I love me some Mexican food! Always have. Thankfully, wheat is not a key player in Mexican fare, but I have still found it difficult to find GOOD Mexican food that I can eat without fear. I have been wanting to go to Oyamel for quite some time, but it’s the kind of place where you need to make a reservation at least a week or two in advance. Not an “I feel like going out tonight” kind of place. So on one of those “I feel like going out tonight” nights when I couldn’t get a reservation, I decided to go ahead and make one for 3 weeks later, right before the start of my last semester of graduate school. A kind of last hurrah before burrowing in my books for 4 months.

Ever since being GF, I have avoided Restaurant Week. You know, that one week of the year where you can go to an overcrowded restaurant, have only 2 or 3 options to choose from, receive terrible service, be rushed out the door, all at an ever-so-slight discount? So you can image my disappointment when we arrived at Oyamel and realized they were running an extended restaurant week. But I take it all back! It did not diminish our experience whatsoever. We ordered off of the regular menu (although the RW menu had plenty of good choices), and our service did not suffer. Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable about what was gluten free, what was not, and what could be modified. He even cautioned me away from a fancy margarita that I tried to order because he wasn’t positive about one of the ingredients (not to fear, the mojito was to die for). He double checked everything with the bartender and chef just to be sure. Plus, he delivered all such news with humor and a smile. I didn’t get that “I’m the most annoying customer ever” feeling that I often get. I felt confident. It’s one of the few time I ate eagerly without worrying that I would be sick in a few hours.

Now for the main event – the food. We started with the made-fresh-tableside AMAZINGLY delicious guacamole. Guacamole is so simple it seems like it would be hard to mess up, but after eating this guac I’m convinced every other guac I’ve eaten in my life has been messed up. Our waiter brought me fresh homemade warm corn tortillas free of charge as a guacamole vehicle since I couldn’t eat the chips.

Next up were the refried black beans. I almost didn’t order them because they are “just” refried beans, but I’m glad I did. After getting over the obscene way they were presented (think long skinny log of dark brown wet stuff), I dug in, with more fresh homemade warm corn tortillas. As I got to the log’s center, melted cheese oozed in a most tantalizing way, adding another layer of deliciousness.

Next was a chicken taco with guacamole and grilled green onions. Simple yet divine with the perfect mixture and balance of flavors. And finally, a sweet corn tamale, that had the most appetizing smooth corny texture.

I also tasted Brian’s shrimp dish which was, you guessed it, wonderful. The waiter had even thought to confirm the GF status of Brian’s dishes with the chef just in case I wanted to taste any of them. Which of course I did.

Thank you, Oyamel, for a lovely dining experience! We will be back to celebrate my graduation in December, if not sooner.

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New York, New York

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting up in New York with four of my closest friends from college to celebrate one of them for her soon-to-be-mommy status. Our weekend was mostly centered around food. Food and friends. I was a little nervous about eating my way through New York without getting glutened, but it was a cinch. I did do a little research before my trip and suggested restaurants that looked promising. My lovely friends obliged, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t just humoring me when they raved about their own meals. I am documenting here all of the restaurants we visited and the food that I ate mostly for my own future reference. But if someone else out there benefits from this, all the better!

Tu-Lu’s Gluten Free Bakery. This was our first stop immediately upon my arrival. I was a little overwhelmed with all of the choices! Cookies, cupcakes, muffins, pumpkin bread, coffee cake, brownies, bread, paninis, they had it all. I approached the counter, threw my hands up, and said, “I need help.” The nice young gentleman told me what his personal favorites were as well as the customer favorites. I ordered the following: cheddar jalapeno corn muffin, mini red velvet cupcake, chocolate chip cookie, coffee cake, and pumpkin bread. I ate the muffin and mini cupcake in the store with a cup of coffee, as did my friends. They assured me that it was just as good as the gluten stuff (sometimes I think GF things taste better to me because I forget what the “real” stuff tastes like). I ate the coffee cake the following morning for breakfast, the cookie that night, and the pumpkin bread on the train home Sunday. My favorite was the pumpkin bread (even 2 days old), followed closely by everything else. It was all wonderful, moist, and delicious. I can’t say enough good things about this place. There’s not a lot of seating, but there are some counter-style seats around one wall and the windows, where we sat comfortably with our coffee and treats. And you can see right into the kitchen and watch the cake masters at work. We watched them construct a beautiful red velvet cake just in the 30 minutes or so that we sat there drinking our coffee and eating our treats.

Pala. Click here and tell me your mouth isn’t watering. I dare you. Pala prepares their gluten free pizza in a separate area from the regular pizza with it’s own toppings, wooden boards, ovens, everything. I’m always a little nervous about eating pizza in a place that makes regular pizza too, but they clearly understand cross contamination and take all of the necessary steps to avoid it. We had risotto balls to start (fried in a dedicated fryer), and then we ordered three pizzas to share, all gluten free. I tried to insist that my dining companions get regular pizza because the GF wouldn’t be as good, but our waiter assured me it would be, and they insisted we get all GF so we could share. One of them even said this was the best pizza she ever had! It was that good. We had the Zucca, the Bufala Cruda, and a special that had arugula, prosciutto, and some other wonderful things that are escaping me. It was all incredibly good. I want to make it my mission to go back enough times to try every single pizza on the menu. I could hardly decide what to order they all looked so good. Best. Pizza. Ever.

Cornelia Street Cafe. If you try to go to Risotteria, the very well known GF restaurant in NY, but you can’t get a table because it’s extremely small and crowded and there is a two hour wait, then hop on over to Cornelia Street Cafe. It’s just around the corner, and I’m willing to bet it’s just as good or better (I can’t say for sure since I’ve never been to Risotteria). They also take reservations which is a plus over Risotteria. They have a fairly extensive GF menu, and the butternut squash risotto is to die for. I also had the spinach and pear salad, which was predictable but very good. I especially liked the dried cranberry vinaigrette dressing. All in all a very lovely dining experience.

Pequena. This one is in Brooklyn in the Fort Greene neighborhood, near where we were staying. We got take out from here on Sunday morning before we all had to sadly leave New York for our scattered homes. Pequena is a casual, tiny little place. But the food was authentic and top notch. I had the huevos rancheros which were superb. This is a favorite spot of our friend who lives in Brooklyn, and I can see why. While they don’t specifically advertise anything as being gluten free, it turns out there is very little on their menu that does contain gluten, so it’s pretty safe. When I asked, they knew just what I was talking about and instead of telling me what I can have, they told me what I couldn’t have (just two things). That was nice change!

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year 1 without gluten

It’s been almost 3 months since I posted anything. Oops. But I am happy to report that I have been gluten free for exactly one year today. The last gluten I ate was the animal crackers the nurse gave me after my endoscopy. I had a choice between animal crackers and cheez-its. I thought the animal crackers would be gentler on my post-endoscopy belly, but now I wish I had opted for the cheez-its. Oh, well. Good thing I know how to make my own.

I am so thankful for not being sick anymore. While I still have pangs and cravings here and there for gluten – mostly the fresh chocolate croissants from the farmers market and pizza (oh, pizza) – I am happy to say no, thanks, in favor of health. I still have anxiety about eating out and traveling, but those are easing. I’m leaving tomorrow for a whirlwind 48 hour business trip to Orlando, Philadelphia, Princeton, and then back to DC. I admit I’m a little anxious about where I might find food that I can eat, and what I might order (besides wine) at the Italian restaurant where we are having dinner tomorrow night with our business colleagues, but it’s OK. I’ll figure it out. And if I end up eating just a boring green salad, I’ll live. I’ll sip my wine and enjoy the company, and then scarf down a Larabar in my hotel room before bed. I will manage, and most importantly, I will be healthy. I figure the more I do this, the easier it will become.

Here’s to the next year of my new gluten free life. Bring it.

I don’t exactly have a recipe to share today, just the idea of one. No measurements or cooking times. The other night, Brian and I were both exhausted and hungry. We didn’t have much in the refrigerator. We wanted something quick and easy and tasty. So I improvised. Usually this doesn’t work out too well, but this time it did. So here it is.

 chickpea quinoa salad

Cook a pot of quinoa in vegetable or chicken broth according to package instructions.

Pan fry a can of chickpeas (first rinse and drain) and some chopped onion. When it is almost finished cooking, sprinkle in some curry powder and lemon zest, stir, and turn off the heat.

Combine the quinoa and chickpea mixture, stir in some golden raisins, and top with toasted slivered almonds and grated parmesan cheese.

Voila! Dinner. Even Brian liked it, vegetarian though it was. 

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broiled figs with honey lemon goat cheese

It’s been a happy summer. A week at the beach with family, bike rides, warm weather, and evenings spent drinking white wine with friends. I took the final exam for my summer course last week, and the fall semester doesn’t begin for another month. Yippee.

The happiest moment of summer came on July 12th when our third nephew was born. The first child for my brother and his wife. I never knew I could fall so madly in love with someone I’ve never even met! I leave on Thursday to visit them in Chicago. I’m counting down the seconds.

Another happy summer occurrence was the appearance of figs in our local grocery store last week. I’ve never bought fresh figs before, but I had them in a salad at a restaurant and fell in love. I always thought they’d taste fig newton figgy, and I was never a big fan of fig newtons. But fresh figs are much milder. And with cheese, they are heaven. Someday when I have a yard, I will plant a fig tree.

Broiled figs with honey lemon goat cheese

8-10 figs
2-3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2-3 ounces goat cheese

Preheat the broiler to high.

Cut the stems off of the figs and then cut each fig in half lengthwise. Place the figs cut side up on a cookie sheet.

Mix the honey and lemon juice in a small bowl and brush the mixture on the cut side of each fig.

You should still have a little bit of the honey mixture in the bottom of the bowl. Add the goat cheese to that and mix it together.

Put a dollop of the goat cheese mixture on each fig, and broil for 5 minutes or so, until the cheese browns.

Pop them in your mouth, one after another, until they are gone.

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sweet potato black bean enchilada casserole

It’s officially summer here in DC. But this year Mother Nature eased us in with blissfully warm temperatures, a cool breeze, and (relatively) dry air (at least over the weekend). The kind of weather where the sun warms your skin but doesn’t burn it. Or make you sweat. Where you want to be outside all day. Not your usual sweltering, humid DC summer weekend.

I don’t always follow the rules when it comes to seasonal clothing. Don’t be surprised if you  find me in a flannel shirt (e.g., last week) or corduroy on an unusually cool summer day, boots in the spring, flip-flops late fall. I wear what feels comfortable at the moment. If it’s 90 degrees in late September, I might wear my white linen pants, even if Labor Day was 3 weeks ago.

Same goes for my cooking. This weekend, I made a sweet potato black bean enchilada casserole. Warm comfort food that some would say is suitable for a cold spring evening. I also made a gluten free cranberry pie that you might see during the fall and winter holidays. I don’t care. I brought the pie to a barbecue, and you know what? No one else cared either. In fact, that pie was gobbled up in no time, in favor of the gluteny store bought brownies that sat on the counter top. It’s what we felt like eating, and it tasted just as good then as it would any other time of the year. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy a cold glass of prosecco with a bowl of fresh berries and vanilla ice cream on a hot summer afternoon, but sometimes I want enchiladas and cranberry pie, dammit.

Sweet potatoes and black beans are two of my favorite ingredients. But it never occurred to me to put them together until I saw this recipe by Karina, the Gluten Free Goddess. Sheer genius is what it is. So simple to make, yet impressive with its unusual but brilliant combination of flavors. This is one I will make again and again. And again.

This is the second time I’ve made Karina’s recipe. The first time I followed her assembly instructions, but it was just too darned complicated for me. It required softening each tortilla in an oiled skillet before rolling up the delicate thing around the ingredients. They fell apart on me. As soon as I would let go of one rolled up beauty to heat and roll the next, the first one would unravel spilling its ingredients into the bottom of the dish. It was difficult and messy and might have involved some swearing on my part.

So this time, I made it lasagna style, layering the ingredients without bothering to wrap and roll. It was so much easier, and zero deliciousness was sacrificed.

sweet potato black bean enchilada casserole
(adapted from Karina of Gluten Free Goddess)

For the green chili sauce
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon potato starch dissolved in a bit of cold water
1 small (about 1 cup) can chopped green chilies (or roast and chop your own)
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon cumin or chili powder

For the enchiladas
2 medium sweet potatoes, baked and chunkily mashed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Sea salt, to taste
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from one lime
8-9 corn tortillas
1/2 cup cheese (I used a pre-shredded Mexican cheese blend, but goat, Monterey Jack, or any cheese really would work)

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Make the green chili sauce by combining all of the ingredients into a sauce pan on medium high heat. Bring to a simmer and simmer until the sauce is the desired thickness.

In a medium bowl, combine the mashed sweet potatoes, ground cumin, and curry powder. Mix together and salt to taste.

In a separate bowl, combine the black beans, minced garlic, and lime juice.

To assemble, spread about 1/4 cup of the green chile sauce in the bottom of a lasagna pan or other baking dish. Then add a single layer of tortillas, feeling free to tear them up to fit the dish just so, or overlapping them and keeping them whole.

Spread half the sweet potato mixture over the layer of tortillas and then spoon half of the black bean mixture on top of that. Add another 1/4 cup of sauce and then sprinkle about 1/3 of the shredded cheese on top of that.

Add another layer of tortillas, followed by the remaining sweet potatoes and black beans. And finally add another layer of tortillas topped with the remaining green chili sauce and cheese.

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown. 

Serves 4 (or 2 if Brian is a member of your household).

Please excuse the lack of pictures, especially good ones, in this post. It was simply devoured too quickly for picture taking!

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fun at the farmer’s market and garlic scape pistachio pesto

Brian and I made our first trip of the year to the local Dupont Farmer’s Market on Sunday. I love wandering, weaving in and out of the stands, taking in the produce, flowers, herbs, meats, cheeses, jams, milk, eggs, empanadas, pies, soaps, etc. I think Brian was more interested in the puppies than the goods, but we both enjoyed our stroll through the street on that beautiful Sunday morning. I love that everything there is fresh, hand-cut/picked, homemade, etc. They keep it real.

We picked up some rhubarb, baby leeks, and garlic scapes. Three things I’ve never before bought or cooked with. New territory. I got the baby leeks to make this pan-fried chickpea salad with curry yogurt dressing. I printed this recipe from Heidi’s blog last month, but only this weekend got around to making it. And yum, I will definitely be making it again. I followed the recipe closely, except I used garlic scapes instead of garlic, and added some diced cucumber to the yogurt dressing. Next time I’ll go lighter on the cilantro. It made for a light, fresh, delicious lunch.

Dinner was mahi mahi with garlic scape pesto. Garlic scapes make me happy. I’d never before seen them in person, only in pictures on food blogs. They drew me in at the market with their long curly bodies that were all twisted and tangled up in themselves reminding me of a curly haired toddler waking up from her nap. I couldn’t resist buying some.

After some quick internet searching for what to do with these tasty little treasures, I settled on garlic scape pesto. Most of the recipes I found called for almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, or brazil nuts. I used pistachios. I also added some kale in an attempt to cut the garlic flavor. The descriptions of the recipes I found led me to believe garlic scapes have a milder, brighter flavor than garlic. Well, they do, but this pesto is still one of the most garlicky things I have ever eaten. Lots of zing. Imagine pesto made with regular garlic, knocked down just a notch or two. A little bit goes a long way.

But don’t let that deter you from making this tasty pesto, especially if you are a garlic lover.  I thought the pistachios gave it a nice nutty flavor, and the kale provided some balance to the garlic. You could also use basil or parsley but kale is what I happened to have on hand.

garlic scape pistachio pesto

6-8 garlic scapes, pointy ends removed and coarsely chopped
1-2 large handfuls of chopped kale
1/3-1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup of olive oil (or more or less depending on how thick you like your pesto)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Throw the garlic scapes, kale, and pistachios into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Add the cheese and pulse a few times to blend.

With the processor on low, add the oil slowly until the pesto has the desired consistency. 

Season with salt and pepper to taste (note: I used salted pistachios, and I didn’t need to add any additional salt).

What to do with all this pesto? I loved it on fish, and we had it on pasta last night. I made the pesto relatively thick, so I thinned it out with more olive oil and a little bit of water for the pasta. I can also imagine it thinned with olive oil and lemon juice as a salad dressing, or spread on toasted gluten free bread for garlic toast, with cheese and crackers, or on pizza. And since garlic scapes are only available for a few weeks, I will likely freeze some scapey pesto to enjoy later this summer.

I’m not sure yet what to do with the rhubarb, but I’m thinking either strawberry rhubarb compote to top my Greek yogurt for breakfast, or maybe strawberry lemon rhubarb bars. But mostly because it’s fun to say “rhubarb bar”.

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Jess and Kelly turn 30, take on Manhattan

Months ago we decided that we would take a trip together to celebrate our 30th birthdays, which are both in May. Usually when I try to plan something that far in advance, it doesn’t end up happening. But we were determined. And just to make sure we didn’t let life or school or jobs or anything else get in the way, we purchased our train tickets in March (for me, this is waaaay in advance). We might not have planned a single other detail until the night before we left, but at least we knew we were going!

Our train was first thing Friday morning, so Jess spent the night in DC with us on Thursday. I am so very sad to say that we took Jess out to dinner to a place we thought was an excellent spot for gluten free dining based on one prior experience (I should know as a statistician that a sample size of one is not really sufficient), and we both got glutened (so sorry Jess!).

After spending 30 minutes on the phone the next morning with the manufacturer of the CVS version of Imodium unsuccessfully trying to figure out whether it is gluten free (I got a call the following Tuesday letting me know that it is – a little late!), Jess dashed over to CVS to buy the real stuff. We popped some pills and rushed to the train station.

Our trip was not off to a great start, but it got better from there.

We scored a table in the dining cart and chatted all the way to NY. By the time we got there, our stomaches were starting to settle.

We stayed with our friend Emmy from college and her husband David who live in Brooklyn. We had a leisurely afternoon visiting with them at their apartment, munching on some apples and cheese, while I half dozed in recovery from my night of no sleep. Then we got a tour of their Brooklyn neighborhood, including a stop at the Dollar Deal, and headed to Happy Hour at a Spanish restaurant in their hood that has excellent white sangria and warm dates stuffed with an almond and wrapped in bacon (oh, baby).

Then we went to a great little vegetarian / soul food spot called Cornerstone for dinner. Jess and I both had the arugula and baby spinach salad with Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, sliced pears, and an orange vinaigrette dressing, and shared a bottle of red wine. Yum.

On Saturday morning, Emmy and David cooked up some poached eggs and bacon before we headed off for the day. We took a spin through the Brooklyn farmer’s market and flea market before taking the subway into Manhattan. Our first stop was Eataly. We wandered around the gigantic Italian-style open market for a couple of hours, stopping somewhere in the middle to have lunch at the veggie counter. We had a nice salad and an even nicer glass of Prosecco each.  They let us continue wandering the market with our Prosecco. The dessert counter even had a couple of gluten free options, so we each had gluten free Italian cookies held together by gooey chocolate.

Next up was Chelsea Market (if you haven’t noticed, our trip was kind of food-centric). We wandered around there for a good long while too. When we came upon Friedman’s Lunch, I was almost wishing we hadn’t already eaten because they a great looking GF menu, including sandwiches with fresh GF bread, not something you see every day. We stood in the brownie store for a solid 2 minutes just inhaling the delicious, deep, dark chocolate aroma of the brownies. We wandered in and out of places selling olive oils, salts, nuts, grains, cheese, meats, fresh produce, fish, and everything else you can think of. It was hard not to spend a lot of money there. Luckily I wasn’t hungry. I did buy a snack of dates rolled in almonds and coconut. I sampled a pistachio spread which was heavenly, but cost $14 for a 3 ounce jar. I passed.

We spent the next half hour trying to hail a cab in the rain. We failed miserably and took the subway instead to the upper east side where Jess’ brother and sister-in-law live with their two kids, ages 4 and 6 (in a 700 square foot apartment!). Her brother had to work, so unfortunately we didn’t get to see him. We scarfed down a gluten free brownie that Jess’ sister-in-law made and played with the kids. We didn’t get to stay too long because we had to leave to meet up with Emmy for our dinner reservation at Nizza.

Nizza is a place I would definitely go back to. After Eataly and Chelsea Market, I wasn’t that hungry, so all I could fit in was a caprese salad and some polenta, which were both good. But they had an extensive gluten free menu, including several different soccas, pastas, salads, meats, fish, etc. They even brought complementary gluten free bread to the table when we arrived! This was the first time I have gotten to enjoy a bread basket at a restaurant since I have been gluten free. Emmy isn’t gluten free, but ordered the socca just because it sounded good, and it was.

Next we saw Billy Elliot, which was well done and entertaining. It’s hard for me to imagine that an 11 year old can have that much talent, but there it was staring me in the face! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m moving it the top of my Netflix queue now. And coincidentally, the female lead was someone that Emmy knew from high school!

After the show, we headed back to Brooklyn and hit up another one of Emmy and David’s usual local spots for drinks. Later we went back to Emmy and David’s and I ate half a pan of these awesome lemon bars, courtesy of Emmy. The alcohol totally clouded my judgment there, but I don’t regret it.

After a few hours of sleep, a shrimp and cheese omelette with bacon (also courtesy of Emmy), and a final hour or two of visiting, we sadly headed back to the train and to reality. I think we both wished we could have stayed longer, but I think Jess was also happy to get home to her beautiful little girl.

We had a fabulous time celebrating the beginning of our fourth decade of life. Happy birthday, Jess!

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