Food Allergies and Restaurants

It always puts a smile on my face when a restaurant menu contains a note saying something to the effect of “Please advise your server of any allergies or intolerance”.

To me, that means I’m in a restaurant that will likely take some extra precautions to do its best to ensure my food won’t cause me issues. This definitely takes some of the guesswork out of dining out.

Over the last 13 years, since the discovery of my intolerance to wheat products, the number of restaurants that have adjusted their menus to accommodate wheat-free/gluten-free diets has been impressive and heartwarming. And over that span of time, the improvement in the ingredients, recipes and dishes that have been offered has been spectacular.

I hear the same from friends and colleagues with sensitivities to nuts, eggs, dairy and shellfish. It is getting easier to make informed choices.

When it comes to dining, it is certainly a competitive market. I genuinely respect those establishments that have gone the extra mile to retain and attract clients by helping them navigate their options whether through little icons next to menu items, menus that specifically address dietary concerns, or in extremely well-informed service staff.

I admit that I have to contain my shrieks of delight when the server or the chef says, “Tell us what you’d like and we’ll see how we can modify it.”

Being the over-apologetic Canadian that I am, on a few occasions, I have apologized for asking so many questions about the menu, but I have been met with much reassurance. One chef even went so far as to say that it helps keep things interesting and challenging in the kitchen, in finding clever ways to make the menu work for the client. That completely made my day!

But what happens when a restaurant makes no such accommodations?

Usually when a group of family, friends or colleagues proposes a visit to a restaurant, before I accept, I check out the restaurant’s web site to see if they provide an online menu. If I have further questions, I usually follow it up with a phone call outside of peak serving times, so that the person who picked up the phone has a minute or two to chat.

If the restaurant doesn’t offer dietary accommodations, I will ask if they can prepare an easy and safe meal like a Caesar salad, making sure the chicken is grilled (not breaded) and to not put in croutons. If they do, I can still participate in the get-together and not worry about getting sick later.

I recall contacting one restaurant prior to a colleague’s farewell luncheon and when I asked if they offered gluten-free options, I received a flat “no” followed by silence, and no attempt to offer suggestions. Sadly, I had to pass on the farewell luncheon, but my colleague understood.

In another situation, I visited a restaurant that offered gluten-free pizza crust and when I asked if their pepperoni was gluten-free as well, I was floored when the response I was offered was “Hmm… well, no one died from it yet!” Needless to say, I didn’t find the joke funny and I have never returned to that establishment.

Just the same, I still extend my understanding and respect to the establishments that choose not to cater to different allergies and food intolerance. It can be a complex and risky undertaking, especially when some ingredients contain hidden sources of allergens or cross-contamination.

When a restaurant prides itself on secret recipes to meet a specific niche audience, it can be difficult to make changes to those recipes to achieve the same flavour, quality and texture and still meet a specific dietary need. It can be a very lengthy (and costly) process of experimentation with different formulations, ingredients and proportions, requiring the patience of a laboratory scientist.

I can understand if a restaurant doesn’t want to take a chance. When I discovered my intolerance to wheat products, I lived off of shepherd’s pie, hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken and salad for months before I built up my repertoire of recipes. (And even then, surprisingly, some salad dressings contain wheat products.) It’s not easy, I completely understand, especially in a fast-paced commercial setting.

I am very lucky that I live in a city with many restaurants and many choices. If I don’t end up going to one restaurant, there’s probably another one in the same neighbourhood where dining won’t be a risky venture for me.

Also, I am lucky that my body’s reaction to wheat products would not be a fatal one, just an inconvenient one, as my body would reject them in the form of a stomach flu.

But for people with much more serious food allergies who need to carry an EpiPen at all times, dining out can be a scary prospect requiring thorough advance research and knowledge of what went into every item on their plate.

For a dining experience to be enjoyable for everyone, navigating food allergies and food intolerance requires clear communication, kindness, understanding and patience on everyone’s part. It really is up to the diner to be informed ahead of time, to work with serving staff to choose carefully, and for the restaurant to be as forthcoming as possible with information about ingredients.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under food, Health and Wellness

It’s Shedding Season Again!

After a challenging winter, when the calendar flips to March, we start looking for signs that spring is on its way.

I have found that a pretty reliable predictor is the sudden presence of cat hair… everywhere! Even though I’d like to think I keep a pretty tidy house, no amount of vacuuming seems to be able to keep up with the pace at which Ivy the Wonder Cat sheds her winter coat.

Last week, I was a little startled when I found a stray cat hair on my breakfast plate, peeking out from under my food, even though the kitchen was spotless. Another day, I was on the couch watching TV, when I suddenly started choking when I inhaled a stray cat hair that was floating around.

Even as I am writing this, I am noticing a cat hair on the lip of my coffee cup.

I conclude that cat hair must be following me around like a cloud. To maintain a more positive outlook, I prefer to think about it as an extension of my aura. Fortunately, it’s just a temporary, seasonal thing.

Just the same, I sprang into action and took the vacuum out. An hour later, after vacuuming in every corner and crevice in the house, the dirt cup was quite full even though I had just done it a few days prior.

What is really fascinating is that it is like it happens overnight. Throughout January and February, there is a modest amount of cat hair in the vacuum’s dirt cup every time I clean, which seems perfectly normal.

But as soon as March rolls around, BOOM! It’s like someone hit the cat’s “hair ejector” button. For the amount of hair I collect, I often wonder how Ivy isn’t bald because there’s just so much of it. Continue reading

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Filed under Cats, Humour

50 Reasons Why I Love Baking

1. Baking can be an “in the moment” experience. It is difficult to ruminate over an issue, when one is busy measuring and following directions, while keeping an eye on the clock and the oven.
2. To me, baking can be a relaxing experience.
3. Baking is an opportunity to develop new skills or to work on existing ones.
4. I love that baking can be broken down into many individual disciplines and learning opportunities.
5. I love that I have succeeded in folding egg whites without completely deflating batter.
6. I love that baking is something for which I am passionate enough to make the time to keep trying.
7. Baking is an opportunity to develop intuition for what will work and what won’t.
8. Baking is an opportunity to experiment with different ingredients.
9. Baking is an opportunity to take a favourite recipe and to try to “embellish” it with different flavours.
10. Baking is the closest I will ever get to becoming a scientist, meticulously combining different ingredients and relying on their chemical properties to achieve grand results.
11. I love baking because I know exactly what goes into a recipe.
12. I love baking because I don’t use ingredients that I cannot pronounce. Continue reading

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50 Signs That You Are Sick of Winter

1 – There is enough grit in your entry hall to fill a sandbox, even when you vacuum it each week.
2 – You would like to have a few words with the groundhog.
3 – You run your fingers through the cat’s litter box, close your eyes, and dream you are on a sandy beach.
4 – You visit your summer clothes at the back of the closet.
5 – You put on sunscreen just to enjoy its aroma.
6 – In the car, you crank up the temperature and turn on the heated seats, just to remember what it was like to feel a little sweaty.
7 – Your default TV channel is the Sunset Channel.
8 – When you go to restaurants, you order drinks with umbrellas, and pretend you are on vacation.
9 – You create more playlists of songs with steel drums.
10 – When you check the weather app, you don’t tap on “weather warnings” anymore. You know that it is just more bad news.
11 – You have Googled “vitamin D dosage” on more than one occasion.
12 – You get frustrated when stores put out the lawn and garden supplies, when you are still looking for winter supplies. Continue reading

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A Renaissance of Storytelling

As a little dude, I remember that both my parents were avid readers. And as far back as I can remember, I was surrounded by books, not only in my parents’ library but in the growing library in my bedroom as well.

As an only child with an inclination for “the great indoors”, it didn’t take much coaxing to get me to share in their joy of reading and the love of a good story.

This love followed me around for a lifetime, in all of its forms whether movies, TV dramas, soap operas, biographies, classic novels, contemporary novels, plays, musicals, operas or even newspaper articles. You could say I have been a glutton for good, well-told stories.

Good stories have tugged at my heart and have inspired me. Good stories made me love some characters while I loathed others. Good stories have taken me to places near and far, real and imagined.

Stories have been a constant in my life, no matter how busy I got. There was always time for a good story here and there, for those moments I needed a little escape… or even a big escape.

I don’t know why, but lately I have noticed that my appetite for good stories is growing, bordering on insatiable. The more I see great stories, the more I want to see.

I savour every moment of stories of triumph, stories of personal growth, stories of courage, stories of social change, stories of love, stories of gratitude, stories of survival and stories of our ancestors.

Sometimes when I hear a great story, I sometimes pick up on one idea, one character, or one thread of the story line and think that you could throw the spotlight on just that one element and create a whole new story around it. There is really no end to the potential of storytelling. Continue reading

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Filed under books, TV, Writing

When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

In the fourth season of Bewitched, in an episode called “No Zip in My Zap”, Samantha is in a bit of a conundrum as her magical powers are clogged given Darren’s insistence that she live a mortal life.

In that episode, when “the dam breaks”, the accumulation of spells that didn’t conjure up anything all bear fruit at the same time, creating chaos in the Stephens’ household. “Doctor Bombay, Calling Doctor Bombay…”

As a writer, has that ever happened to you?

I am delighted that at this time in my life I am able to keep sharpening my writing skills in the corporate environment, while in my free time, producing a steady stream of blog posts, while working (slowly) on a few creative writing projects.

I am very happy with that combination and am not pressuring myself to do more. This works for me, right now.

By regularly tapping into my creative spirit in different ways, I feel that I am answering my calling and preparing for the next chapter in my writing life. But that has not always been possible.

Have you ever had those times when the ideas are flowing and you are yearning to write, but life just keeps throwing you curve balls preventing you from doing what you love most? Continue reading

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The Hunt for the Perfect Reading Light

During a recent power outage, as much as I was counting on getting a few things accomplished that night, I had to put my plans on the shelf because they all depended on electricity.

An attempt at cleaning the house in the dark became a time consuming exercise with the added step of redirecting the flashlight at different angles to keep checking to see if I hit the right spots. True enough, I had all the time in the world, but the brewing frustration wasn’t worth it.

I instantly saw the bright side, so to speak, in deciding that this would be a perfect opportunity to catch up on my reading. With stacks of books that awaited, I relished the thought of an evening in quiet serenity, enjoying a good read.

I went to the basement and pulled out my lantern-style LED flashlight. I poured myself a glass of wine and along the way, I picked up the book I was reading at the time.

When I found my comfy spot in the living room for Ivy the Wonder Cat and me to chill out, I put my glass down next to me, I set up the lantern and opened my book.

One minute later, I moved my lantern to a different spot because I couldn’t see half of the page, as my shoulder was causing a shadow. One minute after that, I moved the lantern again, this time a little closer, to give the light more intensity because the light was too weak to comfortably illuminate my page. Continue reading

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