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The Best Bar Food Can Be Got at Ruth’s Chris May 5, 2011

Posted by Melonie Gallegos in Dining Out.
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Living downtown San Diego I’m fortunate to have so many good dining choices. Rarely do these include bars because the menu and service just doesn’t live up to the high maintenance needs of my gluten and lactose free diet. Most bar food is fried, breaded or full of cheese dressings so pubs are out of the question unless I’m drinking my dinner. Ruth’s Chris is absolutely the exception. My significant other and I had a busy week, working most evenings, and needed a spot that would allow us to fuel up and quietly co-work. We tried the Ruths Chris bar on the harbor. It was lovely. They just redesigned the booths with velvety fabric and we are big booth fans. We like to sit together and I’m always cold so need to cuddle up in restaurants.

Here are a few things that made it exceptional:

  • The server/bartender took genuine interest in learning about gluten food allergies.
  • Had gluten free soy sauce behind the counter.
  • Flexible in customizing the menu allowing me to order simple items not listed as an official entrée. Or revising entrées where possible.
  • Most of their food is prepared fresh, it doesn’t come out of an unmarked bag in the back of their freezer, or premade in batch. This allows for customization. And is the sign of a quality restaurant.
Being treated with respect and care is a big deal for someone with special dietary needs. There are recent occurrences of chefs or restaurant workers who are annoyed with people’s food allergies and act carelessly. Restaurants with an educated staff who respect people’s food choices health related or otherwise earn big points with me. I’ll be a loyal patron for life. If you ever go to Ruth’s Chris in San Diego say hi to James at the bar or tweet him ahead and they’ll have a gluten free menu ready for you. And try his martini, it’s to die for!

The Degrees of Gluten Intolerance April 15, 2011

Posted by Melonie Gallegos in Living It.
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It’s black and white with shades of grey. There is one prescription for preventing gluten triggered illnesses. Don’t eat it.

It gets fuzzy when we question how much? It depends on an individual’s root condition and on the level of sensitivity their body has developed to ingesting gluten or wheat.

1. Wheat Allergy
People who have a physical allergy cannot have any wheat in their diet without quickly feeling symptoms. As with any allergy like peanut or shellfish they can experience hives, rash, belly ache and so on depending on their allergy level. You can test for this with your doctor and even get details on how allergic. This is where there is high concern for cross contamination when eating in a restaurant.

3. Celiac
A person with Celiac Disease cannot ingest gluten without it having long term affects on their health and digestive system. Depending on how damaged their system is, one person may be able to eat wheat with no noticeable symptoms, while another will get sick immediately. Your doctor can test for Celiac and it often goes undetected for years in people.

3. Intolerance
…Can be among others things a lack of enzymes in one’s digestive system to process gluten making it uncomfortable if not intolerable. This condition is not well studied by the medical community. Diagnosis starts with an elimination diet, then by ruling out allergy and Celiac. Tolerance levels will vary and it’s not likely that a speck of wheat flour flying around the kitchen will lay you out as it would an allergic person.

I would like to see a movement in the medical community and in the food service industry to better categorize gluten free menus, nutritional information and levels of intolerance. In the end empowering us to better understand our own bodies and make our own food choices in an informed manner. Case in point, I am intolerant yet find myself arguing with food servers that I can handle a speck of flour dust in my salt from their combined kitchen, because I’m not allergic. It’s not a diet fad. There are medical reasons for gluten free living. It’s the learning and understanding of this that is the latest fad. So jump on the wagon.

3 Myths That Make You Fat On A Gluten Free Diet April 1, 2011

Posted by Melonie Gallegos in Living It.
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Excluding wheat can mean a complete mind shift in the food combinations we select. Many people gain weight because their body is suddenly able to absorb nutrients that were blocked previously by the irritation wheat brought about in their digestive system. The transition to a gluten free diet can result in a healthy diet.

Here are three myths that will turn your gluten free diet into a fat fest:


Myth 1: I can’t eat this without the sauce

Let’s face it, we lose the sauce. Most finishing touches and texture like crusted macadamia or tempura contain flour. So we turn to butter, cheese and cream for comfort. You will end up packing on thousands of extra calories intended to nurture small calves into cows, let’s rethink this approach.

First, let’s dispel our own personal myth that we need to smother our food with something to make it better. My Oma (grandma) taught me early on with her simple German “farm to table” cooking that the natural flavor of food is wonderful. She would get disgusted when as a five year old I would ask for cheese on my veggies. “You’re smothering the natural flavor” she would say, “try it first.” When is the last time you had a high quality steak without gravy smothering its natural taste? Or really tasted your potato, instead of a mouth full of sour cream? Ask for your food to be prepared in olive oil vs. butter. Purchase butter substitute that contains olive oil. I like Best Life Buttery Spread. I’m not saying to eat dry food, use oil and sauce in moderation.

A little olive oil, salt and pepper can bring out the natural flavor of your food and you’ll rediscover eating. Listen to Oma. Unlike Oma, I’m willing to make a deal. If you do not like it, don’t eat it at all.

Myth 2: Meat is my only option

When the gluten options are eliminated from your restaurant menu what’s often left is meat or a salad. I know. I’ve been there. A steak with veggies no sauce. A burger no bun. And who wants salad for dinner? OK I’m raising my hand I do occasionally because I really, really like veggies. I am not a vegetarian. I am for a week every year when I go on my cleansing diet (to lose toxins not weight). Each time I go through this exercise it’s apparent that I have the false perception a “meal” must contain meat, fish or chicken to qualify as a main course. Untrue by the end of the week. I am fully satisfied with my grains and veggies. Eating vegetarian requires eating more frequently but what it does for digestion is a beautiful thing. My craving for savory flavor will prevent me from ever going full veg. But I become aware that in our culture we can give non-meat dishes a little more love.

One of my favorite lunch dishes is called mujadra – lentils mixed with rice and spices, topped with salsa fresca and sliced avocado. It traditionally includes pita which is a wheat flour bread so I pass on that and add the avocado. When eating at a steakhouse I go for the petite filet (although I love rib eye it’s a monster) and order two sides of veggies or rice and every time I eat dinner I start with a salad. That leads our discussion on dressings….

Here’s how it translates to real life – eat more grains, beans and veggies than meat each meal. If you hate veggies, completely legit. Experiment. If you are not willing to try them at all, not legit.

Myth 3: Salads are low fat

The truth is a salad is as low fat as YOU make it. If you sit down at a restaurant and say to yourself “I’m going to eat healthy” then continue to order the buffalo chicken salad smothered in cheese with ranch dressing, you may as well have ordered the burger. We need fat in our bodies. Just not as much fat that’s served up in America’s processed foods and dining establishments.

The easiest way to lower your fat intake is to keep your meal simple. And, watch out for junk dressings. I categorize junk dressings as those containing corn syrup, milk, cheese, and preservatives. Dressings to check out: italian, french and thousand island. Ask what’s in them and if it comes from a bottle, pass. In the grocery store read the label and select a natural, high quality dressing. If there is not a good option available to you, try olive oil and balsamic and mix it up yourself. I’ve yet to find a restaurant that doesn’t have this on hand. And, the simplicity of this dressing allows the natural flavors of your food to come through. If you need cheese on your salad opt for a sprinkle of goat cheese or parmesan. Keyword sprinkle. Good to fatty foods: grilled chicken breast, lean steak, salmon, avocado, and beans.

Keep it simple, avoid junk dressing, and eat good fat.


The Trick to Getting Your Restaurant Order Back Allergy Free March 25, 2011

Posted by Melonie Gallegos in Living It.
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How many times have you had “the talk” with your server or cook about your food allergy/intolerance to no avail? I can tell you too many. It seems 4/5 times when I order I have to send back it back. My favorite is getting a giant piece of bread in the middle of my wheat free dish. Not to mention mistakes you can’t see but emerge later as a mysterious tummy ache.

The problem is communication. From the manager, to the waitress, to the cook, to the end of the line who puts the final dressing on your plate. I found a solution that has helped a great deal. The laminated allergy card.

It’s available for multiple foods and languages. And here’s why it works:

  • Laminated: You give it to your server and because  it’s laminated it seems to always make itself back with the bill. Maybe because it carries the plastic importance of an ID or credit card. My paper versions were always one use.
  • Travels with Your Order: The server attaches the card to your order and it is passed back to the cooks without relying on an uneducated translation of what you had to explain. My favorite question when I say I cannot have wheat is, ummm can you have rice or potatoes? No, America does not know where their food comes from. It’s a sad learning through this process.
  • It breaks down language barriers: The truth is that even in your expensive or quality restaurants many of the people back in the kitchen preparing your dish are immigrants. There’s nothing wrong with it except that it presents a break down in communication between the person taking your order to those cooking your order. I am not making this up, I’ve had servers and managers explain this as the source of the issue after several order mishaps in different restaurants. The allergy card has clear pictures with symbols. No English necessary.

The Select Wisely card is about $8 and it comes in the mail already laminated. I carry it in my wallet and can tell you it’s worth it.

One more way to fool proof your order…

Confirm with who ever is delivering your plate that it adheres to your food allergy. Sometimes it is not the server and there are finishings on the plate (a little sprinkle of cheese to your lactose free pasta) they didn’t catch. It also makes the server think twice to check her plate and the kitchen.

If you have a dining out allergy free horror story or more tips please share with us in comments.

What’s your gluten tolerance level? March 18, 2011

Posted by Melonie Gallegos in Living It.
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heart breadIf the answer is “I don’t know” join the club. I’m intolerant, not celiac or allergic. According to my nutritionist I should test my tolerance levels with hopes of building my tolerance level up. With many cravings and this hopeful advice I have been braving it to determine how much I can take. Intolerance is a moving target. You feel OK them bam you wonder what happened.

This is how it goes. I can eat bread for two days straight. Then I think well, let me try REAL pasta. About the third day in I begin to bloat and run into digestive symptoms. I guess I can handle one to two doses per week. But hey that’s better than nothing. I miss bread so much I went to the special bakery and paid $8 for one loaf of an organic honey rosemary blend. It was worth it for the taste and if it’s going to be a treat, I’m going to splurge. Forget the Wonderbread.

…although I occasionally crave that too…with tuna or crunchy peanut butter and grape jelly. The cheap kind. It’s a lunch box nostalgia.

I’ve seen several specialists at this stage it’s hard to keep them all straight. The diagnosis is the same with every test, they know nothing. One doctor mentioned it is not possible to build back tolerance (which would mean building up production of the enzymes to digest the said intolerable item).

Do you have any facts or experiences on this? I’m looking for clarity. Comments appreciated.