Thursday, April 28, 2011

3 Vines - Sleepy Hollow

While at home last week, my mom and I went out for lunch. The city is great - if you walk into a restaurant and they can't cater to your special dietary needs, you can walk to a similar (but welcoming) restaurant only a few blocks away. That luxury doesn't exist in the suburbs. Changing restaurant requires getting back in the car and driving past a number of chain restaurants. I have nothing against chain restaurants - some of them are really specific and thorough with declaring allergens - but the available options are always limited. The secret to dining out is to go some place where you can sit down and planning ahead. Gone are the days of grabbing a burger or sub for lunch. Hello casual or fancy dining!

Earlier in the week, I did some Internet research and found 3 Vines Cafe in Sleepy Hollow, IL. They boast being foodies and that they "live, breath and dream about wonderful, natural ingredients". Translation - safe dining! I sent a message to them on their website to see if they would be able to have options for me since I was gluten free and cow's milk free. I quickly received a reply that they could make gluten free bread for me if I gave them 30 minutes notice. I was sold.

There were a number of menu options that were naturally gluten free. Most of the food with cow's milk or cheese could easily be substituted, I was told. In the end, I chose Baked Goat Cheese (fresh goat cheese, roasted red pepper coulis, fresh basil) and Roasted Asparagus (olive oil, rosemary, sea salt, pepper). The baked goat cheese came out with my gluten free bread. It was still warm. I picked it up and felt it. Gluten free bread has a different texture than wheat bread does. It had that slightly gooey, soft feel that I love.

I inhaled the bread.

It was the best gluten free bread I have ever had! I used it to scoop up some of the baked goat cheese on top of its tomato soup-like mixture. I did my best to savor every bite. The chef came out and asked how the bread was. This was an experience I would only expect in a larger city with a larger number of people who need to follow a gluten free diet.

This was truly a foodie lunch. Everything from the decor of wine bottles, to menu with small plates, to the tapas-style feel of the restaurant, to the fancy plating, to the explosion of flavors with each bite. It is easy to tell when fresh ingredients are used to their full potential.

If you are visiting the northwest suburbs of Chicago, be sure to stop at 3 Vines - and be sure to get the gluten free bread!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I had an absolutely lovely Easter with my family: made gfdf chocolate chip pancakes (Bob's Red Mill) with a side of bacon for breakfast, had a turkey sandwich (Udi's whole grain bread) with veggies for lunch with my dad's side of the family, and had a fruit smoothie (mixed by my younger sister) and lamb, asparagus, fruit salad, and spinach salad with my mom's side of the family. Everything I ate was delicious and I survived another holiday without a gluten reaction! (I got sick somehow during Thanksgiving.) I was riding my wave of confidence with the food and made myself a single serving of leftovers to take to work the next day for lunch.

Someone once told me that I was lucky that I was gluten intolerant and didn't have Celiac disease - my reactions were less serious, she said.

I happily ate my spinach salad with lamb for lunch (I'm currently addicted to spinach...). About fifteen minutes after I finished eating (so about forty five minutes after my first bite), I started getting cramps. A few minutes later I started overheating and ran to the bathroom. I kept trying to convince myself it was only cramps, but then an onslaught of my classic gluten symptoms came back: dizziness, overheating, abdominal pain, "bathroom issues", nausea, chest pain, extreme body pain and fatigue, loss of color in my face, and more. I told my bosses I was going home. The simple "gluten" reasoning paired with my change in appearance sufficed. When glutenized, it is really easy to look at me and see something is horribly wrong -
I barely even recognize myself in the mirror. I somehow managed to gather my things and hail a cab. The whole ride home, I was writhing in pain. I was so uncomfortable in my skin and was debating just getting out of the cab because of the pain, but an ounce of common sense kicked in and decided that being miles from home on Lake Shore Drive was a bad idea. I was blacking out and fading in and out during my ride home. After somehow managing to get to my room (my arms started tingling like they fell asleep), I curled in a ball and was nearly crying from the pain. I eventually uncurled and took some ibuprofen and tried to make myself comfortable with a heating pad in an upright position. My body temperature couldn't regulate, so I was alternating between two pairs of socks and wrapped in a blanket to pushing the blanket away and rolling up my pajama pants. About ten tall glasses of water, many trips to the bathroom, and several bad daytime tv shows and movies later, I was feeling better. My appetite was gone and I felt dehydrated, but my gluten hangover symptoms were showing signs of fading and I was asleep by 8:30.

I had a horrible and violent reaction. Without eating gluten. I somehow fell victim probably the smallest trace amount of cross-contamination from my leftovers.

At times, I crave wheat. I think it won't be so bad - I could survive the pain. But every reaction I have had since going gluten-free, the reactions are more severe than ever before.

Last year, I had a few similar situations. It took me a while to put together that all the days I stopped for a bagel for breakfast, I made the familiar trip into my boss's office to say I was going home sick. Not eating breakfast was always able to get me through the day back then. Nowadays, a few of my co-workers only know me gluten-free. They never saw me with the drained face or the pained and panicked expression that was all too common before. Obviously, they were concerned. The next day, I was back to my go-get-em self and felt alive. My appetite still isn't back, so I am trying to listen to my body and whatever it craves (gluten and dairy free, of course), it gets.

I'm extremely thankful to be gluten free, but I could really do without the reminders of how drastically my life has changed since a year ago when my gluten reactions were at their most severe!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

This is the most important thing on television: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

Last year, when season one premiered, I curled up in bed with my laptop and watched episodes online, amazed by the power of food and what good food can do for you and how damaging the mysterious processed food can be. One episode inspired me to drag my butt out of bed and make a stir-fry for dinner. I felt better after that. Maybe Jamie was on to something…

Personally, having low amounts of gluten from the soy sauce was a giant step in the right direction for me. My normal dinners around that time consisted of wheat pasta and this all occurred a few months before my gluten free diagnosis. I was a sickly, unhealthy, exhausted and underweight 20-something at the time who used all her energy just trying to get through another 40-hour week at the office. Now I am the picture of good health and am full of energy and can once again tackle projects…still underweight though, but now am cooking and I have enjoyed creating meals from his very easy to follow (and make allergen-friendly substitutions) cookbook.

So why is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution so important?

Take a look at what you are eating.

The next generation of kids is eating garbage. Food is unidentifiable. There is nothing fresh about it. Obesity and health problems are rising.

I’m not saying everyone needs to go gluten and dairy free like me (okay, more like I’m cow’s milk free at this point). My food limitations are due to intolerances that developed after an appendectomy. What am I saying is we can grow a culture that values good, healthy food and encourages kids to keep making healthy decisions. When you give the kid an option between normal milk and chocolate/flavored milk, he or she is likely going to choose the chocolate/flavored milk. I know – I was that kid. I had white milk throughout grade school and drank it at home all the time, but when I got to high school and had the option, I always went with chocolate. Same with college. Did I have an issue with white milk? Not at all – I loved it. Chocolate just seemed better to me as a kid. Was I sacrificing nutrients for extra sugar? Probably. If only white milk was available, would I have sought out other beverage options, such as soda or juice? Nope.

In grade school, we had AMAZING cafeteria food. (I went to a Catholic school.) The lunch ladies were literally student’s grandmas and they cooked fresh one day a week. Monday’s were always hot dog’s by the fifth grader parents and Friday’s were over-processed pizza by the eighth grade parents. As my time progressed at this school, the fresh grandma cooking went away and more processed food was sold. Gone were homemade desserts. For safety and sanitation reasons, desserts had to be individually packaged. Translation: Hostess desserts. These were huge step backs for nutrition in schools. Even as a young student, it felt wrong that we were eating snowballs or twinkies rather than fresh, delicious homemade cupcakes made from a classmate’s mom.

Please watch this show. Please encourage everyone you know to do the same. And please make a difference in your community so as a society we can eat healthier and have a great respect for our bodies by feeding them properly. His website lists three different ways to get involved: Get Cooking, Your Community, and School Food. It is easy to start to make a difference by cooking and changing the way you eat at home so eating healthy, whole, fresh ingredients can be considered the norm in our over-processed, nutritionally bankrupt society. Your involvement can start with something as simple as teaching someone to cook a new recipe or open them up to a new food or show them how to properly prepare a vegetable.

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution airs on ABC at 8pm/7pm central.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chicago French Market

My friend Luis chose the location of our latest foodie adventure: Chicago French Market. The name made me a bit nervous - I was scared all we would see would be croissants and cream. But Luis knows better and my quick assumption couldn't be further from the truth! The market is a hidden gem in the heart of Chicago filled with over thirty local vendors and every type of food imaginable, whether you want to eat there or take fresh foods home to cook yourself! It is located off of Ogilvie train station, the Metra station I use whenever going home to visit my family, but I have never noticed it before.

We circled the market a few times before making our selections - he got a sandwich and I got lasagna. Delicious, dairy-free, gluten-free, raw, vegan lasagna from RAW. I have been craving
lasagna since I went dairy free two years ago (the cravings have obviously gotten stronger) so I was excited to see it offered. The woman who worked at RAW told me that everything was dairy free (yay vegans!) and almost everything was gluten-free (gluten-filled items include muffins, sandwiches, and pizza). She offered
me a glass of water while ringing me up and I thought of how
good some of those specialty, carbonated beverages other vendors offered looked, but made the responsible, healthy choice and went with water. The lasagna was really good and full of flavor from the zucchini, spinach, and loads of fresh herbs. I've been on a vegetable kick lately so was happy to have so many delicious vegetables in my take-out container. Luis and I sat at a table underneath the umbrella, chatted, and enjoyed our time in such an inspiring place surrounded by great food!

Here's why I really loved the Chicago French Market:
  • Options!!! There is so much to eat (and loads of wheat-filled products if you are so inclined) and there is literally something for everyone! As I told Luis as he was trying to make up his mind: we can always go back and try food from another vendor. If we planned our evening better, we could have probably had food from half a dozen different places or so and created a whole array of foods!
  • Accessibility!!! It is part of a major Metra station. (Current downside - there were some reroutes when arriving from the east due to construction.)
  • Price!!! Maybe working in Chicago has corrupted my thinking ($12 + tax for dinner for one person), but there's not many places to find specialty items at every day city-level pricing. Some of the fresh produce was much cheaper than I would pay at Dominick's or Jewel.
  • Knowledgeable foodies!!! Guided by suggestions from one vendor from Pastoral, I tried some hard goat's cheese and sheep's cheese (I believe I'm really just cow's milk intolerant. More on the cheese in a different entry.) There were some gluten free desserts (meringue cookies) and dairy-free sorbet.
  • Inspiration!!! After spending almost two hours there, Luis and I really wanted to go and cook. Maybe next time we will plan our day better and I will have a clean kitchen ready to transport our fresh food finds into delicious meals.
I judge the success of eating out based on if I am excited to go into the kitchen to create my own equally amazing dishes. The market was a total success. I even took a copy of the pasta place's menu for more inspiration for my own pasta dishes! (With my versions being gluten and dairy free, of course.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

GF Goat's Cheese Chicken Cordon Bleu

“But you can’t have that – it’s made with cheese! And bread crumbs!”

I can make almost anything I crave gluten and dairy free. It just takes a lot more time, label reading, creativity and money. (Why is gluten free food so darn expensive?!?) But is it worth it? Very much so!!!

My latest culinary adaptation was Chicken Cordon Bleu – a dish I have been craving since BEFORE I went dairy free. Those days, I thought I was not a good enough cook to make something so fancy. But in reality, the dish is pounded chicken rolled up with cheese and ham and coated with breadcrumbs. There’s nothing fancy about the ingredients and the preparation is very simple.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
4 slices of ham*
3 ounces cheese*
1/3 cup flour*
Kosher salt
¾ cup bread crumbs*
¼ T fresh thyme, chopped
¼ T fresh parsley, chopped2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.

Using a meat mallet, pound the chicken to a uniform thickness, approximately ¼”. Layer a piece of ham and the cheese on each piece of chicken. Roll into a log. Secure with toothpicks, if necessary.

Prepare three shallow bowls:
Egg – beaten. Season with salt and pepper.
Bread crumbs, thyme, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper and 1 T olive oil – mixed together

Coat the chicken with flour then the egg then the bread crumb mixture.

Place the chicken in the pan. Lightly drizzle olive oil on top of chicken. Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked. Serve with frozen vegetables.

A note on my ingredient substitutions:
I used my gluten free flour mix (white rice, potato starch, tapioca flour), Chevre Fresh Goat Cheese, Applegate uncured Slow Cooked Ham (humanely raised AND clearly labeled as gluten & casein free in TWO locations!) and Kinnikinnick’s gluten and dairy free bread crumbs – panko style.
A reminder on cheeses: for whatever reason, I’m completely fine eating goat’s cheese. I haven’t tried sheep’s milk or cheese yet. If I have even the smallest amount of cow’s milk butter (butter has an extremely low level of lactose), I will get sick. Use whichever cheese works best for you – there are also vegan cheeses and lactose-free cheeses available!