Rebecca's Gluten Free Blog

Gluten Free in the Upper Midwest

Maggiano’s Little Italy December 31, 2009

Maggiano’s was one of my favorite restaurants before I found out that I was celiac. several months after going gluten free, I heard that they carried gluten free corn noodles. however, without a special gluten free menu, I was doubtful that they would be careful enough and knowledgable enough to keep me from getting sick. I avoided going there for over a year. then one day, the nearby restaurants we wanted to go to were booked up, and we were forced to try Maggiano’s. I’m so thankful for that day, because now it’s once again one of my favorite restaurants!

as I mentioned, they have GF corn noodles. they’ve also reformulated many of the sauce bases to be gluten free, so that we have more options. if you have multiple allergies, the chef will come out and speak to you directly about what he can prepare for you. I’ve found that they’re usually excited to get to make something creative for me, which makes it fun. they’re very flexible and go out of their way to make something special.

one time, I was in a group of five, with two of us having gluten and other allergies, and the chef even allowed us to get the $20 per person family-style orders all gluten free! we got bottomless portions of 2 apps, 2 pasta dishes, and dessert all completely gluten free! that was a lot of gluten free noodles, and they didn’t even charge us extra~ very generous!! I would never expect them to do that again, because I realize that it costs more for them, but we were both so thankful to be eating exactly like everyone else, and they all enjoyed their gluten free meals as well.

the food is always amazing, and they’re always extra willing to take care of us with our special needs. that’s why they’re still one of my favorite restaurants!

 

Getting Started: Other Non-Food Items to Consider December 19, 2009

other things to consider: envelopes. there is some debate on this, but most say you can’t lick them, because at least some contain gluten in the glue. to me, it’s just as easy to stay on the conservative side of things anyway. I simply run my finger under water and dampen the glue that way (and then I wash my hands immediately following). regular glue should be checked for gluten as well, so you know if you should wash your hands after using it or not. that is, unless you’re confident you won’t get any on yourself!

toothpaste is another thing to consider. this is the website that I consult, though most of the updates were in 2007, so it could be prudent to check with the company of your choice to make sure they haven’t changed any formulas: http://www.withoutthewheat.com/Dental_Products.html

on a related note, you should check with your dentist to see if the products they use are gluten-free, or which ones you need to avoid at your check-ups. it’s best to call a couple of weeks before your appointment, so they have time to do some research, if they don’t readily know.

something to watch out for with kids is playdough. if your kids have celiac or are gluten-sensitive, you may want to make homemade playdoughs with gluten-free flours. otherwise, they may end up putting it in their mouths and getting sick. I’ve even heard of some kids getting sick just from handling it, but that depends on the sensitivity of the child.

charcoal is another odd-ball item. Kingsford said last summer that they now use cornstarch in their coals instead of wheat. also, I believe that the natural hardwood coals should be naturally gluten-free (though you never know). these are what I use, because they have less chemicals in them anyway. as always though, feel free to check out any brands you like to use by contacting the company directly.

when you share a BBQ with gluten-eaters, just make sure that you have something to protect you from gummy gluten on the grill. a separate pan that sits above the grill works. or if you get a new grill, perhaps you can have your own dedicated GF area.

I’ve even heard rumors that some sheet-rock can contain gluten, so if you’re someone who works in construction and uses this material, or if your home is being remodeled, you may want to see if that’s true. and if so, try to avoid the area while the dust is in the air.

if you buy tea in individual tea bags, those bags sometimes contain gluten, so contact the manufacturer to make sure they’re gluten free. Aveda tea bags are 100% cotton, so those are safe. there are specialty ones in health food stores that write on the label that they’re gluten-free. if you like loose tea, I checked with Teavana, and their teas were all gluten free (I called last over a year ago though).

once you get the basics of the diet down, and learn some of these extras, hopefully it’ll open your eyes to just how many places wheat can be found. so just try and be as vigilant as possible, and question anything you suspect could be harmful.

 

Baja Sol December 14, 2009

****UPDATE 3/14/13 Baja Sol no longer feels that their menu if GF-friendly, as there is too much cross-contamination

 

I’d long heard that Baja Sol was celiac-friendly, but I’d never tried it out. I’m usually less venturesome, the more fast-food-like the restaurant is. this weekend I finally made my first trip to Baja Sol.

I visited the Eden Prairie location, because it’s a sit-down version of the restaurant. I was very nervous, since I knew nothing about the place, but all went well.

(this is a “Cantina”-style restaurant, of which there are two: Eden Prairie and Inver Grove Heights. I believe both Cantinas are similar, except perhaps that Inver Grove Heights doesn’t have a dedicated fryer for chips, but note that this is about the Eden Prairie/ Cantina location only, the Grills have different allergen information).

the first exciting thing to learn was that the chips are made in a separate fryer, in a different area of the restaurant! this means that we can partake in the salsa bar! I was told that there was only one salsa that contained gluten, and that was the tomatillo verde. that left about 5 or 6 other options for salsa. yum! that would be great for happy hours too!

when it came to the menu, supposedly we could have most things on the menu. virtually all of the meats seemed to be gluten free~ the steak, hamburger beef, chicken, carnitas, etc. the fish used in the fish tacos were breaded though, so that was the one exception that I found. they told me that virtually the entire menu could be made gluten free, which was exciting. I’m guessing it was mostly a matter of switching out flour tortillas with corn ones. I settled on the enchiladas, of which the red sauce was gluten free (the green one was not). any other fried products (besides the chips) were all done in a shared fryer, so even though the taquitos would otherwise be gluten free, for example, that wasn’t an option.

of the sides, I don’t believe that any contain gluten any longer. I opted for seasoned vegetables. because they’re usually fried on a grill with breaded items, I had a version that just had onions and peppers grilled in olive oil in a separate pan, which was surprisingly tasty. both the black beans and non-fried (pinto) beans were also gluten free.

all in all, I’m very excited to add a Mexican restaurant to my list. I know that Mexican Village Too! in St Cloud, MN and Abuello’s in the Madison, WI area do gluten free really well. I’ve also heard that some Mexican chains in the Twin Cities metro area will accomodate GF, but that usually doesn’t entail eating any of their chips, and usually means ordering fajitas (although Chevy’s does have an actual GF menu with a few more options). at Baja Sol, though, I was able to eat the chips, an array of salsas, and could choose from most things on the menu. it was a dream for me, since I’m a big fan of Mexican food.

 

Gluten Free Grocery Guides December 7, 2009

grocery guides are helpful in purchasing mainstream brands of foods that happen to be gluten free (which can be much cheaper than always buying specialty products). I have 3 separate coeliac / gluten-free grocery guides that I’ve purchased. note that none of them are the most recent versions available, but they were all within the past couple of years, so I will tell you which edition I’m referring to in my reviews, as I’m sure each may have made improvements with each edition. I also want to mention that although there are more and more gluten free restaurant guides being published online for free, I’ve yet to find one for grocery guides. in my opinion it’s better to have a book to carry along to the grocery store anyway, because you never know which brands they’ll carry until you get there.

I start with my favorite grocery guide: Cecelia’s Marketplace. Cecelia’s Marketplace grocery guides are small and thick, easy to throw in a big purse and bring to the store. I own the 2008/2009 edition. the items are listed alphabetically, and under broad terms. an example would be to look under “sausage”, whether you’re looking for breakfast sausages, deli meat sausages, or summer sausage. but if you try to look something up too specifically, it’ll usually direct you to the heading it’s listed under. so it’s pretty easy to use. a great benefit to Cecelia’s Marketplace is that they actually have 3 versions: gluten free, gluten and dairy free, and gluten, dairy & soy free. so if you have additional allergies, it saves a lot of time checking labels. also, on their website (which is where you’d order the books from) they update things that are in their guide that are no longer gluten free (changed formulas, etc). this is also quite helpful~ it saves me from having to order a new book each year. I also found that this guide had a lot more main-stream brands than other guides.

Triumph Dining also has a grocery guide. I bought the first edition, where it was normal-sized paper and pretty thin. but since then (they just released their 3rd edition) they’ve made their books small and thick (like Cecelia’s). in my version, it’s split into grocery sections, as you’d find in the aisles of the store, which is a nice format. it’s a helpful book, but I found that there were fewer main-stream brands and more specific grocery chain brands, like Safeway, Albertsons, Hy-Vee, Wegmans, etc, that made up their GF product lists (in the edition I have). since there aren’t too many of those grocery stores in the area, those items weren’t as helpful to me. but in certain foods I looked for, it was quite helpful. I’m sure they’ve added more products since my edition as well.

the third grocery guide that I own is the Celiac Sprue Association’s product guide from 2007. this comes in two forms: CD or binder. I bought the binder, which is like an inch or more thick. it has many more products than the other guides. they not only list food products, but also beauty products, lotions, home cleaning products, and many other items, which can be quite helpful. it’s a large binder though, so it’s not as easy to tote around to the grocery stores.

I like each of these books for various reasons, and I find it helpful to cross-reference all three at times. for instance, they all list a ton of BBQ sauces, but when I go to the store, I might have to search through 2 or 3 of my guides before I find a brand that my store carries. there are just too many BBQ sauces out there! so I’m glad that I have one of each.

if you only buy one (or one at a time), I’d start with what’s most important to you. if you’re just starting out and want to know all the non-food items to be concerned about as well as foods, you may want the huge CSA product listing. if you’d rather have a “pocket-sized” book, the Triumph Dining or Cecelia’s might be the way to go. and if you have additional allergies like dairy or soy, Cecelia’s would be a good option. all of the books are helpful when you get to the store, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

Post Script: I later came across another mainstream source of information, Clan Thompson. they have a grocery guide, and others, including a restaurant guide that contains gluten free menus of 33 restaurants, gluten free alcohol products, drugs (prescription and OTC sold separately), and an “everything else” guide that includes laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, soaps, craft products, etc. I haven’t explored these guides, but I’ve heard good things about them from people. it doesn’t appear that their grocery or restaurant guides are quite as extensive as other brands, but they may update them more regularly (they note the dates of their verification process). so that could be a nice bonus.

 

Victoria’s Ristorante December 6, 2009

Victoria’s is a popular Italian restaurant in downtown Rochester, MN. I really enjoyed going there even before my celiac diagnosis. so I was thrilled to find out afterwards that they have plenty of gluten free options!

first of all, they have special gluten free rolls to enjoy while you wait for your food. it can otherwise be hard to watch everyone else at the table eating the fresh, warm, regular rolls while you just sit there. this attention to detail for the gluten free is highly appreciated. only once (of many visits) have I had a server try and bring my GF rolls in the same basket as regular rolls, which of course, we explained to them that those rolls can no longer be used. they are overall very knowledgable and are very aware aware of cross-contamination.

the salads (which come with dinner meals) are great. they always taste so fresh, and don’t lack anything without croutons. I especially love their homemade Italian dressing.

they have a special gluten free menu that you can ask for when being seated. it’s a one page sheet of more of the specialty items, which can include lasagna and ravioli! I’ve yet to find those items offered in a restaurant anywhere else.

also, most of their regular menu (which is quite extensive) can be made gluten free as well. they can even make their pizzettes on gluten free crusts, if you’d like some pizza.

I’ve never seen such an extensive menu available that can be ordered as gluten-free. there are seriously more gluten-free dinner options than most restaurants’ complete regular menus offer. it would be very difficult not to find something you like!

I highly recommend this restaurant. they are like a well-oiled machine when it comes to gluten-free dining, and I always feel comfortable eating there. not to mention that the food is great! unless you come in the middle of the day, the place is always hopping!

 

Trader Joes December 4, 2009

if you’ve started the gluten free diet, you should know well by now that gluten free foods are expensive. this is one of the benefits of grocery guides~ they help you find normal grocery products that happen to be gluten free. Trader Joes is sort of a hybrid.

they make pamphlets that show all of the GF products in the store, and leave them out for you to take. it’s about 4-6 pages long, and not only has Trader Joes brand groceries, but items from other brands that they carry as well. it’s essentially a free grocery guide that works for their store.  (it’s always nice if a store has a listing of their GF products, but when they do, it’s generally just for their store’s brand.)

Trader Joes also has some specialty GF items, which are much more inexpensive, generally speaking, than other specialty products. for instance, they have frozen GFCF pancakes that are surprisingly tasty. they also have other things like GF brownie mixes, a flourless chocolate cake, a few types of GF breads, and even gluten free gravy around Thanksgiving (I wasn’t a big fan of the gravy, but maybe I just had a weird batch). they’re also really good at labelling items in the Trader Joe’s brand for allergens, and if it was processed in facilities with other allergens, etc.

one of the things I appreciate most is their selection of nuts. they have a huge variety of very reasonably priced (roasted OR raw) cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc. and best of all, they often offer them in packages of 10 “handful of nuts” individually-wrapped servings, which are perfect to carry around in a purse, in case you end up hungry somewhere without GF food. it’s a great back-up.

if you’re lucky enough to live or work near a Trader Joes, you should definitely stop by and check it out, if you haven’t already. it’s a great place to get gluten free food on a budget. they have locations in Maple Grove, St Louis Park, and Woodbury.

 

Chipotle December 2, 2009

Chipotle is such a great restaurant choice for celiacs that want a quick meal at a reasonable cost. for starters, there are locations scattered throughout the region and the country. it may not be as ubiquitous as McDonalds, but they do have quite a presence and seem to be growing quickly.

the other reason I enjoy Chipotle so much is that it’s one of the few Mexican restaurants where celiacs can actually eat the chips and hard shell tacos! those are the only things they fry, so there no oil contamination. in fact, the only item there with gluten, according to their allergy chart, is the flour tortillas. (if you have allergies to dairy, then the cheese and sour cream are the only other limitations, but if you have a soy allergy, everything but the cheese and sour cream use soybean oil).

the only problem that I’ve had with Chipotle is that as a faster-food restaurant, things just fly down the assembly line, which gives greater chances of contamination.

what I do is ask one person to wash their hands and change gloves and just do my entire order for me, and I usually ask for the manager and have them do it, because they tend to be more aware of the allergy situations. I always watch carefully though, because they still will sometimes change gloves and then naturally rest their hands on those flour tortilla shells! so don’t be afraid to speak up if they’re getting close to touching some. the managers are usually good at telling the people down the line who reach for my food that they’ll be doing my entire order. before I started this procedure, I’d sometimes feel unsure about whether it may have been contaminated by something someone did. but I’ve found that since I started doing this I haven’t really had any problems anymore.

if possible, I still try to go at off hours (although Chipotle seems to have a line at almost any time of the day!) my favorite time is right when they open for lunch, because everything is in place still (no ingredients have been thrown around in a mad flurry), and the lines haven’t yet formed.

some people are concerned about the contamination of the serving spoons that transfer the meat or salsas to the hard shells or burrito bowls (or flour burritos, hence the contamination), which I am always hyper-vigilant about as well. but for some reason I don’t get too worried at Chipotle. it’s probably because I didn’t think about it when I first started on my gluten-free diet, and since I’ve never gotten sick from it, I haven’t been too worried. it’s my one exception to my hyper-vigilance. that could all change if I do get sick one day. but as of now, I haven’t had problems with gluten there. however, if you’re concerned but would still like to go there because it’s convenient, you could still choose to get some chips (which I love eating plain, if I don’t trust them to do my order right on any given day). other contamination issues for those with dairy allergies are that the cheese is sometimes thrown into the tacos, burritos, etc so quickly that there may be a few shreds in the lettuce or something, so watch for that.

all in all, it’s a good, fast option. it obviously carries the concerns with it of fast preparation and attention to detail with your order, but I’ve found that with my precautions, things have gone fine. and you can’t beat the convenience.