Tag Archives: ingredients

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

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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Filed under food, Lists

How I Organized My Kitchen on a Budget

“A place for everything and everything in its place” was the advice I was given as a child when I misplaced something, which I have to admit was often enough.

But whenever I had a chance to put things in order and to give things a designated spot (and I made sure to return the objects to their designated spot after use), it seemed that losing, misplacing and hunting for things became a rare occurrence. Mom and Dad’s advice was proven right, again and again.

I was working in the kitchen a few days ago when I realized that my kitchen was not following that mantra. I had teas scattered in three different cupboards. I had bags of bulk store products piled on top of one another and sliding off each other. Even my cat’s cupboard was becoming an avalanche-waiting-to-happen.

My spring cleaning instinct went into overdrive. It was time to tame these cupboards and get the kitchen organized once and for all!

It’s not like I’ve never done this before. A few years ago, I containerized the different kinds of gluten-free flour I needed, just to keep them clearly identified and organized. Gluten-free recipes were a breeze when I could tell my tapioca starch from the potato starch, and the white rice flour from the sweet rice flour. Every time I baked or brought back more flour from the store, I was so thankful that I had this section so neatly organized.

It was time to apply the same makeover technique to the rest of the kitchen. Continue reading

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Filed under food, How to

Only the Finest Ingredients Go Into Every Blog

IngredientsWelcome to my kitchen, or my writing studio, whichever you prefer. When it comes to writing a blog, I find that much like in cooking, using the best ingredients is key to ensuring a quality finished product:

First, I start with the finest quality nouns and adjectives I can find. Descriptive, colourful and meaningful, they serve as a solid foundation for the articles and stories I would like to share with my guests.

Next, I like to use some well-chosen active verbs to help the blog rise and to give it the texture needed to keep guests engaged.

I understand that many of you try to limit your intake of adverbs these days, so let me assure you that my blogs are suitable for adverb-reduced diets.

To help the blog posts achieve their peak of flavour, I highly recommend freshly picked thoughts and perspectives from your own garden. Keep in mind that you can always pull thoughts and perspectives out of the freezer for historical pieces and memorabilia pieces, as long as they were flash frozen and not tainted by years of storage.

For the richest, most flavourful blogs, I prefer story lines started from seedlings and allowed to grow organically until they are ripe for picking even if it takes months or years.

I can’t stress enough that artificial fillers like hyperbole, are kept to a strict minimum to ensure purity in the finished product. Also, metaphors and similes are carefully selected and used in limited quantities, but have been known to add a bit of complexity in flavours.

I also try to limit the use of spicy language to ensure the real flavour and quality of the words come through. If any spicy language is to be added, Continue reading

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Filed under Humour, Inspiring, Misc blogs, Writing

The Chicken Lottery

Chicken Batch cooking has become a way of life in this household, since the discovery of my intolerance to wheat products 10 years ago. In a nutshell, it just means preparing food in a full recipe that serves 6, 8 or 10 people and freezing the leftovers. It isn’t really rocket science, but in this day where cooking at home seems to be a dying art in our fast-paced world, it just means returning to our roots somewhat. Our mothers and grandmothers did it almost every night, so why can’t we?

In my case, to take it one step farther and make it even easier, I separate and freeze the leftovers in single serving containers. That way, I have a complete and balanced meal in one container, ready to bring to work for lunch or to pop in the microwave to enjoy anytime I need a quick meal.

It takes a bit of preparation and organization, but it definitely pays off in the long run when I know exactly what went into each meal, I am not risking the repercussions of an accidental dose of wheat, and I can control portions of everything that I make.

Sometimes, the fun part of batch cooking is the ability to buy regular or family-sized sized portions of ingredients and know with certainty that with careful planning, little will get wasted. Better yet is the prospect of getting a deal or being able to save money on the ingredients, especially when the recipes you would like to make align with the weekly specials at the grocery store.

Then we have those serendipitous moments like the chicken lottery:

Some of the grocery stores nearby sell prepared (gluten free) roast chickens as a convenient option for busy families on the go. To me they are also Continue reading

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Filed under How to, Humour