Friday, September 26, 2008

Tremont Scoops

Of all the things I miss about New York, cultural festivals near the top of the list. From the small street fairs featuring the same Dolce & Gabbana purses and lucky bamboo the street vendors tried to peddle the week before to the giant, ethnically themed block parties, New York knows how to get people on the streets. 

While Ohio has a lot of festivals (the Circleville Pumpkin Festival, for example, is just three weeks away), few I've been to capture the community aspect of New York Street Fairs. Maybe that's why I so enjoyed the Tremont Art and Cultural Festival. The whole of Lincoln Park was undertaken by tents and tents of activists and artists promoting their causes and their wares. The underlying reason for the festival, though, was to promote the up and coming  Tremont neighborhood. For a supposedly dying city, I keep being surprised by how much Cleveland has to offer. Tremont, with its quirky stores fronts, multicolored houses, many galleries, and neighborhood restaurants is, well, cool. I like it. 

After browsing tents of jewelry, sculpture, locally produced honey, fair trade coffee, and hand painted Latin American figurines, it was clearly time to browse the restaurant stands. Now, while I really do like most things about street fairs, I have to say walking through stands and stands of food I can't eat isn't much fun. Everything smells and looks great, but most of it is completely poisonous ends up being just a tease. But since my mom was talking about checking out local ice cream shop, Tremont Scoops, when we were done with the festival, I figured I'd at least walk through the food section with her while she looked for some lunch.

We were both pretty pleased to find Tremont Scoops had set up an ice cream wagon. Unfortunately, due to weather and logistical constraints, the cart only had glutenous ice cream sandwiches and suspect chocolate covered bananas. Ready to be disappointed, I asked if the woman selling the bananas if she knew what was in the covering: You see, I'm allergic to wheat...

Maryanne, owner of Tremont Scoops, knew exactly what I was talking about. The bananas were gluten free, but more than that, she said she gets a lot of celiacs (yes, she used the word!) in her shop. She knows what's in all of her ice creams and frozen treats and - if you make sure to mention your gluten free needs to her - she can steer you to safe ice cream, from scooped with utensils and from vats she's cleaned personally. There's probably no safer dessert in town. 

The bananas were great. I mean, who doesn't like food on a stick? Rolled in nuts and covered in chocolate, the banana made for a perfect snack (or actually, lunch) as we explored the rest of the festival. But don't just take my word for it; people kept coming up to us, asking where we got the unusual treat. I'm not really used to anyone wanting to eat the same thing as me, much less actively seeking it out.  As I pointed them in the direction of Maryanne and her cart, I was almost tempted to add they're not just delicious, they're food allergy friendly, too! 

The Tremont Arts and Cultural Festival was all about sharing local products and showcasing local artisans.  It was about making Tremont a place people want to go, a place people feel safe. Funny, those are the things I look for in a gluten free eatery. A lot of Clevelanders tend to stay in the suburbs - many rarely leaving their side of town. But they shouldn't. They should be checking out Tremont and all it has to offer. A great local stop, Tremont Scoops satisfies the needs of the up and coming Tremont Community and the ever growing Cleveland celiac population. Make sure to check it out soon! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sun Luck Garden Is Back!!

I don't remember when I first went to Sun Luck Garden, but I do remember being quite little the first time I had Sizzling Rice Soup. A sumptuous vegetable broth laden with crisp veggies was set alive before my young eyes as crisped rice was added to the soup, sizzling away, more exciting than any Snap, Crackle, or Pop. At twenty-two, the thrill hasn't warn off. 

Sun Luck Garden is one of Cleveland's favorite restaurants. Winning several awards, it's a long standing neighborhood staple with loyal clientele. Now, you can probably guess the story before I say it: I didn't think I could eat there, then, lo and behold! Sun Luck Garden is gluten free friendly! There's a formula to these stories, I suppose. 

But the piece you weren't counting on is Annie Chui. Endeavoring to refine an already peerless menu, Annie makes routine trips back East, getting new ideas for her dishes and desserts. Owner, chef, and all around amazing restaurateur, Annie is such a Cleveland staple that when she underwent emergency heart surgery this summer, a community of friends held a fundraising event in her honor. You can view pictures of the party or continue to donate to her at During this time, Sun Luck Garden was closed. But thankfully for all of us, Annie is better and Sun Luck has reopened it's doors. 

Annie knows her customers. She values them like friends, and knows them by name, or in my case, food allergy. When I walk in, I'm always greeted with "You! I know I have some things for you. No dark tofu!" (The dark tofu is Annie's creation and is mixed with soy sauce, so it very much not for me.) 

Annie knows what gluten is. And she knows how to tell you to avoid it. 

Lucky for me, the Sizzling Rice Soup was, is, and hopefully will forever be gluten free. For dinner, my mom and I split the Mai Fun: angel hair like rice noodles with thinly cut mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, bean sprouts, and heavy with white, safe, tofu. 

You can't - or at least, we can't, and you shouldn't - go to Sun Luck Garden without getting some of Annie's homemade sorbet. Made simply of ice and fresh fruit, it's a perfect, light ending to any meal and it's some of the best sorbet I've ever had. She routinely offers flavors like grapefruit, raspberry, and mango; though for my money, you can't beat the blueberry, even if it does turn your tongue and teeth blue - in fact, that the multicolored mouth might be part of the fun. 

I'll be honest. Sun Luck Garden was, in part, an inspiration for my blog. After my diagnosis, I figured Chinese food was all but lost to me, unless I made it at home. Thus, being able to share a normal meal out with my family - at a place they actually enjoyed - was really exciting. Annie made sure to stress that my gluten issues were not a problem for her and by the end of the meal I couldn't help but wonder why isn't there a way to connect this great restaurant and giving woman with the rest of the Cleveland Celiac community? 

Well, now hopefully there is. Thanks Annie. I'll be back soon. 

Sun Luck Garden on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Greens in Cleveland: From the Botanical Gardens to a Salad at Tommy's

I've been thinking a lot about greens. From driving through the metroparks to experimenting with lettuces, I'm filling my end of summer days with greens. And with autumn - and it's promise of crisp weather and crisper apples - on the way, perhaps my all my green thoughts are a sign of wanting what I can't have. A little, grass is greener on the other side if you will. (Okay, even I'll admit that was pretty bad.) 

You wouldn't think green is a word I would - or could - use much in Cleveland. It's a real steel mill city. A real meat and potatoes (or, okay, pork and pierogies) kind of town. "Greens" are certainly not invited guests here. At least not A-list guests.

But I know your secret, Cleveland. I've been reading up, exploring, and yes, eating. And though you may hide it, seems there is room in this town for a one girl green machine.

Cleveland Botanical Gardens

Reopening in July of 2003, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens sits in the center of University Circle. There are two plant galleries in the towering glass structure: a southwestern type scape, teeming with nonnative plants that range from prickly cacti to striking desert flowers, and an Amazonian hothouse filled with butterflies. Outside, the theme gardens spanned from expected offerings such as a rose garden and imitation Japanese landscaping to the completely unique "Blues Garden", that is, topiaries peppered with actual brass instruments. If I had to make one definitive summation about the Gardens, it's this: if you're given the time, there's probably no finer, more relaxing, way to spend an afternoon in this city.

While I didn't eat at the Garden Cafe, I did notice a large sign indicating much of the food there was bought locally. It's an ecological push to lower a diner's carbon footprint, and while not really related to gluten at all, I'm always appreciative of thinking outside the food box.

All of that nature made us thirsty. And we were oh so close to Cleveland's Little Italy, so...

Yes, I went to a bakery. I know. Maybe the day was more about wanting what I couldn't have than I realized. But while my eyes did sweep over the freshly baked loaves, the beautiful cookies and cakes, and the pizza and calzones, I didn't really feel deprived. I wasn't there for lunch, and besides, if I really wanted to eat, I could've enjoyed some of the Italian ices or gelato. I was there for one reason, an iced mocha. 

I almost didn't go, thinking what's a celiac like me doing in a place like this. But that's not a good reason not to go anywhere. Especially not the sunny corner of a Little Italy bakery on a gorgeous end of summer day. Gluten free living shouldn't limit where you go and what you do, and we all need reminding of that from time to time. The coffee was a fine bonus, though.


It was only a matter of time, right?

Tommy's is known city wide - actually nation wide, since Rachel Ray visited it on her $40 a day program - for being the place for vegetarian/vegan eating. It's cheap, too. Located in Coventry Village in Cleveland Heights, I've been going to Tommy's for as long as I can remember. It's a place toasted cheese sandwiches, the best milkshakes ever created, and the only restaurant anyone in Cleveland is not only willing, but expected, to wait at least an hour for a table.

While being gluten free bars me from my old favorites, the Tommy's menu actually offers quite few options. But more than that, some of the menu is annotated "gluten free". There's chili, soups, tamales, and then, there are the salads. Readers will know being relegated to salad for dinner is a pet peeve of mine. But the Tommy's salads are good, a real meal with annotated GF salad dressings to boot. My favorite has become the Marina - a spinach salad with a healthy scoop of humus AND baba ghanoush - and I was all set to order it when something else caught my eye....

Falafel. Crispy, crunchy falafel. Falafel is usually not safe, as its often dusted with flour, but I had this feeling. A falafel feeling. And, hey, it never hurts to ask. My waitress was not only knowledgeable about what gluten was, but she even asked the cook (in front of me!) if the falafel could be guaranteed to be gluten free. Oh, it was and I was pretty thrilled. I choose the Dale - a tossed salad comprised of lettuce, celery, carrots, tomatoes, cheese, falafel and pickles (my add on!) and oil and vinegar dressing. You could probably get anything you wanted on your salad, but larger, more complicated falafel salads exist as well.

Between botanical gardens and vegetarian eating, I think I got my green urges fulfilled. I'm not really ready for the summer sunlight to go away, but the fall does promise gorgeous foliage and pumpkin spice everything. ...Something tells me I'm going to start thinking in orange.

Tommy's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cream Cheese Shortbread Thumbprints with Blackberry Preserves

As it turns out, I make a mean cookie. 

Shortly before my diagnosis, I got really into baking. My roommate, Lisa, got the Magnolia Cupcake cookbook and we got hooked on cupcakes with vanilla butter cream frosting and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I'd even perfected the red velvet cake. 

And then, boom. Celiac.  My baking days were done. Well, not before trying to make disastrous chickpea flour cookies and cupcakes, all with sunken in centers and a distinct garbanzo taste. Between trying to understand the different flours and the mystery that was xanthum gum, baking proved frustrating, expensive, and not worth the energy. So, pouting, I hung up my apron and learned to focus on making food rather than dessert. Besides, there were tons of GF mixes to satisfy my sweet tooth, even if they felt like cheating. All things considered, the focus on cooking was good; I learned to be comfortable, even successful, in a gluten free kitchen. And yet...

Making a gluten free baked good is like the final frontier of gluten free living. When you explain celiac to someone, they so often reply they couldn't imagine life without bread or brownies. And that look they give you upon explaining that cookies you can eat are made with date paste or something equally ridiculous is such a mixture of sympathy and thank god it's not me! that if such a look had powers, it would melt even the strongest celiac into a pile of gluten free goo. 

I find that the non-gluten freers feel more cheated by the gluten free desserts than those of us who routinely have to go without Nabisco and Sara Lee. And for this reason, being able to create a gluten free dessert that passes as simply dessert, no qualifier, has been a goal of mine. 

I've been getting the itch to bake. 

For the past 24 hours, I've been plotting my cookie. It would not be a simple sugar cookie or an ordinary chocolate chip creation. Like the old days of my red velvet cake, if I was going to bake, I was going to bake. I visited three grocery stores and checked tens of websites and hundreds of recipes. 

The result was an amalgam of three normal (that is, non GF) recipes that ended up being so delicious my mom took a dozen over to her friend's for dinner instead of buying a store bought, glutenous, dessert. 

If that's not success, I don't know what is. 

Cream Cheese Shortbread Thumbprints with Blackberry Preserves

3/4 cup of softened butter (I used smart balance)
1 cup sugar
4 oz of cream cheese
the yolk of 1 egg
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1 and 1/2 cup GF flour*  (I like Whole Foods Brand, but use your favorite)
1/2 cup almond four*
approximately 1/4 cup of Blackberry preserves, as needed or desired 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

* I bought almond flour because a) I like the taste of almond in my baked goods and b) it adds protein. The cookies will be just as successful with 2 cups of GF flour. Additionally, if you really like almonds or have a lot of the flour on hand, you can adjust the flour mixture to 50/50 while still keeping the correct cookie consistency. 

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Then, mix in the cream cheese. Next, beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla. Slowly add the flour(s),  one 1/2 cup at a time, stirring in between each addition. 

For dough that is easier to work with, refrigerate the mixture, covered, for about 15 minutes. Chilling the dough produced prettier, rounder cookies (as I found out accidentally, as not having enough room in the oven forced me to bake in 2 rounds), but
it won't have an effect on the taste. The impatient and cookie hungry among you may skip this step. 

Roll the dough in to balls 1/2 an inch in diameter and place and an inch or so apart (they don't spread out too much in the baking). Using the back of a spoon, make an indentation in the cookies, then use your finger to mold the dip to your liking. Fill the indentation with desired amount of jam. Bake for 15 - 17 minutes, until the edges are a lovely golden brown. 

The recipe yielded about 5 dozen cookies. Sounds like a lot, but they go quick, trust me. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Banana Coconut (Vegan) Milkshakes

With interpersonal relationships, compatibility is an issue in constant flux. We want to be around people who compliment yet challenge us and, in a way, making good friends becomes an art. That push/pull makes - and keeps - things interesting. So while friendships might be formed over memories and experiences, it's really the little things that keep us together - things like views on music, theater, politics, art, and yes, food. This time, it's about the food.  

Last night, I had dinner with Emily. She and I have maintained a friendship since the sixth grade, despite long distances, busy lives, and poor Internet connections. Seeing each other roughly 2 -3 times a year, we always manage to pick up right where we left off, a strange fact that at once makes me feel old and like I might never be older than fifteen, no matter how hard I try. Anyway, be it a function of there being little to do in the West Side suburbs or the fact our friendship is on some kind of record-repeat loop, hanging out inevitably involves attempting to cook something for dinner that get a lot of laughs before it meets the disposal. 

This could've been understandable, even excusable,  in our teen years, but we're in our early 20s now. We're college educated girls and with reasonable kitchen knowledge - why must our food experiments end so disastrously? Though Emily and I might compliment each other in a variety of ways, we have one serious challenge: competing food allergies. A vegetarian celiac trying to eat the same thing as a ham eating, lactose intolerant, soy yogurt buying girl? It's not so easy. 

But I've never been one to shy away from a challenge - or break tradition - and before I knew it, we were on our way to the local Giant Eagle to buy ingredients for vegan milkshakes. 

As tradition and a poorly stocked grocery store would dictate, we bought most of the ingredients on the fly. (It's more exciting that way, trust me.) We swapped coconut milk in for the hoped for coconut ice cream and read ingredients on all of the soy and rice dairy products (notorious for harboring hidden gluten) until we found ones satisfactory for us both. Upon returning home, we blended the ingredients up with vague - at - best measurements and hoped for something at least palatable. 

And while we've had many, many kitchen accidents in the past, these milkshakes were actually good. Maybe there's hope for our joint culinary adventures after all. At the very least, I know we'll try it out again in another six months. 

Banana Coconut (Vegan) Milkshakes 

1/2 pint of Tofutti ice cream
2 and a 1/2 ripened bananas 
1 can of lite coconut milk
about 1 and a 1/2 cups of vanilla rice milk (use discretion based on how thin or thick you like it) 

Silly as it sounds, place all ingredients in a blender and blend (we chose the oh so fancy "frappe" setting) until your milkshake has reached desired thickness. At first, the milkshake had that you-know-it's-vegan soy aftertaste, but the addition of another scoop of Tofutti and another half a banana really made it quite tasty. 

This recipe makes four mugfulls of milkshake goodness. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gluten Free Chinese Food Exists! Pearl of the Orient in Shaker Heights

Through various channels (one of the Ohio celiac webpages for one, and a friend of my mother's eavesdropping on neighboring diners for two), I'd come to learn that long time neighborhood Chinese food standard Pearl of the Orient had gluten free options. That ubiquitous term could've meant anything. Would they offer me steamed veggies and rice without any sauce? Did they have one sauce that they'd pour over everything, which yes, would make it gluten free Chinese, but really would offer me one blander than bland option? Would I get lucky and have two choices - rice and vegetables or rice noodles and vegetables? 

Such are the pessimistic wonders  of a celiac going for dinner. Like beer, cupcakes, or freshly baked bread, Chinese food is lost to us. This is due to the fact that most soy sauces contain wheat, thus making an otherwise wonderland of gluten free possibilities completely poisonous. Sad but true, Chinese food is not for the gluten free amongst you. Most of the time, that is, because I have nine words for you: Pearl of the Orient has gluten free soy sauce

Wholly moly. As the manager explained to me, "the whole menu is open to you. ...well, I'd advise against the egg rolls." They are willing to adjust any of their sauces, making them personalized and fresh for you, with their gluten free soy sauce packets. That's right, free from cross contamination packets. Being able to eat practically anything on the menu? Yeah, I could live without the egg rolls. 

With four of five pages of options, the menu is pretty extensive. Frankly I was overwhelmed by the choices. We settled on vegetable-tofu soup for 2 (made vegetarian by a water-based broth!) and I, being so unable to choose, ended up with the Vegetarians' Delight with tofu - sauteed vegetables and tofu in a white wine sauce. Okay, maybe I wasn't so adventurous but it was my first time out of the gluten free gate here, cut me some slack. 

Both dishes were beautifully presented and perfectly yummy. Crunchy sugar snap peas, crisp carrots, golden firm tofu. I'd say I'd be going back for more, but that would be a lie. How could I could get the same old same old in the face of options like Szechuan Eggplant, String Beans in Garlic Sauce, Vegetable Soup Noodles, Pad Thai, Steamed Buddha's Dream, or Vegetables in Peanut Sauce? And for the non-vegetarian, the options open up ten fold. At Pearl of the Orient, they're even willing to serve the breaded chicken dishes un-breaded at the diner's request. 

As we left, we talked for a moment with the manager who mentioned Pearl can do their catering gluten free, too. It's enough to make you start planning your Chinese New Year party in September. Pearl of the Orient is an excellent find and while I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go back and try something new, I'm really looking forward to those left overs in my fridge.... 

Pearl of the Orient on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sometimes, I Eat In: Veggie Burgers and Sticky Rice

I've been looking for a good gluten free veggie burger for years. 

Like most fake meats, veggie burgers are often held together by wheat and even sometimes by wheat gluten. For a while, Gardenburger's Southwest Chipotle Burger was gluten free, but alas, they changed their formula and are no longer celiac safe. It seems the freezer case isn't big enough for a product that is both vegetarian AND gluten free. 

Enter Sunshine Veggie Burgers! I'm really not one for product placement, but I was so excited by these guys, I just had to share. I read about Sunshine burgers online over a year ago, but didn't see them at any store I shopped in. So whether they're new to Whole Foods or just to the Cleveland stores, they're still worth mentioning. Being able to eat out at restaurants like a normal person is great yes, but being able to grab something from your grocery's frozen section? It's pretty cool, too.  

Since my diagnosis, I've become a fairly good cook. I've found that if you want to eat decently as a celiac - or eat any of the foods you remember pre-diagnosis - you pretty much have to learn to cook.  I remember being told by the nutritionist at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia Presbyterian that a lot of celiacs choose a "cooking day" and make meals to freeze and eat the whole week. Now, I don't know who has time to devote a whole day of their week to cooking, but it's certainly not me. Besides, would you really want to eat the same thing every day ?

Well, instead of resigning my Sundays to cooking, I quickly learned to cook and to cook quickly. Ever seen that "Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee" show on the Food Network? Sandra Lee is an amazingly color-coordinated lady that simplifies impressive recipes by using store bought ingredients. I like to think I cook like know, organically and without the Velveta. 

And as for the burger? It's great. I bought the Garden Herb variety, so it tasted like a veggie burger, but there is an original flavor and that one might taste more like actual meat, if that's what you're after. I topped the burger off with a sauteed mixture of mushrooms and garlic and a slice of fresh yellow tomato I'd bought from a farmer's market in Middlefield, Ohio earlier in the day. Add that to the ear of locally grown sweet corn (also courtesy of the farmer's market) and a romaine lettuce salad complete with cherry tomatoes from our garden, and I made a pretty great gluten-free dinner in under 15 minutes. 

Being on a cooking kick, and having fresh mango on hand, I couldn't resist cooking up a pot of one of my all time favorite gluten free desserts: sticky rice with mango. I've made this for family and friends, none of whom are gluten free, all of whom have loved it. It's the kind of unexpected dessert that is both simple and elegant, mostly because no one thinks they could make it themselves. They're wrong, but don't tell them that. 

Sticky Rice with Mango
as taken from the Taste of Thai Coconut Milk can!

1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
2/3rds cup sugar 
1 can lite coconut milk (you can use regular coconut milk, but there is no difference in taste)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
chopped mango (or fruit of your desire)

Cook rice according to directions on package. (Generally, let 2 cups of water boil before stirring in rice. Cook, covered, on low for 40 minutes  - sometimes 20 depending on your rice - and then remove from heat and let sit for five minutes.)

Combine coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and heat to a boil, stirring often. Don't let your sugar clump and burn! Let it boil about three minutes. (Note: depending on your taste, you may want to play around with the sugar amount. Using a little less - and I mean a little, it's still a dessert! would probably work fine.)

Pour the coconut milk mixture over your cooked rice and cover with plastic wrap for 40 minutes. 

If you plan on serving it immediately, it will still be quite good, but it won't have the well, sticky, quality the dish is known for. When I serve it that way, I refer to it as "my coconut rice". To aid in the sticky-factor, refrigerate the rice for a few hours or overnight. Add mango or preferred fruit (or fruits! combine mango with strawberry, nectarines, peaches, and so on) and enjoy. 
Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin