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!

Roasted Root and Bacon Salad

If you ever get a chance to go to Cairns Australia, I highly suggest going to a little place called FUSION ORGANICS.  It's a stylish little cafe that specializes in serving people with food allergies. Them menu is color coded with little hearts, so that you can easily pick out the foods that are safe for you. When I walked in, I was struck by the wide variety of gluten free baked goods available. It was awesome.  I wanted to order one of everything, but since things tend to be on the expensive side, I settled for two dishes.

The first dish I ordered was called "Roasted Root and Bacon Salad." It was absolutely delicious!  I dissected it and think I know how to recreate it when I get home. 

  • Leafy Greens
  • Roasted Red Peppers
  • Roasted Onions
  • Roasted Sweet Potato Chunks
  • Roasted Zucchini 
  • Crisp Bacon Pieces 
  • Honey mustard dressing

It looked as if all the vegetables had been cooked before hand, and then either roasted or stir
 fried before mixing together with the bacon and fresh leafy greens (Kale and Wild Lettuce), and tossed with honey mustard dressing.  This salad is awesome! You've got to try and make this one:)

For desert I ordered a slice of Pumpkin Pie Cheese Cake.  Even though it was gluten free, the pie crust was amazing. It was moist and crumbly, just the way I like it.  Today I plan on going back and testing more of their fare.  I'll dissect what I eat again so that I can make it back home.

Tonight my friends and I are heading from Cairns to a little beach campground just north of here.  We plan on gathering wood, having a bonfire on the beach, setting up tents and camping on the sand.  Sleeping to the sounds of crashing waves is amazing!  The next morning we'll be heading north to Port Douglass and a place called Mossman to explore the Daintree National Park.  I'll document what GF goodies I find up there!  I'll be back.

GF Restaurant Review: The Big Easy Saloon

My close friend Dana found this little gem.  She and I are both fans of jazz music.  Since I organized our last jazz outing, it was her turn to do the research.  The Big Easy Saloon is located at 128 Paoli Pike, PA 19301.  Besides offering great food, The Big Easy has live music every night of the week.  Monday nights are hosted by the Dueling Pianos, followed by free live jazz every night, and a brunch-time show on Sunday.  Dana had called days ahead and reserved us a table closest to the musicians.  The band consisted of 4 individuals: Bassist, Saxophone, Drums, and Lead Guitar.  The lead guitarist also covered vocals, while his brother (the bassist) occasionally provided back up.  They played some original pieces, a few classic jazz ensembles, and a lot of motown and smooth pop.  I was tapping my feet and playing back-up drums on the table the whole time.

Being that it was my first time at The Big Easy, I had no idea what I could or couldn't eat.  I chose a few possibilities, with Jambalaya at the top of the list and talked with your server.  She came back and let me know that most menu items could be made GF within reason, and that the Jambalaya was gluten free.  I ordered the smaller portion of the Chicken Jambalaya ($10.99). The server assured me that it was plenty enough food to fill up on.  She wasn't lying. After the first big bite, I sat there slightly dazed, staring off through the wall in front of me, my mind trying to make sense of the countless tastebuds being stimulated.  The jambalaya was perfect! It had just the right combination of spices and ingredients.  Although I wanted to save some to savor later, I couldn't stop eating till my plate was completely clean.  I actually had to stop myself from licking the plate!  This place is definitely a hidden gem, th
e food is great and you can tell that attention is payed to "presentation," the music is free, and the staff are understanding of people with gluten issues. If you are in the area, you need to check The Big Easy out!  

GF Restaurant Review: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

I've been to Iron Hill many times before.  Although, each time is a bit of torture due to the towering copper vats of glutenous beer that are displayed near the bar. Mindy and I were visiting our good friends John and Chris, and decided to have lunch at the West Chester Iron Hill location.  As usual, the waitstaff were very friendly and accommodating.  They new exactly what I was talking about when I told them I could not eat gluten, and quickly retrieved their gluten free menu.  I ordered the Southwestern Turkey Burger, which comes with guacamole, bacon, tomato, pepper-jack cheese and ancho-honey mayonnaise.  The French dressing and ancho-honey mayonnaise were really good.  Although I couldn't order any fries, due to the high risk of cross-contamination, this was a great lunch.  I haven't had a bad experience or a bad meal yet at Iron Hill. I'd give them an "A".

I was told by our waiter that Iron Hill's  gluten free list will soon be posted on their website. But until then, here is what they offer:

Gluten Free Items

Soups - 
French Onion (no croutons)
Roasted Carrot Soup
Salads - 
All our salads are fine. You would need to specify that you do not want a bread stick, or croutons on the caesar, and pita on the greek salad, and make certain that you clarify that you have a gluten allergy. All dressings are safe.
Appetizers - 
Caribbean Garlic Shrimp Skewers (ask for no yucca sticks, since they're fried with breaded products)
English Cheese Plate (ask for no multi grain bread)
Hummus (ask for no pita bread)
Entrees -
Hawaiian Spiced Tuna (gluten free if wasabi vinaigrette is omitted)
Cajun Fried Catfish (need to eliminate the coating mix and bake the fish)
Pan Seared Sea Scallops and Shrimp
North Atlantic Salmon (changes daily, but can always be made GF)
New York Strip Steak (ask to omit the sauce)
Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts (GF without the onion rings)
Jamaican Jerk Pork Loin Chop (GF without the sweet potato fries)
Iron Hill Meatloaf
Grilled Chicken Breast (no bread and no fries)
Southwest Turkey Burger (no bread and no fries)
Carolina Pork BBQ (no bread and no fries)
Brewski Burger (no bread and no fries)
Roasted Portobello (no bread and not fries)
Waldorf Chicken Salad (no bread and no fries)
Roasted Turkey (no bread and no fries)
Fresh Mozzarella (no bread and no fries)

GF Restaurant Review: Plaza Garibaldi

So I went, for the second time, to a place in Philadelphia called Plaza Garibaldi. I found this picture of it on Google. It's a little Mexican-American restaurant in South Philly, a few blocks from where my friends live. We were all gathered to see Cirque du Soleil (which was awesome by the way), but first wanted to catch a good meal. I had been to this particular restaurant about a month prior and became really sick as a result. The staff could not speak English very well, and I suck at Spanish, so I don't think the whole "gluten free" concept was understood. Half way through the chicken enchiladas I ordered, I noticed a familiar taste from a not-so-distant past. It tasted a little like KFC! I immediately started dissecting the meal and discovered, much to my horror, that the chicken was floured! I ended up suffering from that for days.

So back to the present... When I realized we were all going to dine at that particular restaurant,  I did a little research to make communication easier with the wait-staff. I found a great website on Gluten Free Restaurant Cards.  Some good person put together  a wide array of cards in many languages for people with gluten sensitivity to use. Each card tells the waitstaff exactly what gluten is, and how important it is for you not to ingest any of it.  This time at Plaza Garibaldi, I was prepared with a Spanish language card I had printed out. When the waitress came to our table, I said hello and handed her the card. She read it and brought it back to the kitchen.  Afterwards she came back out and pointed to a variety of things of the menu I could eat. She even came back to show me the ingredients to the corn meal mix they used to make the tortillas for the meal I ordered.

Although there were a good number of possibilities, I chose to go with the "Bistek Xocimilco," which is "Rib eye with melted cheese and mushroom, served with potatoes, guacamole, rice and beans, and served with large, soft, corn tortillas."  It was simple, and delicious.  But better than that, I ate my meal with no worries at all. That little translation card helped me enjoy a wonderful stress-free night out with my friends.

The cards are great, and essential to any GF person when traveling to foreign countries. They are also useful in a variety of places within the United States with possible language barriers (i.e., Chinese, Vietnamese, Polish, Japanese, Mexican restaurants). I just wanted to share this little resource with everyone.  And of course, if you live in or visit Philadelphia, check out Plaza Garibaldi and have a good meal. The food is great, reasonably priced, and the wait-staff are super friendly.  Just make sure to bring your GF translation card:)

A Night At Ortlieb's Jazzhaus with Rachael Ray

Last Friday night a couple of friends and I decided to catch some live jazz at Ortlieb's in Philadelphia.  I had never been there, but looked forward to checking out one of the top jazz venues in the country.  I'm a big fan of classic jazz, like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy, Ella, Billie Holliday, etc. When I lived in Buffalo, NY I spent many evenings with my partner Melinda, listening to live Jazz, sipping either wine or coffee, and enjoying the city's burgeoning art scene.  Since moving away from Buffalo I've had little opportunity to experience good live jazz.

That's why I was so excited about being at Ortlieb's on a Friday night.  When my friend Joy made reservations for us, she was informed that service may be slow due to the fact that Rachael Ray was filming from their kitchen, an in addition, we might be interrupted from time to time by the film crew.  Sounded fun to me!  Plus, with the cameras on, I knew that both the musicians and the chefs would be putting out the best work they could muster.  

The setting was dimly lit, with crimson ceilings and walls.  When the waitress came to our table, I explained my dietary restrictions and she marched off to the kitchen to see what I could eat. She was very friendly and accommodating. When she came back she explained that many of the dishes could be made gluten free, except of course those which were mostly flour-based. She said the kitchen crew would do their best to make anything I wanted to be gluten-free. I chose to go with one of the daily specials: Slow roasted duck filets, with garlic potatoes drizzled with a creamy cayenne pepper sauce.  It was deeeeelicious!  They also made one helluva Muddled Old Fashioned. For desert I had chocolate creme brullee and thought I had died and gone to cocoa heaven!  

The jazz ended up being great, especially the female saxophonist, and we ended up being filmed and interviewed by Rachael Ray's crew.  It was kind of surreal to tell the truth.  All of the sudden the film crew made their way to our table and bright lights were upon us.  We were asked if we minded, and being on our 2nd or 3rd stiff drink, we were very agreeable.  They asked us to have a conversation as if they weren't there. Yeah right!  So we shared crazy stories, laughed a lot and put on a good show. We were then interviewed about our experience at Ortlieb's, and to tell the truth, I can't remember what any of us said:).  All in all it was a fantastic night! Although Rachael never made an appearance in the dining room, we did end a part of the festivities. Look for my cameo this fall when the Rachael Ray show highlights the city of Philadelphia. lol!

If you'd like to check it out here's the website: Ortlieb's Jazzhaus