It’s Not Always About the Food

Too often my food allergies become the focus of dinners with friends. Yes, this allergic foodie does appreciate a good meal–and preferably one that won’t cause an allergic reaction–but sometimes dinner isn’t about what’s being served.

It’s about sharing time with people you care about.

Take last Friday night, my girl friend’s birthday celebration. We were dining at the Garden of the Gods Club in Colorado Springs.

The sun was setting on the magnificent rock formations, and deer played outside the picture window.  Yes, deer actually frolicked in the grass! A perfect evening.

Deer in Colorado Springs

The waiter arrived, and I stated my well-rehearsed litany of dietary needs.  He assured me the chef would prepare a spinach salad for a first course and gluten-free scallops with plain rice and a vegetable (sans butter or soy oil) for the main meal.

While my companions enjoyed warm rolls and butter, I sipped my tonic water with lime.  Nothing I haven’t done before.  (Well, I usually have a cosmo followed by wine, but I’ve been cutting back.)

“I’m so sorry you can’t eat these rolls,” my friend apologized.  “I won’t tell you how good they are.”

I chuckled.  “No problem,” I assured her.  “I’ll be hungrier for the salad.”

Then my salad arrived looking rather plain without the cheese and croutons.

“That’s it?  Don’t you want something else?” asked my concerned friend.

I assured her the salad was fine.  Sure, I admit it was underwhelming, but I wasn’t going to get sick and that was the important thing.  Being a part of my friend’s special occasion was what the evening was about.

When the main course arrived,  I immediately knew something was wrong with mine.  The rice and scallops were sitting on a pool of yellowish liquid. I didn’t even bother picking up my fork.

“This looks like a butter sauce,” I quietly told the waiter, not wanting to cause a scene.

“I’m sure it’s fine.  I told the chef no dairy–”  He stopped midsentence as I tilted the plate so he could get a closer look at the creamy liquid.

This is the part I always hate. You know the drill. As the waiter quickly takes my food away, everyone else politely sets their forks down.

“Please don’t wait. Eat while your food is hot,” I say. But that’s improper etiquette, and everyone feels uncomfortable eating in front of me. A few more convincing prompts from me and they finally dig in.

Unfortunately, while I wait, my well-intentioned and kind friends keep trying to give me tastes of their steaks. My husband knows better, of course.

“No thank you . . . no really, I can’t .  . . I can’t eat off your plate . . . mine will be here soon.”

They are halfway through their meals when the scallops sans the sauce arrives. No apology from the waiter.  But no big deal; the tasty scallops make up for the waiter’s lack of concern for my gastrointestinal health.

Even with my meal here, my friends keep trying to feed me. Getting a tad annoyed, I say a little too loudly, “I have my own food!”   Then I laugh, a bit embarrassed.

For dessert, I am thrilled the restaurant serves homemade sorbet. I can have dessert while the birthday girl and the husbands enjoy cake.

The thing is my girl friend still wants me to taste the cake.  When I resist, she insists I at least eat the strawberries.

It is my husband who speaks up. “She can’t eat the strawberries because they are contaminated with the flour from the cake and whatever’s in that sauce.”

Once again, my eating challenges have become central stage.

Of course, those of us with celiac disease and food allergies must be vigilant about what we put into our mouths, but sometimes don’t you want a night off?

Don’t you just want your food issues to take the backseat?  Order your allergy-free food quietly, discreetly take care of any issues that arise, and focus on your dinner companions and the conversation.

Afterall, it’s not always about the food.

Allergy-Free Pasta Salad

Seems like everyone is trying to get that end-of-the-summer picnic in. Here in Colorado Springs, we lost many summer days due to a horrible, destructive fire. For us, Labor Day weekend is not only an opportunity to celebrate workers but to appreciate what we still have–our families, our neighbors, our beautiful mountains. I hope you will do the same this weekend.

I tested the following pasta salad on friends a few weeks ago.  It was a hit, and they were amazed that The Girl Who’s Allergic to Everything was eating forkfuls. That says it all.

Picture by www.adventuresofanallergicfoodie.wordpress.com

What prompted this recipe was a  box of quinoa pasta (organic rice flour and organic quinoa flour)  I was anxious to try.

Now it’s been a long time since I’ve actually tasted wheat pasta, but I thought these shells were pretty close to what I remember.  My husband confirmed that the flavor and texture were better than “that the awful rice pasta you tried to trick me with.” 🙂

Now on to the recipe.

Amy’s Allergy-Free Antipasta Salad

Cook 8 oz. Andean Dream Quinoa Pasta Shells (or your favorite shells) as directed.  Drain well.

Toss in the following:

Chopped gluten-, dairy-, soy-free genoa salami and pepperoni (read packages carefully!)

Kalamata olives or green olives in olive oil (I used both because I LOVE olives)

Medium sweet onion, chopped

Anything else you have in your fridge that would taste good, such as chopped green and/or red peppers, marinated artichokes, artichoke palms, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil)

Photo from www.adventuresofanallergicfoodie.wordpress.com

Here is what I used. So colorful and tasty!

Organic cherry tomatoes cut in half (unless they are those super tiny ones, of course)

For dressing, I just drizzled extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkled oregano until I was satisfied with the taste.  But you can mix about 2 tablespoons oregano, salt and pepper to taste, 3/4 cup EVOO and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar in a separate bowl, then add to salad.

Eat and enjoy!

Beverages and Bagpipes at the Broadmoor

Recently my husband and I took advantage of the warm Colorado evening (and the kids being at a rock concert at Red Rocks) and we ventured over to the Broadmoor Hotel’s West Lobby Bar’s patio for a drink date.  Within minutes of our beverages being delivered, a Scottish Bagpiper crossed the bridge over Cheyenne Lake and serenaded us.  Were we really only a few miles away from home?

If you haven’t been to the Broadmoor, this particular lounge offers fabulous and unusual tapas in a casual setting (though be prepared to pay a five-star price for a small serving). While we hadn’t planned on eating our dinner lakeside, I was pleasantly surprised to find allergy-free options on the short menu.  George and I shared crab claws (he dipped in a mustard aioli sauce), and then he gobbled up a lobster “corndog” while I enjoyed Wagyu beef sliders on gluten-free bread with sauteed onions and apple-wood smoked bacon. Delicious!  The server was knowledgeable about food allergies as one would expect someone who works at a highend resort to be.  I didn’t have to worry about cross-contamination or whether I explained my special needs clearly; I knew I’d wake up in the morning feeling just fine.

Of course, the tapas weren’t enough for George.  We headed over to another local restaurant so he could fill up. Sadly, there wasn’t one gluten-free, allergy-free item on the menu.  Sigh.  When it comes to special dietary needs, I wish all restaurants strived to be five-star.

Have you discovered any unexpected extraordinary restaurants this summer?

Under Fire

Last Saturday as I was taking a class on making goat cheese, which I intended to blog about,  a fire started in my hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado.   Fires aren’t unusual in our forests during a drought, so though we kept our eyes on the smoke, we assumed the fire would be contained quickly.  It wasn’t.   In six days, our beautiful mountains have been ravaged by flames, a historical ranch and many homes have been turned to ash, and over 30,000 people have been evacuated.   Living through this experience can only be described as surreal.

Good friends are staying with us while they wait to learn the fate of their house.  So far our home is not in the path of the fire, though it started only eight miles away.  It doesn’t seem right to say we are lucky or blessed — would that mean our friends are unlucky and not blessed?  They certainly feel fortunate that they escaped the fire in time, that they and their dog are together and safe, that the firefighters are doing everything in their power to contain this horrible beast.

Our town is amazingly resilient, and I couldn’t be more proud.  Volunteers are stocking food pantries and making meals for the evacuees and firefighters.  The military is helping create fire lines.  People are taking strangers into their homes.  Businesses are providing free product and services.  Animal shelters are welcoming pets.  In time of war, there are always heartwarming stories of kindness and survival and I know we will hear many in the days, weeks and months to come.

I ask you to keep the people of Colorado Springs and those who are helping us battle this fire in your thoughts and prayers.

And next time, I’ll write about making goat cheese.