In the meantime, cook your meat/seafood until crisp. Remove from heat and drain.
  5. Remove the plantain from the water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Deep fry the plantain pieces until brown and tender (watch out for splattering!). Remove from oil. Flatten the plantain with a flat-bottomed glass bottle. Fry the plantains again for 30 seconds on each side, or until slightly crispy.
  6. While the plantains are still hot, take a wooden mortar and pestle, and smash them with the garlic, and salt & pepper (to taste).  Shape the plantain mash into a small bowl, making sure to leave a space for filling.  Fill the space with your favorite filling and seal with another layer of plantain.  Place on a plate and douse with warm stock and garnish with cilantro.
  7. Serve with rice and beans, and some salad. Turn on some salsa music, light some candles, and chow down!  

An Evening at Fork Restaurant with Foodbuzz

I have to tell ya, the people at Foodbuzz really know how to treat their featured publishers! Since signing up with them, they've sent me a tote bag, an apron, a spatula, and sweet business cards. Last Thursday, a group of us featured Philadelphia food bloggers, got together at Fork Restaurant, ate some food, drank some wine, and shared some laughs. All on Foodbuzz's dime! How awesome is that! It was one of those times where I just had to give a big thanks to the universe, and of course Ryan from Foodbuzz:) It was funny. I've received a lot of email correspondence from Ryan over the months, and I've always pictured a twenty something, brunette businessman, in a sharp suit with shiny shoes. Much to my surprise, the real Ryan ended up being a twenty something, vivacious, short haired, petite blond woman. Why my mind imagines what it does, I'm sure I'll never fully figure out. She's also a fellow food blogger. Check out her blog: The Pink Spoon.

Getting back to the food. When we arrived we were taken to a private dining hall. We sat at a huge square, slate table. The candles were everywhere, the place settings were sparkling, and the waitstaff couldn't wait to fill our hands with alcoholic beverages. After getting to know each other a bit, we all sat down and began our meal.

After quizzing the waitstaff on their gluten free options, I started off with the Crispy Duck Confit for the appetizer. It came with frisee, roasted quince, bacon, gorgonzola, and lime vinaigrette. It was amazing! The presentation was choice, and the combinations of flavors caused little explosions on my taste-buds.

For the main course I ordered the Poached Salmon in Banana Leaf. It was made with sesame-miso sauce, tofu, baby bok choy, shiitake and enoki mushrooms. I absolutely loved the presentation. It was like a little tropical care package! When I opened up the banana leaf, a woodsy, earthy aroma, combined with the smells of poached salmon, miso and mushrooms, engulfed me. It tasted so good, I had to share with my neighbors. They also shared their dishes. In fact, our group was very much into sharing everything put in front of us. Ahhh! It reminds me of my year in China:)

For desert I went for the only gluten free option at the time, the Ginger-lemon Panna Cotta. I had no idea what to expect, but was very pleased with what I received. Although it was small, it packed a powerful punch of flavor, and it was presented beautifully. Along with the food, we drank a lot of wine, including some sweet desert wine at the end. All in all, it was a wonderful meal. Thanks Foodbuzz!

If you haven't already, check out. It's loaded with great f
ood-bloggers, and tons of amazing recipes! Plus they totally hook me up, so I've got to give them some props!

A Few Lazy Days at Mission Beach

Even though, in general, Australians are more keen to the realities of celiac disease, I'm often relegated to the salad menu when dining out. Fortunately for me, the salad menus have been awesome! We were getting close to Mission Beach when we came upon an isolated little gem named the Mint Cafe. It was decorated in light greens, and had catchy beat-laced world trance music pumping out of little hidden speakers. The server was aware of gluten problems and let me know exactly what I had to choose from. I decided on the salmon salad, and I'm glad I did because it tasted amazing! It was huge too. I can't wait to recreate this one for my friends:)

The salad basically breaks down to this:
  • Mixed Greens/Spinach
  • Capers
  • Avacado Slices
  • Smoked Salmon Slices
  • Spanish Onions (thin Sliced and halfed)
  • Tomatoes (wedges)
  • Italian Vinaigrette Dressing
That's it. That's all it is, but it's awesome!!

After we filled our stomachs, we ventured into town, exited the vehicle, and proceeded to sniff out some live music. We ended up wandering through a small maze of mom and pop shops until the echoing music led us to a little pub facing the beach. A lone guitarist/song-writer sat on a little wooden chair, with his amp (aka bear holder) to his right, and the blissfully inebriated owner playing spoons to his left. I'm pretty sure Dennis and I were the only non-Australians in the place, and that everyone there knew each other well. He was a great musician, played a huge variety of songs, and much to our touristy-gleeful delight, he even played Men at Work's "Land Down Under!" And of course, Dennis and I were the only ones clapping afterwards. When we realized it, we tried to fade the clapping out smoothly, but the gig was up. Awkward... Still, it ended up being a great night, and we closed the place down with the locals.

Mission Beach is seriously chill. Everybody seem slightly sedated. I thought about living there, on a little house on the beach, owning a bed and breakfast or a hostel, and just living a relaxed, tropical life. Sigh... Who knows where life will take us.
Next stop, Magnetic Island

A Day in Mossman, Australia

There's not much to Mossman, except a few cafes, a skatepark, and a beautiful state park.  I ended up staying in a place called the White Cockatiel for a night, a place known for its transformation into a "nudist" retreat from October to May.  Mossman gorge is beautiful, speckled with unbelievable swimming holes, and lined with boulders worn round by countless flash floods.  I spent a few hours gleefully jumping from rocks and diving into the crystalline water.  It was cold, refreshing, and all around a perfect place to swim.

However, before I ventured into Mossman Gorge National Park, I stopped at a little cafe on the edge of town called "Tobys Estate."  I think Toby's is a chain, but I can't be sure. What I am sure about, is that they have the best Cappuccino and breakfast plates.  I ordered an Omelette with spinach, goats cheese (very soft and creamy), cherry tomatoes and Spanish Onions.  It was perfect!  I've been taking a lot of notes while eating around Australia.  There have been a lot of unique taste combinations that I'm looking forward to bringing back with me.  Next stop, Mission Beach!