Friday, July 29, 2011

"A hot dog at the ball park is better than a steak at The Ritz" -Humphrey Bogart

I am not a sports fan. Although I grew up in a large, Irish Catholic family, with lots of uncles who insisted we sing “Fly Eagles Fly” after saying Grace on Christmas Eve, this love of all things competitive did not pass directly on to me.

In fact, I know so little about sports that one night at Amada, when a handsome blonde gentleman came in and requested to sit in a certain section of the restaurant, I smiled apologetically and told him it was unavailable at the moment, but that I’d do my best next time he came in. He graciously nodded, and followed the hostess, who returned, wide-eyed and said incredulously “I can’t believe you just told Chase Utley he couldn’t sit there.” I stared back at her. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that was Chase Utley!”  Aaaaaaand, I’m an asshole.  (Chase, if you are out there: Really sorry about that. I Google Image-ed you, so it won’t happen again)
So no, I did not get drunk, take off my clothes, climb traffic lights, riot or destroy anything around me when the Phillies won the World Series a few years back. I was pretty sure an “outfielder” was a mathematical term for something on a graph. And, for my limited knowledge and attention span, baseball is about 7 innings too long for me to watch on TV.
But Aaron seemed convinced that it was “un-American” or something for me never to have been to a baseball game. Point. Counterpoint: After surviving without pizza for 4 years of college, isn’t it just cruel and unusual punishment to take me somewhere where beer and hotdogs circulate like currency? I had him there.
Citizen’s Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, had other ideas, however. My friend Phil, who, although he himself is a lover of gluten, is constantly on the look out for gluten free spots for me (and thus, well-deserving of a blog shout out and big thank you), works at the park and informed me excitedly that things were changing for glutenless Phillies fans. Aramark, the company which handles the concessions for 14 MLB teams and 10 minor league clubs, has taken a personal interest in expanding their market to include gluten-free products at many of their ball parks and other venues. Kudos, guys.
And so, I donned my new Cole Hammels t-shirt (I figured, I hadn’t offended him yet) and wound up at my second Phillies game ever (the first one doesn’t count- it was freezing cold, it rained, they lost 0-9, and we bailed halfway through).
Our first stop was the South Philly Market, located behind Section 128. They have gluten-free beer and cider, as well as hot dogs on gluten-free buns. The buns come right out of the bun warmer and are soft and textured to perfection, just like, I imagine, a ball park hot dog should taste. “I want a beer,” I said, surprising myself even.  I typically pass up the gluten-free Estrella Damm Daura or Redbridge that Aaron sometimes buys to cook with, instead preferring a glass of white wine or a mixed drink. But something about drinking a beer there just seemed so… right. I got my hotdog and plastic cup, loaded up on the condiments and napkins, went to my seat and thought I am eating a hot dog and drinking beer. I felt downright American, damn it.
And Bogie was right. It was the best hot dog I have ever tasted. There was just something about being a part of this crowd, lost in a sea of red and white-clad fans, all cheering for the same team which, although I knew nothing about, I felt strangely… loyal to..., eating a hot dog and drinking my beer just like everyone else around me. For me, that is one thing that I really miss. It sounds so silly, doesn’t it? Doing what everyone else is. Like something your mother warned you against. But it is oddly comforting to experience this sameness again.
I still got lost somewhere around the 6th inning, was excited when it was announced that Brian Wilson would be pitching until I realized that a) he was not the bass player from the Beach Boys and b) he played for the other team, and almost got smacked in the face with a foul ball because I was busy taking pictures of my hot dog. Oh, and they lost. But honestly, I had an absolutely amazing time. I get it now, the whole “America’s past time” thing.
I even waived at Chase Utley from our seats behind the dugout, but he pretended not to know who I was. I guess I deserved that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart." -Erma Bombeck

Desserts matter. I hold this truth to be self evident, because for me, the entire fate of the meal hinges upon that last, delicious morsel of food which you put into your mouth. It is the taste which lingers on your palate long after the meal is over. It is the last scent, memory, and thus, representation of the repast. So yeah, desserts matter.

I will, occasionally, post solely on the topic of dessert. It is one of the trickier things to alter sometimes, because baking is so notoriously temperamental; the unforgiving, unwavering, strategically-minded military dad to cooking’s artsy, hand-holding, herb-loving hippie aunt.

College Is About Breaking
Boundaries In The Study Of
 Human Anatomy...
And Dominating In Wine Pong

That being said, whenever possible, I will always order dessert. 17 course tasting menu? Dessert please. Whole roast pig? What do you have that’s chocolate? I could pretty much put away anything and still have room for something sweet. I was mildly self-conscious about this fact until a roommate in college introduced me to what she called “The Chamber Theory.” You know how cows’ stomachs have 4 compartments? Well, Adrienne postulated that we have chambers in our stomachs as well, and, even though your “entrée chamber” might be full, your “dessert chamber” is still wide open. Additionally, I should point out, in college we both made really compelling arguments in favor of a “wine chamber.”

This week, after a particularly delicious grilled steak dinner, my dessert chamber’s needle was still hovering on empty, and Aaron decided to introduce me to his southern roots. By “southern roots,” I mean, “lived in West Virginia for two years and ate a lot of biscuits.” And peaches.

Until recently, the only thing I really knew about “peach” was that she gave blondes a bad name.

Apparently, they also make a delicious cobbler.

Aaron picked up some white peaches at the farmers market which were so fresh and delectably fuzzy looking that they would have warmed the cockles of Roald Dhal’s heart. The perfect patches of pale pink blended seamlessly into a warm yellow that was absolutely picturesque just sitting in a bowl on the kitchen counter, glowing in the warm summer sun, like a page right out of Little House on the Prairie.

He sautéed the peaches in a little bourbon (because why the hell not?) and sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and Gluten Free Pantry’s All Purpose Flour Mix (Whole Foods). I find this mix to be one of the most accessible, and can be substituted cup-for-cup in almost any recipe. He layered this warm, sugary, nectar-y love into buttered ramekins and topped it with the recipe for biscuits found on the back of the box of Gluten Free Bisquick.

Let me pause for a moment to give mad props to Betty Crocker for making gluten free baking accessible to anyone who lives in a 20 minute radius of Acme or Superfresh and can combine eggs and butter. They now offer gluten free cookie, cake, and brownie mix, along with gluten free Bisquick, dumbing down baking to a level even I can usually manage to not screw up.

This was my first experience with the Bisquick, and the biscuits on top of the cobbler puffed up like little moist pillows of what my incredibly limited experiences with illegal substances force me to only assume must be laced with heroine. Seriously. Biscuits should be considered narcotics and regulated by the Board of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Dangerously Addictive Carbohydrates. They were crispy on the outside and delicate and flaky and buttery on the inside.

But it was the prize which lay unassumingly beneath the layers of fragile, crumbly goodness which was the real reward. Layers of sweet, sugary peaches basked in the glory of their sachariferousness, coated in the crystallized granules of goodness. Bits of biscuit clung to their syrupy flesh, reveling in the sticky, saccharine juice, soaking up every bit of nectar they could before they dissolved onto my tongue.
Next thing you know, I’ll be found in an alley somewhere, heating up peaches on a spoon with a lighter, a makeshift tunicate tied around my arm, laying in the filth of my own half-eaten biscuit crumbs, with a look of sheer bliss forever imprinted on my face.

This is what true love tastes like, with ice cream on top.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"You better cut the pizza into four slices, because I'm not hungry enough to eat six" -Yogi Berra

Aaron went out and bought a grill this week. I say that with a laugh, as if any man could just "go out and buy a grill." No- this was not a spur of the moment purchase, like a pack of gum and a Cosmo at the food store, or the time when I decided that I wanted a puppy (twice). This was a process. A process which began precisely 10 months ago, when it became clear that the harsh Philadelphia winter had been less than kind to his old one- and ended last Sunday, after no less than 4 trips (that I know of) to Lowes and roughly 20 hours of online research. Hopefully, he puts this much thought into my birthday gift (if you are reading this, dear, I'd like a pair of black satin peep-toe Louboutins please). A man and his grill have a very special bond- which I guess I should respect, as he has never uttered one complaint about the "bond" that my shoes have with our guest bedroom floor after they reached a number which could no longer be contained in the closet (but one more won't hurt, so...)

So anyway, he got the grill set up and we (of course) had to take it for a spin. We (I) decided that we (he) were going to make one of my most favorite things in the world: pizza.

Pizza was the first thing I really missed after my diagnosis. I tried all different kinds of frozen pies, pre-packaged crusts, and couldn't figure out why it just didn't taste right. After much (mainly failed) experimentation, I was forced to admit something to myself: If you are gluten-free, you can kiss the concept of a deep-dish pie away. I will rarely ever admit defeat here. The whole purpose of ths exploration into the culinary world was to prove to myself, and others like me, that gluten-free does not have to be the determining factor in your choice of cuisine. That there is really amazing food out there that is either naturally gluten-free, or designed with us in mind. I don't want to be Debbie Downer, here. But, and I am certainly willing to retract this statement if proven wrong, all evidence points to the fact that my days of doughy-pulled-apart-cheesy-stuffed-crusts are gone.

DON'T STOP READING! THERE'S GOOD NEWS. Turns out that Pizza Hut and Domino's, when they bake and fill their fluffy flour-filled shells of glutenous death, are not always making the most culinary-forward pies. Sure, they might appeal to the masses and look great on TV, but they have a limited pizza scope. Apparently, there's this whole world of flat bread pizzas out there- and it's ours for the taking. In Spain, they are called cocas, and their crispy deliciousness know no bounds. Cocas are made with thinly rolled dough that not only does not need the elasticity provided by the gluten protein- they actually benefit from not having it. They are typically wood-fired to create a crunchy, grilled texture.

The gluten-free version of this crust which I have found works best is Gillians, available in your local Whole Foods freezer aisle. We usually plan our pizza nights in the beginning of the week so we can take the dough out of the freezer the night before and let it thaw out in the fridge. A little bit of flour on the counter, and Aaron rolls it out so it is nice and thin. The dough typically yields about three oblong pizza crusts which are cut into four one and a half inch slices. Aaron brushes the dough with olive oil and par-bakes it in the oven for about 10 minutes until firm (pause for an obligatory 'that's what she said' joke). Then, we add the toppings.

If there is one thing I will dare not to impose my opinions about, it is this subject. Pizza topping preferences are so fiercely held by each individual that they are on par with religious beliefs or political affiliation. Pepperoni, Sausage, Peppers, Olives, Anchovies, Pineapple: I believe in a world where an individual is free to top regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. I will not proselytize. I'll give you the rundown, on what we made, so you can make your own, informed decisions on this hot-button topping-ic (get it?).

Tonight, we are making two kinds. One is fresh and simple- fresh pulled mozzarella from the amazing Wegman's cheese counter, some regular-ass-but-still-delicious shredded mozzarella on the pizza, and healthy gobs of ricotta. The second pizza gets shredded mozzarella, Asiago, and some short rib that Aaron braised with baby carrots, cipollini onions, and rosemary in the toaster oven (sounds way more ghetto than it is, I promise). This pizza also gets a sweet onion marmalade which he made by doing something that looked way more complicated than just opening a jar of marmalade (which is what I would have done), but is freaking delicious.

Then, we head outside. Aaron fires up the grill and places the pizza on a wire rack which goes right on top of the grill. Close the lid and let it cook for about five minutes, until the cheese is melty and the bottom starts to char. He rotates the pizza to the other side, and fires the grill up again.

When they are cooked all the way through, we top our cheese pizza with thinly sliced heirloom tomatoes and fresh chiffonaded (that's the technical culinary past tense) basil and a few cracks of red Hawaiian sea salt. For the short rib pizza, a thin drizzle of horseradish sauce and fresh shaved Asiago cheese. I am so excited I can hardly wait for the cheese to stop bubbling. I size up my slice, weigh my options, and decide that a few singed taste buds are worth the instant gratification. "Mmmmyum" I mumble incoherently, my mouth glued together by cheesy goodness. "MmthisisthebestpizzaIhaveeverhad."

I manage to swallow and stop and think for a minute. I mean it. This is literally the best pizza I have ever had. Not the best gluten-free pizza, but the best pizza period. It's crispy and crunchy and cheesy and the tangy, tomato-y acidity pops as each crystal of salt dissolves on my tongue. The short rib literally melts in my mouth and is perfectly balanced by the unbelievable silky sweetness of onion marmalade, swaddled in creamy folds of melted cheese. The flat bread even bubbled up a little in certain spots from the grill, creating delicate, delicious pockets of air sporting char marks like a badge of honor, a sight that I literally thought I'd never see again, and actually makes me a bit teary-eyed, and the crust makes a ridiculously satisfying crunch with every bite.
It is a huge deal for me to say this pizza, in front of me, which just happens to be gluten free, is the best pizza I have ever had. It is why I want to share this with you: the fact that something which should taste like it is missing an integral ingredient, could be better than any slice I'd ever eaten BC.

Suck it, Dominos.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Heart disease has changed my eating habits, but I still cook bacon for the smell" -George Carlin

When I was first diagnosed with Celiac, one of the things that I missed the most was the options. Not the food options, per se- more like the life options. I felt held hostage by the fact that my dining world now fell into two very black and white categories: cook at home or eat somewhere with grilled chicken, fish, or steak on the menu. And while that's nice and all, what if you don't want to eat somewhere with a grill menu? I mean, isn't that the culinary counterpart of Big Love? Sure, it may seem like you have options, but in actuality you are just gastronomically running train on a series of three dishes which, although they might be the protein equivalent of a blonde, brunette, and a redhead, at the end of the day, all taste the same.

One time, in college, a fellow scholar and intellectual drunk guy at a party asked me "Do you ever just like, get drunk and eat wheat?" Uh, I don't know, do you ever get drunk and drink drain cleaner? Being drunk doesn't make me eat something that kills me. But that doesn't mean I don't want to. What if it's late at night and I just wanted to go to a bar and have a drink and eat regular-ass bar food like every other person in the world? I missed the ease of such non-committal dining. I longed for a time when going out to eat didn't have to be such a pre-planned production. I wanted my own gluten-free version of Cheers- a place that required absolutely no commitment or pretense, yet was always there for you- warm, welcoming, and open until 1 AM.But everywhere I went had late-night bar menus consisting of chicken fingers, sandwiches, and all the deep fried, breaded love a glutenous drunk could ask for.

So when I moved to a street located directly across from the Pub On Passyunk East, I was not exactly hopeful. From the outside, it looked like a typical neighborhood hang out- the kind of place where twenty-somethings who are so painfully hip that they could not possibly be bothered with everyday, mainstream nuisances like showering go after a hard day's work at American Apparel to swap war stories about their chest tattoos and give each other hair styling advice.

The first time we went, it was just to get drinks. The bartender left a copy of the menu, and when Aaron excused himself to go to the bathroom, I picked it up and busied myself with it, trying desperately to distract from the fact that I was the only person there wearing actual pants. I perused the words mindlessly, reading but not really retaining anything. All of a sudden, the words jump out at me off the page. "All sandwiches available on gluten-free rolls and bread." Holy shit. Could this be it? Could this be my Cheers? You know, if Norm only drank PBR and Cliff had a half-sleeve and a plaid shirt.

But you know what, forget all that. Hipsters and all, the P.O.P.E. has become a regular hang-out for me. The staff is amazingly friendly and helpful They are open late. They are right across the street from my house. They have gluten-free food. And not just any gluten-free food. Gluten-free drunk bar food. They have a BLT for Christ sake.

The BLT is quite honestly a thing of beauty. I mean, come on. It's a sandwich that is so great, they tell you what's in it right there in the name. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato. And that's it. At the P.O.P.E., it also comes with basil mayo, which is a delicious blend of herbaceous flavor and artery-clogging mayonnaise-y goodness. It is the perfect compliment to the sandwich: an uncomplicated symbiotic relationship that takes nothing away from the primitive pleasure of bacon on bread. The bacon is grilled to perfection, nestled with juicy, plump tomatoes and fresh green lettuce between three slices of crispy toast. It is unpretentious in it's simplicity.

Sometimes, it really is the little things in life. The bartender who is typically there on weeknights seems bemused by my new found fascination with something most people pass by without a second glance. I pick up my BLT gingerly, as though it were an ancient relic dug up by historians from a far away date in time BC (Before Celiac) and bite into it, unquestionably relishing every bite. "Why do you guys have gluten-free bread?" I ask him, as I am always inexplicably fascinated by the "why"- dare I hope to imagine the fact that this new trend might someday become the norm, or is there some more realistic rationale behind it, like a family member or employee with Celiac? He smiled at me and asked how my sandwich was. "Ohmygodsogood" I manage to get out between bites. "Well, that's why we have it," he said, and turned back to his other bar guests.

I couldn't have asked for a better answer.

The Pub On Passyunk East
1501 East Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia PA 19147

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won't, and that's a wife who can't cook and will" -Robert Frost

The key is to set the bar low in the beginning of a relationship. With cooking, I mean. Do you remember that scene in Clueless when Cher unrolls the entire bag of cookie dough and plops it onto the sheet tray?

That's me.
Anyway, after four or five culinary failures of epic proportions, it was unanimously decided that Aaron would do the cooking in our house.
The problem isn't just that I am a bad cook. The problem is that Aaron is an amazing cook (well, the problem for him at least- I'll take comfortably-full dish duty any day of the week). Luckily for me, Aaron enjoys cooking as much as I enjoy eating. Gluten-free has been like a fun challenge for him- like when they tie one hand behind their backs in the Top Chef Quickfire Challenge.

Sunday, he went to the farmer's market and bought produce and veggies that were so fresh and tasty that even I, who, if left to my own devices, would live entirely off of food that has a pre-programmed microwave button, fell immediately into food lust.

I can't tell you how to make the dishes- but I can tell you what was in them. And give you a few pointers on the best dish detergent to use after a manicure. If you are a cook, you can build them in your own way. If you are not, I highly recommend dating one.

Pan Seared Scallops Over Jersey Corn and Red Scallion Risotto with Yellow Oyster Mushrooms

The scallops were cooked to utter perfection. The outside sear was light and buttery and the inside literally just melted into a fit of taste bud delectation. The Jersey Corn is not yet fully in season, so the kernels were small, but each one bit with the satisfying snap that only flawless timing and temperature can produce, and was so satiatingly sweet and juicy that I think the other vegetables were actually jealous. The red scallions added just a bit of heat, and the yellow oyster mushrooms were earthy and uncomplicated, a simple, yet harmonious addition.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Charred Onion Vinaigrette, Whipped Lemon-Ricotta and Gluten-Free Migas

Tomato Season is rapidly becoming a full-blown holiday in my book. If I worked for Hallmark I would start mass producing cards, tomato-grams, and heart shaped candy boxes filled with little cherry tomatoes for loved ones. The salad was dressed with a Charred Onion Vinaigrette made from the same red scallions as the risotto- light and tangy and unobtrusive, it's flavors gracefully becoming one with the juice which oozed out of the tomatoes themselves. And then, there was the cheese. Fresh ricotta cheese which was lighter and creamier than anything that I've ever seen lay dormant under the plastic film of a grocery store carton. It was buzzed with lemon juice and heavy cream and dolloped in little gobs of rich, salty love onto each plate. Aaron made the gluten-free croutons using Miller's Asiago Cheese bread, drizzled with olive oil and garlic and toasted to a crispy finish.

Roasted Lamb Chops with Rosemary and Parmesan Red-Skinned Potatoes and Lemon Cucumber Tzatziki

The lamb was simple and paired perfectly with the Lemon Cucumber Tzatziki Sauce, which is the absolute perfect summer hook up. Apparently, you can tell how much a person loves you by how much time they put into their condiments. Lamb chops and tzatziki sauce was the first dish Aaron ever made me when we started dating. Later in our relationship, one night I asked if he had changed the recipe. Surprised, he looked at me and said no. "Oh," I said. "The sauce tastes different than the first time you made it. That's all." He laughed. "The first time I made it, I was still trying to impress you. I pureed the cucumber and blended it directly into the yogurt. Now that we've been together so long, I just chopped it. I didn't think you'd notice." Uhhh thanks. In fairness, I guess that's how I feel about shaving my legs. Last night he must have been feeling the love though, because the sauce was cool, crisp and refreshing. Fresh lemon cucumbers were buzzed with Chobani Greek Yogurt. The potatoes were oven-roasted in olive oil and chopped with rosemary and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. They were hot and crispy, and each bite coated your mouth in a salty, cheesy goodness that was as familiar and comforting as only a childhood favorite can be.

And then there was dessert.

Shelly, creator of Moondance Dessert is a genius- pure and simple. Her cheesecake crusts are made with, as far as I can tell, pecan, shortbread cookies, sugar, and crack cocaine. They are unbelievable, and come in perfectly portioned individual sizes at Whole Foods. We got their classic cheesecake, and Aaron made a blueberry compote with fresh lemon juice and sugar for a sweet, fruity compliment to the smooth, creamy cake and buttery crust.

I love dessert.

In the end, our little division of household labor really works out in my favor. It pays to have a blonde moment or two and sacrifice some burnt sheet trays to the greater cause. It's my turn to take care of dinner next, so look forward to an update on local gluten-free take out.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Too Few People Really Understand A Good Sandwich" -James Beard

New Yorkers call it a "hero." In New Jersey, it's a "sub." If you are in Philly, you'll only get it if you call it a "hoagie." 

For Celiacs, it doesn't matter what it's called, we can't eat it anyway, so everyone just shut the fuck up about it already.

At least, that's how my life used to be.

And then, like the shadow of an action hero emerges slowly out of the wreckage towards Camera 2, back lit by bursts of flames and buildings collapsing in the background, one man came into my life.

His name is Chef Peter McAndrews.

And he believes that sandwiches, whether you call them hoagies, subs, heros, grinders, blimpies, or poor boys, are a basic, inalienable right which cannot and should not be stripped from any American, regardless of race, creed, color, or intestinal ability.

McAndrews owns several restaurants in Philadelphia, all of which I will rave about in separate, and most likely multiple future posts. Two of his children have Celiac, and all of his restaurants are super gluten-free friendly. I'm not just talking about some crappy gluten-free menu omitting all the good stuff, informing the reader in an exasperatingly cheerful type-face that they can eat "any of the above sandwiches without bread" (thanks guys, I could have never made that intellectual leap on my own). I'm talking about gluten-free dishes that are so amazing and delicious that the first twenty words you would use describe them would not even include "gluten-free" because their gluten-freeness becomes just another inherent composition of the dish, like "beef" or "pork" or "chicken."

So, anyway, we will start off with the basics. And the basics for me are that I live in South Philadelphia, home of Pat's, Geno's, John's and Bill, the old Italian guy who lives down the street from me, and I had not had a freaking sandwich that was any good in at least eight years.

Which brings us Paesano's. They have two locations- one on S. 9th Street in the Italian Market and one on Girard at 2nd.

Walk into Paesano's from the bustle of the Italian Market- cars triple parked, wayward bicyclists weaving though vendors and carts, and the smell of cured meat and fresh seafood- and you will be greeted by a chalkboard hanging over the counter, framing the small kitchen which echos the sound of metal spatulas on a sizzling grill. The guy behind the counter will usually be wearing a grey houndstooth fedora cocked to one side and a blue t-shirt with yellow text proudly posing the question to end all questions: "Jaeatyet?"

Today, I'm going with the basics. The Daddywad. $7. On gluten-free bread of course.

The Daddywad is an Italian Hoagie made with delectable layers of Mortadella with Pistachio, Genoa Salami, Sopressata Cappacotta and Prosciutto Di Parma. To me, these words strung together are strangely reminiscent of something that your Great Uncle Sal starts mumbling when he has one too many shots of Sambuca (I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family where lunch meats were simply referred to as "ham" or "turkey.") But this salty, delicious, slightly spicy blend of meat is cushioned by thick slices of Sharp Provolone and is pretty much the best thing ever. The sandwich is finished with arugula, tomato, onion, and both sweet and hot peppers, and it's oily, hoagie-y deliciousness seeps all over the thin sheets of deli paper like little drizzles of happiness as you struggle to strike the perfect balance between enjoying it as it should be, and not ruining your shirt.

But let's be real here. We know the sandwich rocks. For people with Celiac, the meats, the veggies, the cheeses could be hand-crafted by Jesus Christ himself and we would still raise an eyebrow and ask skeptically, "Okay. But how's the bread?" The bread holds up to the sandwich in a way I have not seen anywhere before. It stays intact, which, as we all know, is a huge check in the "Win Column" for gluten-free breads off the bat. It comes lightly toasted, but is still as spongey as gluten-free bread can get. The gluten-free rolls are a bit smaller than the regular rolls, so there is some lunch meat carnage, but nothing that can't be scooped up and rescued into the ends of the sandwich roll. It even holds in the refrigerator really well for one day if you can only eat half your sandwich (I should clarify: I don't actually know if it holds well for longer than one day because I have never been able to wait more than one day to eat my leftovers). Because it doesn't seep the oils into the roll and get soggy, I actually feel like it holds up better than regular bread. I am not sure what its main ingrediant is, but it is one of the best gluten-free sandwich rolls I have had.

And so now, I can officially join the debate. It's called a hoagie.

Visit Paesano's
(Word of advice: just call ahead and ask if they have gluten-free bread because sometimes they run out)

1017 S. 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

152 W. Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19123

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I Really Hate Bloggers

Let me first start by making this somewhat sweeping, and yes, wildly hypocritical statement:
I really hate bloggers.

Let me continue to complicate matters further by saying this:
I really hate food bloggers.

Now let me explain.

A restaurant employee for all of my working-life, I have pretty much hit my intake level of infuriatingly smug, obnoxiously hip, and overwhelmingly naive people looking me in the eye and snarkyly (real word? should be) sneering: I hope you know I'm going to blog about this.

Oh really? Blog about what? About the fact that I smiled the biggest, fakest smile I could muster and said in a sickeningly saccharine voice "Your table will be ready in just one moment. I am SO sorry about the wait." Or when you complained about something (re: salt) I genuinely apologized, offered to bring you a new one, and took it off the check? So something went wrong. How would you like it if I sat in your office all day and wrote down every time something went wrong? Restaurants, at least, the ones worth blogging about, are most likely trying their hardest to make sure you are having the best goddamn night of your life so you will rave about them to your friends and come back with more. No tricks, I promise.

Ergo, my drastic, if maybe a bit over dramatic statement. I hate food bloggers. That being said, this is NOT a food blog. I will not critique any restaurant or discourage anyone from attending anywhere.

I will tell you this.

I love food. Most likely not any more than the average person. I don't cook at home. I don't shop organically. I don't go to farmers markets or produce stands. I don't watch the food network (except Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives). I don't follow famous chefs the way an overzealous tween follows Robert Pattenson's every move. I'm not a "foodie," and, subsequently, find the term a bit irritating. But I do love food.

For most people, this is an off-the-cuff statement you might make without even thinking twice. Much like people say "Oh I love this song" or "I love your hair like that," the fact that someone loves food, loves to eat, to consume nutrients for nourishment and sustainability, is about as earth-shattering as converting oxygen into carbon dioxide or blinking your eyelids.

For someone with, as my dear friend Ben likes to say, a "food handicap," finally being able to say these words, and mean them, can be life changing.

I wish I got great parking with my food handicap. A sticker on the back of my Toyota Yaris that would allow me to pull in front of any Whole Foods maybe?

When I was sixteen years old, I was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue, a genetic, autoimmune disease which prevents my body from being able to break down gluten, the stuff in wheat that makes bread spongey. I'm not going to go into the specifics of the disease because I figure, if you are reading this blog, you probably have it, or are related to, dating, or trying to sleep with someone who does. In my experience, those are really the only people that feel the need quiz me on the specifics of the disease. Long and the short of it is, wheat, oats, barley and rye are OUT.

The first few years were tough. Not Lifetime-Original-Movie tough; believe me, there are way worse things to be diagnosed with. But it takes a serious shift in mindset and lifestyle to literally think about every single thing you put in your mouth. Little things become huge milestones: finding a pasta substitute, eating a slice of pizza that doesn't suck, finding a bread substitute that doesn't crumble into a billion pieces.

And then there's the bigger things. Finding a restaurant that you trust not to kill you. Finding beer. Finding dinner rolls. Finding sandwiches.

Like I said, for the first few years, it's really more about basic food survival. Relearning everything you ever knew about food since the first time your poor, oblivious mother put a little, poisonous deathtrap called a Cheerio into your hand and you fell in love. Seriously, thanks mom.

But once you master the basics, surprisingly, life goes on. Once you relearn how to like food, you get to learn how to love food again.

And that is where I am.
Writing this blog.

Because really, as much as I hate bloggers, and especially food bloggers, I feel that learning to love food when you are gluten-free is something that every Celiac should get to do. Because really, where is the fun in just liking food?

So I thought I would share my journey as I relearn how to love food.

Warning. Here be backstory.

The journey began at 217 Chestnut Street. I know where it began because I was in college and I needed a part time job and I walked by and stopped in and got a job hostessing for some guy I never heard of named Jose Garces. (Remember when I said I don't watch the food network?)

So anyway, I fell in love with this place called Amada. I worked there as a manager, and learned to love everything and everyone there. One of the things that I loved the most was being surrounded by all these people who LOVED food. Here's a little restaurant industry secret: I don't mean the guests. I don't mean the people who wait three months to get a reservation, or who spend $200 on dinner for two or who drink expensive wine and enjoy the Chef's Tasting Menu because it just sounds so damn chic.

I mean the employees.

I mean the managers who work fourteen hour days just so they can be exposed to some of the finest cooking in the city. I mean the servers who, if you actually take time to listen to them beyond the specials list, are some of the most well-versed people in the city about where to eat because anyone who is anyone who is "in the business" gets majorly hooked up everywhere they go. I mean the sous chefs who are probably the most dedicated, hardest working people I have ever met, next to the bussers and the dishwashers.

These people love food. They love food in a way I could never imagine loving food. They have an honest, and almost beautiful appreciation for the color, texture, mouth feel, and taste of a dish. They don't eat because they have to. They eat because they GET to. It is a privilege to partake in the simple pleasure of a dining experience.

I felt very out of place. For me, going out to dinner was as stressful as going to the dentist for a root canal. Explaining my allergy, trying to find something that would taste good modified to suit my dietary restrictions- these were hassles that I could very much have done without. Eating was something I did because if I didn't I would die, and that would suck.

And who the hell was this Craig LaBan guy?

I worked for Jose Garces for two and a half years. In that time period, two of the best things in my life happened to me. I met my boyfriend, Aaron. And I fell in love. With food, I mean. (Sorry, hun).

Aaron is one of those people I was talking about. He is one of those people who has a fascinating (to me anyway) respect and appreciation for food. He cooks. Really well. He goes out to eat. Really well. He watches The Food Network (I know what channel it is now). When we first met, I thought, this is never going to work. Here's this guy whose eyes light up when he talks about the best meal he ever had the way mine do only when I see a pair of Christian Louboutins. And then there's me, whose friends have dragged her to Olive Garden to watch them eat unlimited breadsticks and fried and breaded everything as she pokes her crouton-less Ceasar Salad (yeah, thats lettuce and cheese) with a fork. It will never last.

I underestimated Aaron. He threw himself into the art of gluten-free cooking in a way that I have not seen since my father sought out on the quest to find the perfect rice pasta. I should add, my parents were incredibly supportive to both my sister and I. They bought us as many frozen Amy's macaroni and cheeses as we could eat for school lunches, and kept updated with all of the products and specialty stores. I cannot thank them enough for their support. Aaron was not simply trying to make gluten-free food, however. He became determined to create his favorite, most beloved dishes into little delectable offerings to the gluten-free food gods that I could partake in and worship the way he did. He also wanted me to be able to enjoy his other favorite past time: dining out. We have been on the quest to enjoy dining the way it was meant to be. We found restaurants who did more than tiptoe around my allergy, leaving out imperative ingredients to send out a sub-par dish with little more than a shrug and a "Thats what you get when you don't eat carbs." We found restaurants who created gluten-free dishes. Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes by mistake. But always, with one purpose: delicious food.

And so, in this extremely lengthy maifesto, it is my goal to enable others to learn to become Cibophiliac Celiacs*, and learn to love food. Again. And again and again and again.

So, here goes.

*AUTHOR'S NOTE: Those of you who are not Celiac, but gluten-sensitive, gluten-intolerant, or living a gluten-free lifestyle due to health issues, other diseases, or out of solidarity to a loved one are no exception. It just didn't rhyme.