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Eat Gluten Free in Houston: Season’s Harvest Cafe

Are you looking for a restaurant that serves the freshest possible ingredients and also has great gluten free options? I think I have found your place! We had heard about Season’s Harvest Cafe in Cypress, TX several times from friends and have wanted to try it, so we decided to go celebrate our anniversary there.

They are a farm to table restaurant, and they get a significant amount of their food from local vendors in the area. What they cannot find local, they strive to at least get organic. Their menu does rotate, though I am not sure exactly when it changes. They work to make their dishes available to different eating styles as much as possible. If you eat Raw, they have that, Vegan is covered, and gluten free they can do. Their menu is full of whole foods, so it is easy to adapt any item to your diet and they are familiar with all the different allergies/diets and can work easily with you!

That is always the beauty of focusing on fresh ingredients, prepared from scratch. Things become super straight forward when you focus on basic ingredients, and it can be extremely flexible to work with different diets. Here is the one caveat: They are not a gluten free kitchen. So while they use primarily fresh ingredients, and there probably is not a ton of flour floating around, there is a risk of cross contact happening. I would characterize this as more gluten friendly than totally gluten free, but they are way beyond many other gluten friendly restaurants. They bring in all of their breads and desserts, so they don’t have flour all over the kitchen from any of their cooking.

The Environment

First off, I totally wasn’t thinking about this from a blog post perspective. I did not take anywhere enough pictures, so we will have to make do, sorry!

Season’s Harvest Cafe is set on 2-3 acres of land in North Cypress. It is in a rustic, “cabin” setting. Lots of exposed wood, log façade etc, it has a great farm feel to it which both my wife and I enjoyed immensely. It is a very peaceful environment with very little road noise.

They do have some gardens and a chicken coop, though I am unsure how much food they try to get off their own property. We sat outside for our first cool front of the year and it was quite pleasant. There’s trees, lots of birds and other small wildlife, and a little pond next to the deck we were eating on. They also bring in live music once a month which would be great fun to go for!

The Food

The main dishes were excellent! They do keep their menu small, but each item is made carefully and well. They had 6 options to choose from. Chicken salad as a sandwich or a salad, a fall garden vegetable soup (fantastic), a quinoa bowl, a humus dish (so good), a fall harvest salad (yummy!) and a raw marinated veggie plate. You can probably tell which ones we tried haha.

Katie got the jalapeno humus with a side of chicken and their vegetable soup. It came with gluten free lavash, local feta (most amazing cheese!!), soup, homemade glazed walnuts, and some fruits and veggies. I do NOT like humus, period. I don’t like the flavor, and I really despise the texture. This stuff was good, though. I would totally eat their humus any time! It was a very pleasant level of spiciness as well. Katie does not really like chili heat and said she would still not choose to have it in there but it was enjoyable and not overwhelmingly hot.

The Harvest Salad was excellent, also. It came with cranberry goat cheese, local veggies, glazed walnuts, and I added on a delicious chicken breast to it. While it was a fairly typical fall harvest salad, it was all quite tasty and satisfying other than the dressing. The dressing was fine but not amazing.

Let Them Eat Cake

Or maybe not… So here is their one downfall, though it’s fairly minor. They had 3 different gluten free desserts available. All their desserts are produced by a local bakery and brought in. Since it was our anniversary anyway, and we have to make sacrifices for all of you good people, we went ahead and tried all 3. They have a carrot cake, an espresso chocolate cookie and an almond butter bar.

They serve them warmed, if you like. We went that route and they got a bit too warm and got crunchy on the outside. They were all fairly “meh”. The cookie was probably the best, but it did not really have any espresso flavor. Both the almond butter bar and the carrot cake were fairly plain, and all the flavors ran together. I at least have to say none of their desserts were dry or crumbly. If you have been eating GF very long you know that’s a big risk you take with many gluten free baked products. Theirs were moist, but just not great.

I would not spend my money again on their desserts; I would rather go without or make something at home afterwards. Something like our brownies would be great… Had to throw in the shameless plug sorry. Frankly, this is why we have spent so long working on our recipes. We want them to be amazing, not just ok.

The Verdict

Other than the desserts, their food is quite delicious, and I highly recommend Season’s Harvest Cafe. Their menu can be easily made to work with almost any diet, and I feel like the whole family can be happy with whatever they get. They also serve breakfast, and I am excited to go back and try it out. Here is also an important part. Their silverware is not giant, it’s properly sized for a normal human. I find this to be a very important to enjoying our meal! What is up with the giant, heavy, clunky silverware that’s in style right now ?! Anyway. More on that rant later, but go check out this restaurant and make your mouths and bodies happy at the same time!

Let us know in the comments, have you ever been to Season’s Harvest Cafe and what did you think? Is there somewhere else you would like us to try?

Make it a tasty day,

Chris

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Is Low Carb also Gluten Free?

Is low carb also gluten free? In a word: No.  Frankly if you are eating low carb and gluten free, you must be extremely careful. While a lot of low carb products and recipes are gluten free, many have hidden gluten that you must be careful to avoid!

Let’s go back to the basics of what gluten does. It helps our gluten-filled bread stick together, right? Well, starch helps to make that happen as well. So in many low carb products, when they remove starch filled products, they substitute in extra wheat gluten to help give structure. Obviously this is a huge problem for anyone who is sensitive to gluten and is also eating low carb.

Should we be mad?

Should we be upset at the companies using vital wheat gluten and recipe creators who use it in their recipes and products? Absolutely not! They are creating value for the many people who are not gluten free but do want to eat low carb. Just as much as we should not be upset with the people who create products or recipes using wheat flour.

What to look out for?

Certainly it’s true that, “You cannot judge a book by it’s cover”. Looking at outward appearance, in some cases, can help us, though. If you see a recipe or a product that looks too good to be gluten free, pay more attention. Take that next step and look at the ingredients. Don’t waste your time watching a 20 minute youtube video, just to check the recipe at the end and realize it has 2 cups of wheat gluten added to it. Here is a great example of something that looks a bit better looking than other gluten free recipes and low and behold, it’s not!

As always, checking ingredient labels is one of the most important things we can do as allergen sensitive people. I totally understand the excitement and the comfort we get from seeing a product mentioning it is free of “fill in the blank”. It is typically a good sign that it at least has a good chance of being safe for us to eat. We still need to carefully examine it and make sure it is safe!

So is low carb also gluten free? Maybe… It’s not a guaranteed thing, and many low carb options contain lots of extra gluten. Read the recipe or ingredients list carefully and pay attention. If it seems too good to be true, it quite possibly is. I don’t want to drag your enthusiasm down but I really don’t want people getting sick either, and we have been deceived by quite a few of these recipes recently.

Don’t forget yesterday’s post here about these new bread mixes which ARE both gluten free and low carb (and amazingly delicious, too)!

Make it a tasty day,

Chris

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Gluten Free in Houston: River Oaks Donuts

Donuts. Doughnuts. Either way you choose to spell this delicious word, they are high on my list of favorite foods. Sadly, they are not easily accessible for gluten free people. Donuts, even more than most things, are certainly best served fresh. I have very rarely found a local place that has a gluten free donut. While there are numerous brands of frozen gluten free donuts at the grocery store, it is nice to be able to have something available right when you want it. While they are not my favorite and could use improvement, in my opinion, if you are in the Houston area and looking for a gluten free donut go check out River Oaks Donut.

They offer, I believe, 4 different mini gluten free donuts every day. They did say that they tend to run out early on weekends. When I went, they had sprinkles and toasted coconut of both chocolate and vanilla gluten free donuts. When I say mini, I do mean mini. They are about 2 inches wide. The nice thing is, though, that they are only .55 cents apiece. That is a pretty good value proposition, especially if you just want to try them to see if you like them.

Gluten Free Donuts in Houston

Taste and Texture

Taste was, I would say, reasonable for gluten free. It was not amazing, frankly, just a bit bland for the donut itself. It was not bad, though. They do contain both garbanzo and fava bean flours which typically lend a bean flavor but they did not have any of that.

The texture is where these fall short in my opinion. They are still fairly gummy, probably due to the large amount of bean flour. I really do not like things that are gummy; I realize it does not bother others as much. My wife was not bothered nearly as much by the gummy-ness as I was.

The Conclusion

While I do wish the taste and texture were better, I think these are still an excellent option if you need a ready-to-go gluten free donut or sweet breakfast option in Houston. These are especially a good idea if you have a family where some eat gluten free and others don’t.

Make it a tasty day,

Chris

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Eating Gluten Free in Dallas: HG Sply CO

HG Sply CO

Doing restaurant reviews feels a bit strange since I know many of y’all are not in Texas to begin with, and those who are in Texas are spread around. We all do travel, though, and I do think it’s helpful to know of places to stop in different cities. I was traveling myself for work last week up in the Dallas/ Ft Worth area. For dinner we went to HG Sply CO. We went to the location in Trophy Club.

I would describe it as higher end casual. The prices and food are a bit higher; average was $15 a plate, but a very casual atmosphere. I neglected to get many pictures – something to work on for future blogs! They have a large covered outdoor bar/patio area. When I have large, I mean LARGE – probably 6000 sq feet just by itself if not more.

Their vibe seems to be centered on getting together with friends, having a few good drinks, getting some good food, and having fun. It was a great family friendly atmosphere.

What Matters Most

The food was really good. They seem to have put thought into their menu and offer tons of options with quality ingredients. They use classic recipes but with a slightly varied take on things. The best part about it is that they said on their menu that they can make any dish gluten or dairy free. The staff seemed to have no issues with this and made sure my specific plate got to me even though several of us ordered the same dish.

HG Sply CO Menu

I ordered a steak, which is always a fairly safe bet for gluten free eating, which was pretty tasty. It wasn’t necessarily the best steak I’ve had in my life, but it was good. One of my coworkers is eating Keto and was able to grab something right off the menu. I believe it was salmon with fried cauliflower “rice”. He said it was really good. so this would be a great option for families or groups of people with different allergy needs!

In the end I highly recommend HG Sply CO if you are in the Dallas, TX area.  The food was good, and the prices were reasonable. Most importantly I feel like they are competent to adapt to whatever you food needs are. Let us know what you get and how it tastes if you stop by there!

Make it a tasty day,

Chris

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Finding Keto In Houston: Manna Bakeries

Jalapeno Bread and Cinnamon Roll Keto Houston

I’m going to be honest, I don’t buy premade products out very much.  Most of them are not very good, and I, frankly, despise paying so much when I know I can make them for myself. Sometimes you want something easy though, and it’s always nice to see what’s available. As I drive around Houston I am on the lookout for keto bakeries, and I stop in when I have the time to try them out. Today I have such a find for y’all.

Jalapeno Bread and Cinnamon Roll Keto Houston

Manna Bakeries

If you are in the Tomball, TX area, also known as northwest Houston, think about stopping by Manna Bakeries and trying them out. If you go to their website and are looking for their keto/GF menu it is not the easiest to find. They have their main menu listed on their front page, you need to click on the “Menu” submenu and you can find their keto menu at the bottom.

When I visited they had 8 or 9 of their keto items available. I did not ask, but I’m sure they do not have every item available every day. Call ahead if you are looking for one item in particular.

It was around 10 am when I stopped by. I purchased the cinnamon roll and the jalapeno cheese pull apart bread. I was impressed with both products.

Jalapeno Cheese Pull Apart Bread

The jalapeno cheese bread was good and a decent size. It was $4.75 plus tax, and it was the size of my hand, so you are talking about 5-6 inches across. The texture was nice, and the flavor was overall good. I have never had a keto product yet that does not have that weird aftertaste in the background. That was true here as well and I am unsure of what it is from.  It held together well, and did not totally fall apart like many keto products do. My only real complaint was that it did not have enough cheese, but I’m always unhappy with jalapeno cheese bread because of that!

Jalapeno Cheese Bread Keto Houston

Cinnamon Roll

The cinnamon roll was tasty as well. It was about 4 inches across and cost $3.25 plus tax. The texture was good as well. You could certainly tell it was keto, but once again it held together well and was pleasant to eat. It also had that “keto aftertaste” but it was not nearly as noticeable as the jalapeno cheese bread.

They use Swerve as their sweetener, and it was pleasantly sweet, with no sweetener aftertaste. It appeared to be a cream cheese frosting which was very nice. Overall a rather tasty keto cinnamon roll.

Cinnamon Roll Keto Houston

If you are looking for a premade keto product in Northwest Houston or Tomball, I would definitely recommend checking out Manna Bakeries! They also sell regular bread products so if you have multiple people in your group who can eat different things, it’s a good choice.

Make it a tasty day,

Chris

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Managing Stress is More Important than What You Eat

Managing stress is more important than what you eat. That is quite the statement I know. I believe that statement more every day though. As someone with food allergies you may be wondering how I believe that. Making sure you don’t eat something that you are allergic to must be way more important than managing stress, right?

Of course I am over stating my position a bit. Making sure you avoid eating food containing something you are allergic to is extremely important. We do not want to even come close to eating something we shouldn’t.  Yet, some days I’m not sure what is worse or causes more damage, stress or eating that potentially contaminated French fry.

The Industry of Stress

We have entire industries devoted to dealing with stress. What is the purpose of a Nightguard from your dentist? To mitigate the negative consequences of stress that causes you to grind your teeth at night. You can go to someone that will help you learn to manage your stress. Hotels and spas market directly to being a haven from the stress of modern life.  Delivery services market to reducing your stress. Why have the stress of grocery shopping with your kids or having to put your pants on to get dinner when it can be brought to you!

Is it all bad?

Stress can be good too. Mild stress in the right situation helps us to grow and become stronger. A difficult client at work can help us become better at sales or customer service. Exercise is literally stressing the body to make it stronger. Education is “stressing” the brain to learn more and new things.

What about being chased by a bear? That is certainly stress! Being chased by a bear is not good but that stress causes our body to release adrenaline and other hormones and helps us to get out of a bad situation. The stress itself in that situation is not good, we don’t want to be chased by a bear, but the stress helps to save us from a bad situation.

The Dark Side

Why do I say managing stress is more important than what you eat? Long term, unmanaged stress is known to be a health issue. According to the Harvard Medical School “New Research even supports the notion that high levels of stress somehow speed up the aging process”.  I know I certainly don’t want to age any faster than normal!

You may say “Sure, stress is bad, but I know if I get gluten, even by Cross Contact, I WILL get sick. I won’t necessarily get sick right away from stress.” Perhaps that is so, but that might not always be true. It used to be that unless I got completely and utterly stressed out for days I would not get sick. Unfortunately that has changed.  Now unless I manage my stress properly I get sick fairly quickly. When I say quickly I mean within an hour or so. My neck locks up and starts to hurt and my stomach hurts just as much as if I ate gluten. I always knew I should not be stressed, but I never thought I would be here.

How do we balance the two?

Where do we go from here then? I am not saying we should not be concerned about what we eat. Yes we should! Staying away from food that makes us sick is super important! How we go about it is what matters.

How stressed does it make you to go out to eat? Can you comfortably ask the questions you need to determine if it is safe to eat there? Or does it amp your stress level up to try and figure out what is and is not safe on the menu? I know I have certainly been there. Choose not to go out to eat, or only go out when you are not already stressed.

Does your job require such a huge commitment from your life that you have no time for the other things you need to do, or the time to spend with your family? Remember they will not be paying the medical expenses for your heart attack in 30 years brought on by your stress, or help you put your family back together because you were not there.

Ask the question first are these “requirements” actually there or are they self-imposed? Am I making myself do more than my boss actually requires? Do I really have to work 5 hours on Saturday when I should be at my kids soccer game? Do I truly have to be subject to every whim of this customer?

The answer to those questions could be yes or no. If the answer is no, than stop! Fantastic customer service is crazy important, it’s even more important to care for your family though! If someone cannot understand that, maybe they need to go away, or you need to go away. I’m NOT saying go out right now and quit. I am saying start asking questions, possibly erect proper boundaries, and maybe even start looking for another job.

Off Kilter Brownies is not my sole job at this point. I would like it to be that one day Lord willing but it is not yet. I have certain boundaries I have erected for my day job to help mitigate stress. My work phone effectively turns off on Friday night and I don’t turn it back on until Monday. There are ways people can get a hold of me if they TRULY need to. Sometimes I will check it mid-weekend just in case, sometimes I don’t. There is basically nothing that cannot wait until Monday morning.

It’s Not Just Allergies

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking “That is all well and good, but I don’t have food allergies, so saying managing stress is more important than what you eat does not really apply to me.” That could be true, but what else do you care about? Many people care about eating healthy food. The same concept applies, especially for the little stuff.

Food additives and chemicals are a serious concern. The amount of round up that ends up in our food supply is scary. Is it truly feasible to make sure you never get anything that has ever potentially been sprayed though? Do you refuse to eat at a friend’s house because they are not as strict as you? Maybe you don’t refuse but do you get stressed out when you go over because you know they might use velvita in a dish? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excited about eating velvita, but is it going to kill you in one meal? Is it worth potentially ruining a relationship over? Is it worth making myself sick with worry because of what I might eat at my friend’s house? The answer to all of those is no.

You have a much higher likelihood of causing yourself long term physical harm by worrying all the time about making sure you avoid every drop of red 40, than you ever will by accidently having one drop. Yes what we eat is important. My wife and I care a ton about what we eat, but sometimes it’s just not worth it to worry. You take the steps to mitigate the risk and you move on.

 

I hope this has gotten you to think about the stress in your life. Is it always true that managing stress is more important than what you eat? Maybe not, but it is important as well. Monday we will talk about some ways to help deal with stress.

Take the time this weekend to relax, and take a deep breath. Whatever it is, it’s not the end of the world. Do what you can about it and then move on. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life as a friend of mine recently talked about.

Make it a tasty weekend folks,

Chris

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Is it healthier to eat gluten free? Part 1

Is it healthier to eat Gluten Free? People ask me this question rather frequently. The answer is, as it frequently is, “It Depends”. People eat gluten free for various reasons, the clearest one being that they have some sort of negative reaction to it. If you have a negative reaction to it, then, while I am not a doctor, I would certainly recommend that you remove gluten from your diet. But there are some other reasons, so let’s dig into those, too.

Why do people say it is healthier to eat gluten free? There are several reasons that people do remove gluten from their diet. They are listed below.

  • Perceived Health Benefit
  • Fad Diet
  • Sensitivity to Gluten or Wheat
  • Eat Low Carb
  • Inflammation Removal Diet
  • Other Food Sensitivities

Perceived Health Benefit

I would like to deal with the perceived health benefit first. By this, I mean that people have heard that it is healthier to eat gluten free, so they switch all of their food over to gluten free pre-made products and feel that they are now better off and move on with life, never giving it another thought. This might help you feel better it or it might not.

Changing from the standard American diet (based on wheat products) to the standard American gluten free diet (based on products made with wheat substitutes) might actually be more of a problem. Wheat based products, while far from perfect, do still contain a decent amount of the whole grain. They are not a pure starch. Many gluten free products are made out of a high concentration of pure starches. This produces a tastier product, but it also hits your blood sugar way faster. Go take a look at some of these products on Amazon. Even the “Whole Grain” products have added starch.

This is an important fact if you are switching to Gluten Free because of a sensitivity to it. I love a good bagel or slice of bread. It is probably best that we don’t eat it all the time, though, especially with the high levels of starch in GF food. It is always better to find products that contain more whole foods and fewer additives like starch.

If you have any of the related health issues caused by wheat or gluten, then yes, it is a healthier switch! If you are doing it “just because”, then you might be causing more issues for yourself by increasing your intake of starches through trying to eat gluten free.

Fad Diet

The fad diet of eating gluten free has waned some since its beginning though eating grain free is still common, whether it is Paleo, Primal or Keto. Many people jump in because it is the popular thing to do, whether or not it is healthier. This does help drive the market to produce better items, which is nice for those of us who do have to eat gluten free! Ultimately, though, it will not last as people move on to the next fad diet.

Several articles have been put forth by upset waiters and chefs over the trouble that people on gluten free diets have caused. Some of these writers have felt that no one is actually sensitive to gluten. Other writers say they know there are probably people with legitimate issue, but they are overshadowed by who are following the fad diet and being overly nit-picky. The fad diet people end up  jading the restaurant industry against all gluten free people.

For some reason, people on fad diets seem to take a stronger stance on their eating than those with legitimate health issues. I have dealt with this in my own career in restaurants. People can be jerks, please don’t be one! As I wrote about yesterday, you get nowhere when you are a jerk to other people. Yes, as people with food allergies, we need to be firm and clear on our food needs, but we can do so nicely. If the server does not understand our needs, it is probably because we aren’t communicating well.

Concluding Thoughts

Don’t take this the wrong way. If you truly feel like it is healthier to eat gluten free, please do so! I am not trying to dissuade anyone of that. We love being gluten free and mostly grain free! I only caution against those who are jumping on the bandwagon purely because it’s the trend.

Tomorrow we will continue talking about the other reasons it may be healthier to eat gluten free. See you then!

Have a tasty day,

Chris

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What is “Gluten Friendly”?

It’s Saturday morning, you decide it is the perfect time to try out the new breakfast place people are raving about. You don’t bother with looking at the menu because you like to be surprised. Your spouse does not have to eat gluten free, and you figure you can always eat your standby of fried eggs and bacon. You arrive at 7:45 AM and it is already starting to fill up. That has got to be a good sign! Everyone is friendly, and the smell is delicious and fantastic.

The restaurant is bright and new, but also has just the right amount of hominess. You can’t wait to try the food, especially because you had a friend tell you that they have a gluten free menu! You are seated and given menus, and you notice their GF menu is included in their main menu. What luck! They must really know what they are doing here. Then you notice something, at the top it says “Gluten Friendly” Not “Gluten Free”. What does that mean!? Are the pancakes even friendlier with gluten than the normal ones?

We are here to answer that question today, what is Gluten Friendly? How does it compare to Gluten Free? Even if you can eat gluten you may have even started to notice this more and more, “Gluten FRIENDLY”. Gluten friendly menus are becoming more prevalent in the restaurant industry. So what does it mean?

Has Something Changed?

Menus used to say “Gluten Free”, but now they are saying “Gluten Friendly”. Did something change? I would argue they have not, at least in general. It is perhaps more intellectual honesty, and frankly in general more helpful to us allergy people.

Most restaurants do not have the capability to have a completely clean and separate space to prepare allergen specific foods. Space is always at a premium in the kitchen. The ability to have an entirely separate set of dishes for preparation and the space that is always kept clean of allergens is just not feasible. Restaurants are typically willing to clean a section of grill for you or to use a clean pan. They do not have an entirely separate pan that never touches gluten, though.

Restaurants have typically had a statement at the bottom of their Gluten Free menus that state something like this. “While we strive to keep these menu items free from gluten, our kitchen is a mixed kitchen and we cannot guarantee that no gluten will come in contact with your food.” Menus have more or less information in that statement depending on the restaurant.

Gluten Free with a Disclaimer

Gluten friendly in my opinion is now saying “Look, we want to be honest with you. We have called it Gluten free in the past, but both of us know that’s not possible in our environment. We use gluten free ingredients, and strive to keep things clean, but buyer beware cross contact with gluten may happen.” Not sure what cross contact is? Go check out our article on it.

They are striving to be honest about the extent of the situation and not promising more than they can deliver.

Is that Reasonable?

On the one hand I can certainly get worked up about that. “What do you mean you can’t guarantee my food won’t be gluten free?  Am I not paying you money to be that way? Are you not professionals?”

Let us be reasonable though. What about in your home kitchen? Imagine you are making pasta to go with your steak and salad. While draining the pasta how many things around the sink did you possibly get pasta water on, completely and totally inadvertently? What about tossing the dressing with the salad, did you splatter some dressing over the side of the bowl?

Small contacts of various foods happen, no matter how clean you work. Imagine that you were tossing 45 salads or MORE an hour. Some spillover WILL happen. Restaurants want to work clean; it’s easier and more efficient. Towels and sanitizer to clean with are kept everywhere, wiping down and wiping up happens A LOT. In the middle of the dinner rush you do not have the time to thoroughly clean every surface with soap and water every time you spill though. You wipe it with a sanitizer towel and put the towel in the bucket and move on.

Broken Egg Gluten Friendly Menu Part 1 Broken Egg Gluten Friendly Menu Part 2

Our Demands

As allergen sensitive people, we also need to be honest about how we have helped shape the industry on this. We want to be able to order a gluten free pizza from Dominoes at the same time the rest of our family orders regular pizza, or a gluten free sandwich from Subway or Jimmy Johns. We desire easy access to basically the same food our friends or family want to eat at the same time.

Is it wrong for us to want to eat what our friends are eating? No! I LOVE having easy access to so many gluten free items. When I first started eating gluten free you practically could not find a single place that even knew what gluten was, much less had a gluten free menu that was not just a hamburger without the bun. So they are trying to accommodate a new group of people while still accommodating their main customer base.

An Excuse

Is Gluten Friendly an excuse for laziness? Could restaurants be note doing any extra cleaning, using the same dishes, not caring at all about the gluten free folks? That is possible, but I really don’t think so as a general rule. Yes, there are stories where people went to a restaurant and sent back food that had clearly been made incorrectly, and the answer they  got back from the server or manager  “well this is only a gluten friendly menu, we don’t guarantee gluten free” because they just did not care, but that is not the norm.

I do not believe that is the general response of the industry. I have experienced it in several places where I have requested clean dishes etc, even with “Gluten Friendly” menus and gotten a great response. People are people everywhere. Mistakes are made because we are fallible. Make sure to approach your server or the manager with friendliness and humility and things will go much better too. It is stressful at times to eat out and make sure your food is safe to eat, but taking that out on your server is not fair to them and makes you no friends either.

Remember these people are just trying to do their job, and you are only one of many people they have to deal with today. Your server should give everyone the best customer service possible. They may have just had the worst guest right before you who cussed them out for not giving them a straw, though, so be patient. As a restaurant manager for the last few years, I can say that restaurants want their customers healthy and happy – including people with allergies/restrictions!

What Does This Mean For You?

What does “Gluten Friendly” mean for you? Restaurants are striving to be honest; they want to feed people who are sensitive to gluten in addition to those who are not! They want us to understand though there may be cross contact and a lot is going on in the kitchen.

Are you sensitive to even the smallest amount of cross contact? Does even a crumb of bread in the butter make you sick? You should not be eating out at most restaurants, then. If you can find a restaurant that truly prepares their menu items gluten free in a separate space and that is kept totally clean, then maybe that is an option for you. But you should probably consider that to be even questionable.

Restaurants do have a responsibility to keep things clean and separate. As a consumer, we also have the responsibility to pay attention and ask questions. It is not right to expect the restaurant to take the entire burden of responsibility in regards to our own personal allergies. They are our allergies; we are responsible for making sure we eat safe. It is one thing if they are lying. It’s another thing if we are just placing blind trust in them.

Next time you go out to eat and they have a “Gluten Friendly” menu, don’t be afraid. Talk to them, ask questions, and make an educated choice. Eating out is supposed to be fun, don’t lose that fun just because you have allergies!

Have a tasty day!

Chris

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Minor Ingredients that Contain Gluten

Good Morning! Today we are going to continue talking about the sneaky ways gluten gets into our food. We need to watch out for several minor ingredients that contain gluten or they can do us in!

The Minor Leagues

You are probably totally fine here if you cook everything from scratch at home and don’t need to worry! Let’s be honest though, how many of us totally cook from scratch, all the time? We cook primarily, but we go out to eat sometimes, or buy the occasional processed food. We rarely eat processed foods, but it only takes once to get sick! Some sausages or grated cheeses contain “hidden” ingredients containing gluten.

In the day and age of processed food, even the healthier ones, manufacturers add in these ingredients for various reasons. We pick up processed foods as an easy option for road trips or special events even though we know they’re not always the healthiest option.

Consumers requests these items, even among “healthy” people. We all want that doughnut or whatever the case may be sometimes. Highly refined starches make up a good portion of the ingredients used, even in homemade gluten free items. They enable us to create some of the tasty treats with the right flavor and texture we are looking for.

These various ingredients are also typically in smaller quantities in our food because they are not always needed in large quantities to gain their effect, such as MSG. Sometimes they are more of a condiment, such as a sauce or a topping like Bleu Cheese.

Are they out to get us?

No, the manufacturers are not out to get us. You can argue to some degree that food manufacturers do not always want to be totally honest about where everything is derived from. However, I don’t believe that they are intentionally trying to mask the origin of ingredients that contain gluten just to make us sick. They add what they add to give what they believe is the best product possible, at the price people desire to pay.

What to watch out for:

Here are 5 ingredients that can or do contain gluten to watch out for:

  1. Modified Food Starch: These starches are made from various grains and tubers that are highly processed to remove the proteins from them. This process makes them more stable from a longevity standpoint and from a usage standpoint.  “Modified Food Starch (Corn)” or “Modified Corn Starch” will frequently be the label. However, sometimes “Modified Food Starch” will be the label and you won’t know what the source is. If modified food starch is made from wheat, it must be labeled as such since the “Food Allergen and Customer Labeling Act” was passed in.
  2. Manufacturers can request to be exempted from that law, though. Some people are highly sensitive to modified food starch. Is it because it was from wheat and was not labeled, or is it some other issue from it? Who knows! What I do know is that ultimately, unless you contact the manufacturer and find out directly where it came from, you will not always know whether it may give you an issue. Consumers must be wise and pay attention.
  3. Bleu Cheese: Frankly, I do not have issues with bleu cheese. Why am I magically not sensitive to the potential gluten in it? I despise the stuff! You are probably saying right now “Cheese!? Why cheese!?” Here is the thing – bleu cheese (or other Roquefort style cheeses) may be made with a culture that was grown on bread. Bleu cheese bacteria likes that environment quite well.  You can even make the culture yourself with a piece of bread, if you so desire. It is not always made this way, though. It can be difficult to know whether you will react to it or not.
  4. MSG: The infamous Monosodium Glutamate. You probably already avoid MSG if you are trying to eat healthier. Some people are highly sensitive to MSG, so it is something to watch out for. MSG makes me light headed and extremely nauseous if I eat even the smallest amount. In the past, MSG has been derived from wheat because wheat contains high levels of glutamic acid. However, it is rarely made that way anymore. I have found that most people with food allergies are sensitive to MSG as well. MSG does naturally occur in foods, but at much lower levels than it is added to our processed foods. Just be careful with this one, it’s much more of a cross reactivity issue than directly an ingredient that contains gluten.
  5. Barley Malt: Barley malt is an easy way to miss “gluten” being in the ingredients! Barley malt is made from barley. There is gluten in barley malt itself, and manufacturers add it to things that otherwise would be gluten free. Many rice crisp cereals contain barley malt as an extra flavoring. Manufacturers may sometimes still label it as Gluten Free because it is such a small amount. Obviously that’s not true, but the laws are a bit finagle-y on this. Some people that can handle this and some cannot. You must read ingredient labels and then make the best decision possible for you.
  6. Soy Sauce: People hotly debate soy sauce. Manufacturers make soy sauce from Soy, Water, Salt and Fermented Wheat. Fermentation generally denatures proteins, though. Soy sauce is tolerated by some people if it has been traditionally fermented like Kikkoman. Can you tolerate it? Your body will decide. Kikkoman makes a yummy Tamari style soy sauce from fermented rice. You can buy coconut aminos that have a similar flavor. You must also be very careful when eating out. Unless specifically stated, most restaurants use a cheap soy sauce rather than something like Kikkoman.

Those ingredients can sneak gluten into our foods. Pay attention, read labels, ask questions, but enjoy life! Sometimes it’s just easier to make your food at home. You can find the first part of our series here.

Make it a tasty day,
Chris

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Cross Contact in Our Food

Good Morning! Today we are going to continue our discussion about how gluten sneaks into our food by talking about Cross Contamination or, as I found out, “Cross Contact” is the new phrase to use. I realize that when you hear that, the hair on your arm does not exactly prickle, but it is a very important topic!

New Terms

As I was doing research for this and coming up with useful articles for y’all to peruse I learned something new about Cross Contamination. The correct term is now NOT Cross Contamination, it is Cross Contact. Cross Contamination is when bacteria comes in contact with other food, surfaces, knives, clothes, etc. and then can potentially spread illness if not cleaned and/or cooked properly. An example would be raw chicken being stored above salad mix, where the chicken can drip onto the salad mix.

Cross Contact is “when a residue or trace amount of an allergenic food becomes incorporated into another food not intended to contain it”. You can read the FDA’s article on food allergens and, specifically, Cross Contact here if you are so inclined. Here is another good article on the difference between the 2 if you would like further reading.

That was a fun trip down the rabbit hole, now let’s move on. So our term is now Cross Contact. Just remember many people refer to it still as cross contamination, so pay attention to both terms.

To take the FDA’s definition and make it a little more straight forward, we are talking about when an allergen like gluten gets in food where it’s not supposed to be. Great example of this is French fries! Fryers are one of the main sources of cross contact.

The Fryer Dilemma

In most restaurants due to space limitation and cost of equipment, fryers are a shared cooking environment. They do not cook just French fries or just fried chicken. Everything that is fried is cooked in the same fryer, or at least there are multiple products cooked in the same set of fryers. There is a high likelihood if you order fries that they are being cooked at the same time with chicken fingers. Or they were cooked in that same oil before your fries were put in.

Ask at the restaurant and most of the time the server will be able to tell you or find out for you whether the fryers are shared. You now have to make a choice based on your body. Am I sensitive enough to risk some amount of gluten (or whatever allergen) contacting my food and quite possibly hitching a ride into my stomach? I’m sure you have seen the stray piece of fried okra or chicken tender tip that ends up in your basket of fries occasionally. For me, I am not sensitive enough (or at least I tell myself this, heh) to worry about a mixed fryer. I take the risk knowing I could get sick, but for you it may not be worth it, and that’s ok!

Other Danger Areas

The cooking surface is the most common area in a kitchen where cross contact can occur. The fryer is really just a great picture to show us it can happen anywhere. It happens with cutting boards, serving spoons, stock pots, frying pans, etc. Restaurants want to keep everything clean, but a pan is not cleaned after every use. You are allowed by health code to use something for a certain amount of time before you have to wash it.

A great example is a frying pan that they cook shrimp in. So for a lunch rush they may have one pan they sauté garlic shrimp in. They will start using it around 10:30 AM, and then quite possibly not wash it until lunch is over, say around 1 PM. As a final step to the dish, they may throw cooked pasta in the pan at the last minute to combine all the ingredients. Clearly we do not want that to be what our shrimp is cooked in to go on our salad or just on the side with no noodles.

Most of the time if you request a clean cooking environment the restaurant will be happy to oblige. Ask for that clean pan to cook your shrimp, or that clean bowl to toss your Caesar salad with no croutons. It’s possible they may grumble and complain behind your back. As a former restaurateur myself though it is not an unreasonable request at all.

8 Places Cross Contact Occurs

Let’s look at 8 places we need to be concerned about cross contact occurring

  1. Fryers and Other Cooking Surfaces: As we already talked about fryers, sauté pans, mixing bowls, etc. are a huge risk for cross contact. Remember – always ask for a clean surface if possible.
  2. Bulk Bins at the Grocery Store: These are notorious for being capable of cross contact. Don’t get me wrong they can save you money and have fun tasty things in them. Bulk bins are not always cleaned between fill ups, and there is no guarantee there was not wheat flakes in the bin right before the almonds were dropped in.
  3. Bulk Condiment Containers: Do you share a jar of mayo at your house with your spouse who doesn’t have to eat gluten free? Or maybe a tub of butter? If so, I bet there are crumbs from both your GF bread and their wheat filled bread in there! Get a separate container for each of you or simply take what you want out of the jar first. Then apply it to your bread so you don’t spread crumbs.
  4. Buffet Lines: Do you love a good salad bar or all you can eat buffet? I know I do! Sure, everything is supposed to be totally cleaned before it goes in. They should also not be combining old and new product. Let’s be honest, though, lots of those places are very busy and time is limited. They are also staffed by people, just like you and me, who make mistakes and have a lot on their plates to do in a limited time. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go, just be aware!
  5. Hands: Hands should be washed. Period. Let’s ASSUME this always is happening in restaurants. What about at home? Does your spouse make their non-GF food and then make yours? Maybe you are a parent of a GF kid. Do you wash your hands after making your sandwich with regular bread and then go to make your child their sandwich with GF bread?
  6. Lips: Ok, I know this seems a bit silly but it’s true! I’m going to assume this is only applying to your spouse or significant other and not random people… Once again, if your spouse does not have to eat Gluten Free, or maybe you are the one who does not have to eat Gluten Free and they do. Are you aware of what you just ate when you kiss them? Did you just eat that piece of toast or Danish? Also a lot of cosmetics have a wheat based product in them. Is it the piece of toast PLUS the lipstick?!
  7. Prepared Foods: Do you love that chicken salad from your local deli? It’s so creamy and flavorful! Have you ever thought about how it’s prepared though? Sometimes a restaurant will use leftover chicken fried steak or similar to make chicken salad. They will pull off the breading, chop it up and mix it with everything else. Don’t get me wrong, this is great! It helps keep cost down for them and us and it keeps food out of the trash. As allergen avoiders, we just need to be aware it’s a possibility. Now don’t go knocking down the door of your local deli owner demanding answers because of me! When you are in next, just kindly ask if they ever do.
  8. Gloves: Gloves are another place in restaurants where cross contact can occur. Per health code, once again, you don’t have to change gloves every time you touch a new item. It’s time based and if you are doing something that will cause bacterial contamination. So not touching that raw chicken and then touching salad mix with the same pair of gloves. Lots of places use gloves to grab your ingredients, Mod Pizza being a great example, sandwich places, etc. Request a new pair of gloves to decrease the likelihood of cross contact. You can also request a new container of that food item, to really be safe, as well.

There are certainly more than these listed. Remember these are all accidental places. None of these situations included an intentional mixing of gluten containing products with something that is gluten free. Take the time to think, especially when out to eat, ask questions, and in the end, relax and enjoy. I don’t want to get sick from going out to eat either. If I’m so stressed out that I can’t enjoy the experience anyway, or make myself sick with stress, it’s just as bad.

Do you have another place where cross contact occurs? Let us know in the comments!

Have a tasty day,

Chris