Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frankie's Ristorante in Uxbridge

This weekend we took a drive out to Uxbridge, Ontario to take our boys for a ride on the train.  While there, we decided to try out a restaurant that we had heard about when we grabbed their card at the Gluten Free Expo in Toronto. 

Frankie's Ristorante is a 100% gluten free restaurant serving traditional mediterranean food.  On top of that, they make all of their food in-house, and are able to customize your order, at no extra cost, to accommodate any allergy.  The restaurant is peanut and nut free.  They are a member of the Canadian Celiac Association.  This, to me, is pretty incredible.  In addition, they use ingredients sourced from local farms, and highlight which farms are featured wach week on a board in the restaurant.  I couldn't wait to visit and see what was on the menu.

The restaurant was easy to find, with parking readily available.  We arrived before noon on a rainy Saturday, and walked into a small but pretty restaurant.  The space has large windows, a beautiful wooden bar, and a cozy fireplace.



If you look closely, you can see the list of featured farms on the blackboard.





  I was beginning to worry about how kid-friendly it would be, but was relieved when our server brought a kids' menu to the table with a handful of crayons for my son. 



I was intrigued at the idea of a completely wheat and gluten free restaurant serving mainly traditionally gluten filled meals, like breads and pastas.  We decided to order an appetizer, a main and a dessert to really get an idea of the quality of their food.  We started with the lunch sampler platter, which came with bread, salsa, hummus, chutney and raw veggies.


The bread was what I was most interested in.  It was toasted and buttered, and was the perfect texture.  It wasn't dry or crumbly.  My son liked it so much that he was asking for more when we ran out.

For our son, we ordered the kids' combo.  For $10, he got a drink, a main course and a dessert.  My son has decided that he only wants to eat pasta "with green sauce," so we ordered him the pesto pasta.  My husband ordered the chipotle cream pasta and I ordered the pasta served in a mushroom cream sauce. 

Gluten Free Pesto Pasta

Pasta with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Goat Cheese
Again, we were pleasantly surprised.  The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the sauces were creamy and had good flavour.  My husband also ordered a gluten free beer from their drinks menu, which I'll cover in a separate post.  He chose La Messagère, a beer from a Quebec brewery.



For dessert, my son had gluten and dairy free gelato.  My husband and I ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding.  It was completely decadent and delicious. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding


 
I really, really liked this restaurant.  The service was friendly and the food was great.  It's a place that I would recommend to anyone who wants a good meal at a nice place.  That it caters to those with multiple food restrictions or allergies and still manages to offer great food options should serve as an example to other restaurants looking to expand their menu items. 
 
I was most surprised by the price.  The kids' meal was $10.  Pastas were $12.50.  The sampler platter was $8.95.  These are reasonable prices.  In fact, they're lower than what one would pay for lower quality food at some chain restaurants.  Lunch for three people, including appetizer, mains, dessert, a beer and a coffee ran us less than $80, taxes included.  We left the restaurant stuffed, but happy. 
 
The best part was watching my son eat ANYTHING he wanted, and not have to worry that he was going to be cross-contaiminated and get sick.  For those who don't deal with this everyday, it may not mean much, but to those of us who do, this is such a rare experience.  Unlike most kids who just grab food without thinking, our 3 year old now asks if what he wants to eat will hurt his tummy before touching it.  At this restaurant, we could happily tell him that he could eat whatever he wanted.  That was a great feeling!

Frankie's Ristorante
1 Main Street
Uxbridge, ON L9P 1P7
www.glutenfreefrankies.com

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cooking with Lentils and Two Recipes for Soup

Last weekend at the Blissdom Canada 2012 conference, Canadian Lentils was one of the sponsors.  In addition to handing out some cookies and treats made with lentils,  Chef Michael Smith was there posing for pictures with attendees and putting on a demonstration. 


 

As a way to promote cooking with lentils,  small gift bags were distributed that included a recipe book and a jar of red lentils. 



I like lentils.  Being part Italian, my family cooked with lentils when I was a kid, putting them in soups, salads and pastas.  We mostly used green lentils, which are bigger and meatier than red lentils, but I sometimes use red lentils in cooking, especially when making certain Indian dishes. 

Lentils are a great food to incorporate into any diet for a variety of reasons.  They're naturally gluten free, making them a great choice for people who can't eat gluten.  They're low in fat, and high in protein, fibre, potassium and iron.  Just 100g of uncooked green lentils provide 25g of protein, an entire day's worth of fibre, 26% of daily requirement of potassium, and 50% of an adult's intake of iron.  The numbers for red lentils are similar (source).

So I decided to try out a recipe from the lentil recipe book included in the gift bag.  I thought about making a dessert, but most called for regular flour, and I wanted to make something that didn't have to be modified to be gluten free.  Instead I chose a Lemon Lentil Soup.  The recipe can be found on the Canadian Lentils website.  It took me about 5 minutes to get the ingredients prepped and in the pot, and then it took about 30 minutes of simmering for the lentils to break down and the soup to thicken up.  I was really happy with the results.  The cumin adds a nice depth of flavour, and the lemon brightens everything up just enough.



I regularly make different versions of lentil soup, sometimes using tomatoes, other times using greens or sausage to add depth to the flavour of the lentils.  It's traditional on New Year's Eve to eat lentil soup, as their shape is reminiscent of Roman coins and so they represent wealth in all areas of life.  I've posted my recipe before, and will include it again below.  This soup is delicious year round, so if you're interested in a great vegetarian green lentil soup, this recipe is for you!  New Year's Eve Green Lentil Soup

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gluten Free Weekly Menu Plan

This week's menu plan is inspired by some of the products I got as samples from the Blissdom Conference.  I used the jar of lentils signed by Chef Michael Smith and a recipe from the book I received, and I used the Campell's Stock (Gluten Free!) sample for the pasta.




Monday: Quick Lemon Lentil Soup 










Tuesday:  Roasted Chicken with Carrots and Wilted Greens  







Wednesday: Pasta with a Tomato & Mushroom Cream Sauce using Campbell's Stock














Thursday: Beef and Potato Stew  






 
Friday: Pulled Pork Tacos   

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cinnamon Sugar Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Most recipes for roasted pumpkin seeds are savoury, calling for spices and such.  Which I enjoy, really, I do.  But this year, I was in the mood for something different.  More of a dessert pumpkin seed, if you will.  So if you, like me, want to indulge your sweet tooth a little, this recipe is for you. 

This is also the perfect recipe for children to  help with, because they can pretty much do the whole thing themselves. 

The measurements are approximate, because I just use the seeds that I get from the pumpkin we carve.  That's approx. 1- 1 1/2 cups.  Adjust your ingredients accordingly. 

Ingredients

Seeds from one large pumpkin, rinsed and dry.  You can soak your seeds for a few minutes to soften if you wish, but I can't be bothered.  
2 tablespoons melted butter or butter substitute 
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt


Directions
Preheat oven too 300F

1- In a bowl, mix together all ingredients until seeds are completely covered.  Taste and adjust mixture to taste. 
2- Lay seeds in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet, or line baking sheet with aluminum foil.
3- Bake at 300F for approx. 40 minutes, until crispy and brown.  Check seeds every 10 minutes or so, removing when they are cooked to your liking. 

Let cool for a few minutes before eating. 

They will keep for a few days, but we prefer to eat them the same day, preferably while watching a Halloween special or reading a ghost story cuddled up on the couch!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Five Tips for a Great Gluten Free Halloween

Yesterday I wrote on a more personal level about my own anxiety around ensuring that my son has a safe and happy Halloween despite his gluten and dairy issues.  Today I'm offering a few quick tips and ideas for making this Halloween great, and of course, gluten free!

1- Think outside the loot bag:  Every year, we engage in some GF treat making at our house.  I rarely choose anything too time consuming or difficult, because I like my son to be involved.  Two of the simplest ideas: a) mini muffins decorated like miniature pumpkins, or with Halloween themed sprinkles and shapes.  I also have a skull shaped cupcake mould that I use to create fun treats.

My sister made these particular pumpkin cupcakes and they look great, but kids could easily make something similar.  Orange icing and sprinkles, and they're good to go!

I use a boxed mix (usually Betty Crocker gluten free cake mix) to make things really simple. 




















Looking for a no bake option that's so simple a preschooler can make it?  Try these dipped marshmallows.  1- Melt high quality gluten free chocolate (we use the good stuff because it has to be dairy free too) in the microwave and let cool slightly.  2- In small plastic containers or cupcake wrappers place different toppings.  We used coloured sugar crystals, sprinkles, etc.  3- Dip the top of the marshmallow in the chocolate, and then dip again in topping of choice.  Stand them up to dry.  Simple.

















2- Give the kids their own pumpkin to decorate:  There are plenty of no-carve pumpkin ideas out there, from Mr. Potato Head-type decorating kits that feature facial decorations that just get pushed in to more complicated stencils. For really young children, I like to keep things simple.  Decorate with stickers, or glue on items for a unique look.  For my son, I set up room for him at a table, hand him a brush, and let him paint to his heart's content.

When he's done with his masterpiece, I let it dry and then put it on display.  A word of caution:  most kids' paint will get washed away in the rain, so it's best to either display the pumpkin on a covered porch, or somewhere indoors until Halloween night. 

3- Buy some gluten free candy:  It's important to be prepared to swap out candy that's unsafe for you or your child to eat, and having a variety of options on hand is better than just removing the offenders from a kid's point of view.  It also doesn't hurt to hand out some gluten free candy.  There are a ton of options available, at the same price as other options.   My Gluten Facts  
( http://www.myglutenfacts.com/halloween/Halloween2012CDA.pdf ) has printable lists of gluten free candy available on their site, with options for candy available in both Canada and the United States.  I've provided the link to the Canadian list.  Last year our next door neighbour had a little loot bag of only gluten free options ready for our son.  Obviously that was unexpected, but also really thoughtful, and my son felt incredibly special.

4- Talk to your child's school/daycare and come up with a plan:  Yesterday I wrote about how my son wasn't allowed to open his candy at the daycare last year because staff wanted to make sure he didn't eat anything that would make him sick.  They did the right thing, but it was still hard for my son.  That was my fault.  The staff did their job, which was to keep him safe.  This year, I'm going to be proactive instead, and so can you. 

Talk to the staff ahead of time, and find out the plan for Halloween parties or celebrations.  Print off a list of candy that's safe for your child if they're open to the idea.  Or, provide the school or daycare with some candy for your child that you know is safe, therefore taking any responsibility out of their hands.  The goal is to let your child have all of the fun of Halloween without the worry.

5- Plan your night in advance:  This year, Halloween falls smack-dab in the middle of the week.  Chancces are, you'll be coming home from work, and then rushing to eat, get everyone ready, and prepare for trick-or-treaters.  Plan in advance. Gluten free eating makes it more difficult to just order something in or throw something together quickly.  Cook something on the weekend that just needs to be reheated for dinner, or pull something out of the freezer the morning of.  I usually put a lasagna together ahead of time because it's a one-pot meal that just needs to be warmed in the oven. 

Get the Halloween candy ready the night before and set it up by the front door so it's ready to go when the first ghoul or goblin knocks on your door.  Ditto with the costumes.  Try everything on over the weekend, including putting the costume on over sweaters or jackets if necessary.  Make sure that everything fits and adjust anything ahead of time. 

Decide on activities to keep your little ones occupied.  Will they watch a Halloween special before or after heading out?  Are there games or books that might keep them occupied?  Sometimes the excitement is too much for little ones, and a little distraction can go a long way. 


HAVE FUN! 

Halloween is for kids, but that doesn't mean that adults don't love it too!  Relax, chat with the neighbours, and remember to take lots of pictures.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween With a Gluten Free Child

For most kids, Halloween is one of the best holidays of the year.  What could be better than being allowed to dress up as your favourite character, stay up late and eat as much candy as you can handle?  Not much.

I know that I loved Halloween as a kid, and to be honest, still do. 

I love making my house look spooky, but not so scary that the littlest kids are afraid to come up to the door. 



I love deciding what costume to wear and carving pumpkins.



I love the TV specials and movies. 

I love the excuse to eat candy and not  feel guilty about it. 

But as the mom of a kid who can't eat anything containing gluten or dairy, I'm also a little bit anxious.  Last year, my son had no idea what was in his trick or treat bag, so he didn't notice when I simply removed anything that he couldn't eat, essentially leaving his bag almost empty.  This year he has a better idea of how things work, and it won't be so easy to pull the wool over his eyes.  I want him to enjoy the holiday, but I also want him to be safe, without passing on my anxiety to him.

Here's how I plan to do it:

Daycare:  My son's daycare provider is really good about making sure that he doesn't eat anything he shouldn't, but sometimes this means that he misses out.  Every Halloween, other children in the class bring in small bags of candy for their friends, and the daycare also provides some treats for the children.  Last year, my son wasn't able to open his until I got there to pick him up because the staff wanted to be sure that what he ate was safe.  While this was a relief for me, it wasn't so much fun for him to watch other kids break into their candy while he couldn't. 

This year, I'll be providing him with a little bag of assorted candy that the staff can give to him to eat.  I'll also be asking ahead of time if there will be any special baking or desserts served at their Halloween party.  I'll be providing him with a comparable item so that he doesn't feel left out. 

Halloween Night:  This one's a bit trickier.  It's not practical (or polite) to try and vet the candy as you go.  Instead, I'll be buying replacement candy for when he gets home.  We've bought most of our Halloween candy already, and it's a mixture of candy, chips, gummies, lollipops, etc.  Some of it is gluten free, and some isn't.  I've separated a few gluten free items from each package and put them aside.  I also bought some candy that I know my son likes and can eat and put it completely aside.



When he gets home, I'll be sorting through his candy like all parents should- getting rid of anything that is open or that doesn't look safe for whatever reason.  Unlike all parents though, I'll also be checking for items containing gluten and /or dairy.   It's during this process that I'll be making the switch.  Instead of just taking treats away or replacing something with random candy, there will be a bowl with a variety of candy that he can eat.  For each piece we have to remove, my son will be able to choose a replacement.  I'm hoping that rather than feeling like a punishment or a deprivation for him, that it will instead be kind of a fun game where he gets to choose.

The candy we take away can then be put back in the bowl to hand out to other children who come to the door, or we can donate what's left to our neighbours children or bring it in to work.  I'm crossing my fingers that this all runs smoothly. 

How do you handle gluten free Halloween at your house? 

Check back tomorrow for my tips on having a stress-free GF Halloween, including some easy to prepare treats and where to find a printable list of gluten free candy to use as a reference when sorting through candy.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blissdom Canada 2012 Recap

I've been meaning to write about my experience at the Blissdom Canada Conference in Toronto this weekend, but I've been too busy spending all my free time on twitter interacting with the new and fun people I met at the conference.  And those, the new connections, were the best parts of the conference for me.  Ok, after having Jian Ghomeshi sign my book, but that's neither here nor there.




 Hanging out with other people who feel the same need to get their thoughts down and share them with others for whatever reason helped me to refocus my commitment to my blog and my other writing endeavours.  That commitment had dwindled a little bit in the wake of having my second child in late August.

 In short, I've been busy.

 I know, we're ALL busy, but having a new baby around gave me a built in excuse to not post/write when I didn't feel like it.  Never mind that my little guy sleeps for hours at a time and sometimes no one realizes he's even awake because unless he's hungry or uncomfortable he doesn't see the point in crying.  We'll sneak a peek in his room and there he is, giggling at the mobile hanging above his crib, even though it's not moving.  To illustrate my point, this morning after returning home from dropping my older son off at daycare, I took the baby out of his carseat and put him on the carpet so he could stretch and I could take my shoes off.  This is what I found when I came to pick him up, literally about 30 seconds later.  


So the munchkin is no excuse for slacking on the blogposts.

Sometimes we all just need a little motivation, a reboot of sorts to get ourselves going again.  At least I do, and it brings me great comfort to believe that everyone else does too.  Spending time with others helps me do that. 

Obviously I didn't just go to the conference to hang out with cool people (well, maybe a little bit).  I went to learn from others who were willing to share their knowledge.  I was disappointed that there was a limit of 3 sessions that one could attend because there were so many great topics being presented.  I'm really happy with the ones I picked though, so I'm going to share one thing I will use moving forward from each of the sessions I attended.

1- Rebecca S. from bitofmomsense.com had this to say about building an organic online community: Support others more than you promote yourself.  Be kind in your comments, give more than you expect to get, and have fun.  Sage advice.

2- Lindsay Dianne from Running Scared Photography (runningscared.ca) offered tips for taking better blog photos.  She taught me that the camera is a tool, but photography is a skill.  Play around and find your own unique vision and perspective.  What you bring to the photograph can be more interesting than the traditional take.  She backed up those words with really beautiful images that prove she knows what she's talking about.

3- Finally, Rebecca Brown from bunchfamily.ca gave a session on how to price and value your services.  She provided participants with valuable insight into how the paid market works for bloggers, taking the mystery out of the whole endeavour.  Her best tip was regarding what type of work to look for and to know your own worth.  She said "Always be paid to think.  The margin on thinking is really good."  

Words of wisdom from three very smart and talented women. 

And that was just the morning! 

The afternoon saw Jian Ghomeshi, Amber Mac and Susan Cain among others take to the stage and give speeches that were informative, funny, transformative, and inspiring.  Chef Michael Smith provided a demonstration in the sponsor area and took photos with attendees.

This is a picture of the photo that was printed at the conference.  And yes he is really, really, tall.  And nice. 
I was entertained, inspired, and even pampered a little bit in the lounge with fancy-schmancy water bottles, charging stations and comfy couches to kick back and relax on inbetween sessions.

If I could make one suggestion for next year, it would be for a wider variety of food options, particularly for those with dietary restrictions.  For those avoiding gluten or dairy, the options were severely limited.  The organizers at Bliss have already told me that they're on it for next year. 

I guess now I'll have to attend again next year so I can hold them to it! 

Did you go to Blissdom Canada?  Have a memory you'd like to share?  Leave a post in the comments section.  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sharwood's Cooking Sauces

Last week I mentioned that I picked up Sharwood's Butter Chicken Cooking Sauce because I noticed that it was gluten free.  I decided that I would give it a try, and that if I liked the sauce, I'd dig a little deeper and do a post about the line of products offered by the company. 



While cooking for this week's Menu Plan, I served myself a small dish of the butter chicken to see if the sauce was worth what I paid for it.  I'm happily surprised to say that it was quite good! 

I've tried some other brands, but most of the time the sauce is rather bland, as though the company was afraid that seasoning it correctly wouldn't appeal to as many potential customers.  The Sharwood's was much more flavourful than I had been expecting.  When I checked the ingredients, I found out why.  This brand includes things like ginger, fenugreek and coriander among the ingredients, and contains no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.  The result is a nice, creamy sauce that has authentic flavour. 




If you like butter chicken, but have no idea how to make it or just can't be bothered to cook it from scratch because there are too many ingredients or spices that you don't just have lying around, this sauce makes a good substitute for a homemade one.  It's so simple the instructions on the bottle are pictures: a picture of chicken with the amount, the bottle of sauce, and the instruction of 20 minutes cooking time.  It really is that simple. 



Since I was so enamored with this sauce, I decided to check out the website to see what other products they offer that are gluten free.  I love indian food, and sometimes make recipes from scratch, but often I just want to get my weekly menu plan cooked and over with, so I fall back on familiar recipes.  Occasionally going to a bottled sauce that would allow me to make some of those recipes in a fraction of the time appeals to me. 

I was surprised to find out how huge their selection is.  The company is based in the UK, and they offer a separate line of products for Chinese, Thai and Indian cooking.  Not everything is gluten free, but there are so many options that are that it's still worth taking a look.  The company includes an ingredient list for every product online. The nutritional information line included with every product points out whether a product contains ingredients that are common allergens, or if a product was produced on a line that also produces products with high risk ingredients. 

What I found most useful was the recipe section.  Under each type of cuisine, there is a section with recipes.  Obviously this is a way to encourage people to buy their sauces, as each recipe calls for a specific product, but still, I think it's a great marketing tool.  For someone like me, who is curious about different flavours and looking to branch out, I like that I can buy a sauce that looks interesting, hit up the website, and find a recipe that i want to try. 

And I'm always happy to find companies that offer products that are gluten free.  Gives my kid one more option to choose from, and that's never a bad thing. 

**In case you're wondering, this is not a sponsored or paid review.  I always clearly mark anything I've received free for review or anything I get paid to review.  I really did just pick up a bottle of this sauce at the supermarket on a whim.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gluten Free Weekly Menu Plan

Here's what we're eating at my house this week.



Monday:  Turkey Burgers and Veggie Chips 





Tuesday: Potato and Carrot Vegetable Soup 











Wednesday: Butter Chicken, Rice & Peas 










Thursday: Tajaditas (Plantain Chips with Oil and Vinegar Coleslaw) 










Friday:  Gluten Free Grilled Cheese & Apple Sandwiches and Leftover Soup

Friday, October 19, 2012

Off To Blissdom Tomorrow!

Tomorrow morning I'm off the Blissdom Canada Conference.  Two days of interacting with fellow bloggers, attending information sessions and listening to speakers like Jian Ghomeshi (!!!) sounds incredible.  This will be my first trip to the conference.  I've heard nothing but good things, so I hope it lives up to the hype!

Can't wait to mix and mingle with fellow bloggers, learn from the pros, and come home with great ideas that I can apply to this blog and to my writing in general.  If you're reading this post and you'll be attending, send me a message at celiacbaby@hotmail.com.  I'd love to meet up with you!

Sharwood's Butter Chicken Cooking Sauce

I usually make butter chicken from scratch, but the display of cooking sauces at my local grocery store caught my eye while shopping tonight.  In my experience, most cooking sauces contain gluten in one form or another, so I'm always excited to find one that doesn't.  Especially when it's not a "specialty" item that is marketed specifically to be gluten free. 
 
Sharwood's Butter Chicken Cooking Sauce is gluten free.  I also like that it has no artifiial colours, flavours or preservatives.  It's not dairy free, so I won't be serving it to my son, but my husband and I will give it a try.  If it's good, I'll look into the rest of their line and report back!





Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gluten Free Weekly Menu Plan



Monday: Gluten Free Shell Pasta with Peas & Bacon in a Creamy Sauce










Tuesday: Chicken Cacciatore on Rice with Swiss Chard 






Wednesday: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Mixed Green Salad 












Thursday: Baked Potatoes Topped with Turkey Chili 












Friday:  Scrambled Egg Tacos with Sausage and Roasted Red Peppers and Salsa Verde 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How I'll Be Improving My Writing...

My local library has a writer in residence program, in which a published author and writing teacher offers workshops designed to help aspiring writers improve their skills.  Today was the welcome tea and meet & greet for the program that will run from now until January. 

The writer giving the workshops is Richard Scarsbrook, an author who has published several novels and won various awards for his writing.  He also teaches creative writing at a few colleges in the Toronto area.  His workshops in the writer's program will cover everything from inspiration and ideas, to editing and publishing.  He also provides personal one-on-one meetings to give individualized feedback.  All of this is provided for free.

This is an excellent opportunity for me to learn from someone who is great at what they do, and to meet other writers with whom I can share ideas and experiences.  The first workshop is this Thursday.  I can't wait!