Bella’s Restaurant in Hellertown, PA

The other weekend we had supper at one of my favorite places to eat out at: Bella’s in Hellertown, PA. I have to admit that I was slightly nervous as I had felt a touch glutened after the last time I ate there. But I wanted to give them another chance as I have eaten there safely many times in the past.  So, I reached out to the owners about my sub par dining experience.  We had a little trouble connecting due to our schedules and summer vacations.  Getting smart, I made the reservation in my name instead of Joe’s and that was enough to get the owner at my service!  Before dining, Sue came over and chatted at length with me.  The issue that might have existed last May seems to be addressed and staff is more aware of the need for extra care for celiac patrons.  They use a separate pot for gf pasta and a dedicated strainer for draining gf pasta; both a must. And a bit more care is now taken to keep cooked gf pasta away from other pasta dishes as they are sauced and plated for service.  She was really accommodating and we had a second chat after supper; a wonderful host!

bellas

I couldn’t resist my favorite meal there; penne with pink vodka sauce and shrimp.  I have had it a few times and even though I am not generally a fan of pink vodka sauce, I eat it at Bella’s and adore it.  This time Vinnie put finely chopped fresh basil in the sauce and it was a wonderful addition, adding complexity and another layer of great flavor.  Most places, when they have gf choices on the menu, make them so plain and lacking in flavor complexity. I guess they are afraid to use seasoning for fear it will gluten customers who seek totally gf meals.  Fresh herbs and single spices are totally safe.  I particularly recommend McCormick single spices/herbs.  Season just like you do for non gluten free customers.  We celiacs love great flavor just as much as anyone!

pasta at bellas

My pasta looked a bit like this; take off the thick white melted cheese and add shrimp!

I can add that their parmesan house dressing is lovely and safe and the salad was very good; fresh and flavorful.

Joe had an entrée with eggplant and linguine that he seemed to enjoy.  I am longing for the day that Bella’s adds gf linguine to their menu.  Hint hint!

My last suggestion is that they make some gf dessert choices; flourless chocolate cake, homemade sorbet, sherbet or granita, and a good quality vanilla ice cream with fresh fruit come to mind! Just saying that there are some easy tasty meal enders that could be just as inviting to the rest of the client base as they might be to we gf diners.

Thanks for a memorably yummy meal out Bella’s!

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Musikfest 2016 – Gluten Free Eating

Just a quick Musikfest gluten free update for my peeps.  I have enjoyed just a few food items there: not volunteering as much this year so not around the place to test more things.

I had the corn on the cob from Aww…Shucks.  It was great as always; I had them leave off the seasonings as they are not gluten free. corn on cob

The other choice I had as a meal was from Hogar Crea: their chicken and beans and rice.  It was pretty awesome.  My plate was piled high with everything including some big chunks of yams; great seasoning and very filling.  My pocketbook was happy: good deal for this pricy issue of eating at the Musikfest; only 8 tickets which is cheap if you look at how much other entrees cost there!

Hogar crea

Looks like some yummy shish kebab grilling here at Hogar Crea’s stand at Handworkplatz.

The only  drink I had there was the half and half lemonade and ice tea incredibly thirst quenching on a hot day as I sold beer mugs! ice tea and lemonade

 

Musikfest has only have one cider this year; Gumption: I saw it at Festplatz at the small specialty truck next to the beer tent.  It is a fairly sweet apple cider but better than nothing if you want an alcoholic treat but can’t drink wheat beer and don’t like to drink wine. hard cider

 

Not sure what else is celiac safe there; in past three summers I ate bbq pork over at Volksplatz at that big polish food stand.  Pulled pork poured over a big baked potato.  Amazing! GF delight. So there are a few options out there.  Let me know if you find something else safe for we celiacs.

 

Eating Out GF in Boston: Yummy!

Traveling again; in search of great gluten free food…in the Boston area. I ate at Legal Seafood, two different locations, two great meals.  I had mussels in wine sauce followed by a steamed lobster for supper one night.  It came with two gf rolls, warm and tasty…side of brown rice which was a bit drab: I think they left off the seasoning in a probably cautious decision (seasonings can be problematic due to flour in spice blends).  And my second side was sautéed fresh spinach.  Everything was tasty. The gf food arrives at the same time as everyone else’s but via a different waiter who is tasked with making sure you eat safely.  I had a dark chocolate mousse for dessert that was incredibly rich; couldn’t finish it! You should know that the owners of this chain have celiac family members so they really try hard to give you a great and safe gf eating experience.

Legallegal lobster

For lunch a couple days later my sister and I ate at a different Legals as the Thai restaurant we planned to go to was closed. I had some Portuguese seafood chowder full of perfectly cooked white fish, mussels, clams, chorizo sausage and tomato based broth.  It also came with those tasty gf rolls. I had a side of coleslaw, very fresh and crunchy. So nice to feel I can eat food that is safe for me and really tasty.  seafood chowder

There are three Legals in the Phila. and south Jersey area; check out the one at King of Prussia mall: http://www.legalseafoods.com/restaurants/king-of-prussia-king-of-prussia-mall.  So you can eat great gf seafood right here in PA.

myers

I also ate at a hipster kinda of Thai/Chinese restaurant in the Back Bay area of Boston: Chang and Myers… http://www.myersandchang.com/.  My shredded pea pod salad with green goddess dressing and sunflower seeds was simply amazing.  I had salmon with rice and soy sauce, all gluten free.  Perfectly done salmon.  I could have done with less sauce; not used to much of that salty stuff.  I enjoyed a wonderful baby bok choy stir fry with scallions and fresh ginger.  My only issue was the disjointed service; lots of gaps there….plus my companions’ food and mine were off synch and that took away from the wonderful flavor of my food.  I hadn’t eaten in an oriental restaurant in over three years, since going gluten free so it was a great treat to eat there. Small gf menu but everything I ate was wonderful.  I took no pictures there and couldn’t find any on line of the gf foods I ate.  You will have to trust me on the wonderfulness of my gf foods there.

the cottagecrab and shrimp salad

Ladies luncheon out at The Cottage was as great as ever. I had crab and shrimp salad with hearts of palm and a delicate lemon dressing.  It was refreshing, filling and so fresh and just beautiful to look at.  Hot gf rolls were a very nice touch.  We three ladies shared our traditional flourless chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream.  Not a scrap of that delicious dessert was left on the plate! chocolate tort

 

Finally, I had a super gf ice cream cone in Lexington at a small ice cream shop; they only charged 25 cents for a gf sugar cone.  Marvelous homemade dark chocolate topped with coffee ice cream.  Mmmmm.

 

So, if you are heading to the Boston area; there are a lot of great restaurants which have gluten free options.

The Perils of Eating Out…

Everyone loves to eat out.  So nice to have someone cook for you, no dishes, right?  Well, if you have celiac disease you must avoid even tiny amounts of gluten. So eating out is sadly a huge problem in this geographic area as there are very few restaurants that have a real gluten free menu.  If we were in California, that’s another story; most every restaurant there has a gf menu and they know what they are doing.  Here in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania it is not like that.  Most of the times I get glutened I am eating in a restaurant, food that was allegedly prepared for me knowing I have celiac.  And yet I get sick sometimes. Why is that I wonder?

I was glutened just recently and since this place has a gluten free menu I felt it shouldn’t have happened. I have eaten there several times safely in the past three years. Great food generally. I know the chef was in so it wasn’t like someone was subbing for him.  I have asked and am told they have separate pots for gluten free pasta.  I didn’t get desperately ill; call it medium sick so I know it’s not like they served me regular pasta.  But there must have been some form of definite contamination. Bummer.  The thing is, when restaurants go to the trouble of having a gf menu and serving great safe gluten free foods they are providing an important service.  People with celiac celebrate birthdays, events, anniversaries, have dates or just get sick of eating at home. There are so few places one can eat dinner out; it would be a shame to no longer go to my once favorite restaurant.  It took me six days to get over this moderate illness from my dinner out.  Six days of tummy pain and not feeling myself.  It is something I take seriously as the problem is not just the pain, it is the damage to my digestive system.  It can cause cancer and a whole host of diseases when you get glutened again and again.

So, I want to go over a few basic facts to remind folks who say they serve gf food what that should be like.  Maybe that place will read it and take some notes!

Pasta: If you have gf pasta on your menu you need a separate pot for boiling the pasta, separate strainer, separate colander and separate spoons.  You can NOT use the same water for gf pasta that you were making regular pasta in.  You can not use the same colander or strainer; tiny gummy bits of pasta stick in the holes and it is incredibly difficult to get them completely clean.  You can’t use the same baking dishes to make gf baked goods like muffins or cake; the tiny crumbs that remain even after a good washing are a major source of contamination.  Twenty parts per million, yes I said Million are considered contaminated food that a person with celiac disease cannot tolerate.  We are not exaggerating, we really, really need you to be careful.

Spices and Herbs: You can’t use spice blends as they often have flour in them.  But you can use single spices like cinnamon, paprika, ginger, etc.  I find much gf menu choices to be incredibly bland and lacking in any spices or herbs.  How drab.fresh herbs All fresh herbs are safe, so are typical dried ones like basil, oregano, thyme, sage, etc. Just skip the blends, or make your own, I do. All single McCormack spices are all safely gluten free.  I have  made gf homemade taco seasoning, garam masala and other blends.  Garlic is safe and adds a lot of flavor. Sometimes I am served a bone plain tomato sauce with not a single kind of herb or garlic.  That is just not appetizing. For anyone.  Why should folks with celiac have to eat drab boring bland food? Shouldn’t!  mcCormick spices

Misc. Ingredients: You can’t use butter from a common stick or dish; the knife that dips there might have touched regular bread.  Not safe for anyone with celiac. You can’t use the same mayo or mustard jar for the same reason.

Meats and more : Avoid meats that are sold in a marinade solution.  Ditto for poultry like whole turkeys or chickens. Unless the label says gf don’t get any meat in a marinade as they are more often than not unsafe for someone with celiac.

breadcrumbsMisc. Stuff: No regular bread crumbs; they sell gf ones, get some or grind up dry gf bread.  The canned broth stores sell is a contamination issue; wheat is in them for some darn reason.  But, there are safe brands; find one and stick to it. Or make your own which is far cheaper and there is no real reason for wheat flour in broth.

Okay, Restaurant Chefs: now that I have covered the basics; you know what you need to do.  Just stick to these simple rules for cooking your gluten free menu items. And do it every single day you are open.  So I don’t get sick again. Plus, you will be rewarded with repeat gluten free customers who tell all their gf friends to come to your place for a safe gluten free meal.  I know I share great eating places with others on social media and so do others.   Just please make it actually safe if you say it is gluten free on your menu.

I feel like sending a copy of this post to every restaurant within 40 miles of Hellertown.  Maybe I will!

 

Three Years Gluten Free and Still Baking

Right about now it is three years since I first felt the wonderful moment when my tummy made its happiness known to me.  I had been totally gluten free for about two weeks.  It came to me that something was missing and that something was the pain in my gut that never ever went away.  It was a revelation.  So I am mostly pain free, still some issues.  I do get glutened by accident upon occasion, usually rarely. Once, several times in a month: which left me in a state of nearly constant nausea.   Thankfully that hasn’t happened in over a year. In fact, my blood work in October 2015 was totally normal for my liver levels and celiac markers.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have celiac, just that I am eating very safely. Yay!

I was a baker since my childhood; stirring up batches of Christmas cookies.  I’ve cooked meals since I was 14 or so and have been a lover of good food all my life.  So I had a good foundation of cooking skills and knowledge before having to change my lifestyle to totally gluten free. I thought it was like a death sentence being denied my bread and pasta.  I hear that sentiment sometimes from acquaintances who blurt it out upon hearing what I can’t eat anymore. I make no response most of the time to such negativity.  Occasionally I do respond with something to the effect that, Nope, it’s okay: I am doing great and enjoying eating tasty food.  And that, my friends, is the honest truth.  I am doing great and I really do eat a lot of delicious food, all gluten free. pretzels 011I can honestly say I have not knowingly eaten gluten, not more than a scrap of cheese ball (3 Christmases ago) which had a tiny amount of blue cheese that was possibly a tiny bit wheat. It did teach me a lesson and I am very careful on my blue cheese; FYI: most American blue cheese is safe.

I have learned to be a more careful baker; I follow recipes for baking much closer with consistent results. I blend up my own gf flour mixes, saves a lot of cash.  I actually enjoy the self sufficiency of baking my own cookies, muffins, pies and quick breads.  I have enjoyed adventures in making my own gf foods including pasta, soft pretzels, breads, muffins and healthy things like raw sauerkraut,

my own kefir and I have just started creating kombucha tea starter. These last three items are specifically for gut health and they can be pricey so I make my own which is very satisfying and is about a quarter the cost of readi-made.  DIY is fun and saves cash.  It helps me avoid saturated and hydrogenated fats as well as a heap of sugar and salt.  Processed gf foods are full of such and I am glad to avoid most of it. My focus is more and more on seasonal produce and fresh meats in small portions with the addition of grains like quinoa or rice.  I especially love stir fries which combine lots of veggies, great flavors like ginger and toasted sesame with small servings of meat or fish.  Served over rice they are perfect suppers.  Sometimes I make rice noodles to stir into the dish for a light touch that soaks up the flavor of the stir fry.

skinny quinoa sticksDon’t get me wrong, I eat snacks, even store gf cookies and chips at times but they are limited to occasional, even rare treats.  I am not depriving myself, lots of homemade cookies and muffins in the freezer keeping fresh and tasty.  I love baking pies and tarts – this is my year of pie on this blog and it is heartfelt love.  My dad, gone 15 years adored pies, so did my sister Margie, gone almost 3 years.  Actually, she urged me to start this blog to get over the trauma of my diagnosis and the loss of my dear friend Wheat.  She would be pleased at my success at baking and cooking gluten free and would be smiling as she read these words.  My blog is almost three years old and it has been so much fun.  I plan to continue sharing recipes, restaurant experiences, gf products and advice to help those who must live gluten free and for their families and friends who want to bake/cook for them.

I wish you much happiness in your gluten free life style.  To be sure that is what I have found as well as peace in knowing how to take good care of my body.  I am so glad to have been diagnosed in less than a year; many folks with celiac struggle for years to figure out what is wrong inside them.  I am happy to eat healthy, yummy food.  I am not the least deprived when I cook. When I visit family they cook gluten free for me or select restaurants with a gluten free menu so I never get glutened when I am with them. I am very thankful that they seem to understand and do their best to keep me safe in what they serve for meals. They ask for seconds of my gf breads and desserts which makes my heart happy. My guy is just as careful as my family to keep my food safe when we eat out. He gets my need for totally gluten free foods and that makes it less stressful for choosing where to eat out and what to cook.

bella signbigbites

It is still tough to eat out but I have enjoyed some wonderful meals, particularly at Bellas right here in town. I also love Big Bite’s in Quakertown for their gf BBQ foods; eaten there many times; yummy and safe for celiacs. Food is a bit difficult at functions and parties. I tend to not go as it is just easier sometimes.  When I do attend, I eat only the fresh fruit at dessert tables and I bring a gf sandwich to luncheons at church so I know I am eating safely. Maybe someday, the places we get the catering from will  provide safe gluten free choices for people like me.  I hope so!  Peace and happy healthy eating to all who read my blog. Three happy gluten free years and counting…

Musikfest Update Friday 8.14.15 GF Brownie Alert!

Eating gluten free at the Musikfest is sure challenging and when you are volunteering with only 30 minutes for a meal break it can be tough.  Snacks might be easier.  Last year I had some great kettle corn and some super Creamery ice cream up by the Hotel Bethlehem.  I am guessing you can still get those treats this Fest.

hempzels

I did find some incredible brownies, up on the edge of Leiderplatz; right at the back of the Sun Inn.  Hempzel Pretzels has a small stand there.

hempzel signI used to eat their tasty soft pretzels years ago at the fest, when I could still eat wheat and gluten.  They still have many great pretzel products for sale but there are also some certified gluten free brownies.  I didn’t get a picture of them but the stand has a big basket of them.  The flavor is outstanding, creamy and very chocolaty.  Well worth the trip up to Leiderplatz.  They also sell a garlic jam, didn’t get a taste of it but it is gf and looks like it might be great on a sandwich.

garlic jam  I didn’t find anything else at Leiderplatz that was gf and safe for me other than ice tea. I like the one that is half lemonade. Thirst quenching…

Saturday I plan to trek down to Voltzplatz on my break for their crazy good baked potato with pulled pork topping.  It was incredible at last year’s fest, lots of tender meat topping a creamy baked spud. Can’t wait!

Musikfest 2015 Food Notes For First Weekend

It is Musikfest time again here in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  I volunteer every year.  This year I am a cider server and an alcohol site supervisor.  I know…put the cat in charge of the mice!! Hahaha. Seriously, just kidding!

musikfest 2015

Anyway, I am there for like six hours each shift so of course I get hungry and food has to be in the equation.  My first shift I cheated; I brought a Wendy’s style chicken sandwich I made myself and a piece of fruit.  I ate it on my break, un-warmed but it was terrific. Probably the healthiest food to eat there… Today I ate festival food.  It was a bit of a gamble but I survived, unglutened! I had a plate of rice, red beans and chicken from the Hogar Crea stand. I had some last year or the year before and didn’t get ill so I took the chance and it was pretty good, 8 tickets equals $8.  Lot of money for rice, beans, and about a half a chicken thigh but it is a worthy cause and the rice/beans part was particularly good. I think I need to make some myself!

aw shucks corn

Then I went to the Aww Shucks corn stand.  I gambled a bit again, getting butter and Parmesan cheese.  The cheese was something I hadn’t tried before since my diagnosis.  It added a lot of flavor and I sure enjoyed that ear of corn, $4 for it; actually one of the cheaper things to be had and relatively good for you. Warning, do NOT get the spice topping, it is not gluten free. I did not get ill from either offering. Not really the best way to find out but I was kinda desperate due to low blood sugar.  You can do better by planning ahead as there are a few other gluten free things around the fest; you might want to check my posts from last summer. All of these vendors are here again; the tacos can be had on the north side too.

https://myworldwithoutwheat.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/tasty-taco-salad-southside-musikfest/

https://myworldwithoutwheat.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/sensenigs-meats-comes-through-with-safe-yummy-bbq-pork-for-gf-festing/

https://myworldwithoutwheat.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/musikfest-gluten-free-not-easy-but-possible/

Enjoy some cider; it is to be had at the Cider stand next to the Beer at FestPlatz, 4 varieties, all very tasty and all gluten free.

If you go to the fest and find some great gluten free food message me so I can check it out. Fest away!