Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gluten Free in Roma Italy

Rome was a beautiful place.  The final part of a three-week international journey... Rome proved to be an excellent ender. I was excited to arrive in Rome, not only because it was what it was, but because  I've read that Italy is a sweet place for living gluten free.  From what I've read, it is common to find restaurants offering a variety of gluten free pasta, breads and desserts.  Soon after arriving in Rome, we met a friend, who had a friend with Celiac Disease; and said he would be happy to bring us to a nearby restaurant that specialized in gluten free options called Il Maggiolino. So we said "let's go!"... and we did.  My very first meal in Italy was completely gluten free.  It was pure heaven!

I started with a small bottle of local red wine and gluten free focaccia bread drizzled with olive oil
and dusted with freshly chopped herbs. Yum!  The menu was loaded!  It took me a while but I finally settled on the gluten free gnocchi.  I have not had gnocchi for more than 5 years.  The last time was a gnocchi and Gorgonzola cheese dish I put together in our little dorm kitchen at Buffalo State. That was real good, but this was even better! I ate my gnocchi slowly and deliberately, not uttering a word for blocks of time.  Awesome...

For dessert I ordered the gluten free tiramisu.  It was drizzled with a cream cheese sauce and covered in cocoa powder.  I thought the presentation could use a little work but the taste was out of this world.  When I left the restaurant I was drunk with food more than wine.  It actually heart to move for an hour or so.  The remainder of my stay was filled with being a tourist, going to some of the historical areas, eating great gluten free meals, snacking on gelato, sipping cappuccinos and watching the world do its thing.  Italy...  We're far from done... I'll be back.

Here's all the information off the card from the restaurant "Il Maggiolino": Ristorante - Pizzeria Forno a Legna Pesce e Carne. Specializzati anche in PRODOTTI FRESHI Pizza - Pasta - Pane - Dolci - Gelati SENZA GLUTINE.  (Address) Via Alessandro Cruto, 9 - 00146 Roma. Tel. 06 557448.

Gluten Free Flashback: Galway Ireland

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting on a neon beanie bag seat in the Netherlands home of my good friend Maaike. Mindy is on her computer going through photos she's recently taken, our morning cups of instant latte are half gone, and life feels refreshingly relaxed.

About a week ago we arrived at our first destination, Galway, Ireland.  I've never been to Ireland and have always dreamed of it.  Galway is a small seaside, fisherman's city.  It's filled with quaint, warming pubs where everything is made out of wood, Guinness flows like rivers, and Jameson Whiskey bottles decorate a good proportion of bar-side liquor shelves.  Unfortunately, I was unable to locate any gluten free beer, but their local hard cider, Bulmers, was just fine by me, and was absolutely everywhere.

At the very first meal we had, within our hotel "The House", the waiter knew everything about celiac disease, and could easily identify what was safe for me on the menu.  I went for a plate of sliced meats, olives, artichoke, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and a spicy wasabi mayo. The bread served with it - warmed and gluten free!  That set the tone for what would be the easiest and most enjoyable gluten free eating adventure I've ever been on overseas.

It felt sooo comforting to know that 9 times out of 10, any place you went to eat at, would either have gluten free options on the menu, or they would know exactly what celiac was about, including cross-contamination issues.

At a dinner-meeting with a woman from the National University of Galway, I happily ordered the lamb chops with mint glaze and potato wedges.  It was cooked medium, a bit pink in the middle, and melt-in your-mouth delicious. The eatery we were at, The Cook House, was three floors of winding wooden bannisters and railings, decorated to the T with everything from antique paintings, bronzes, to vintage Halloween decorations and mood lighting.  Awesome place!!

Other notable meals included a salmon and caper sandwich at our hotel restaurant, and a totally amazing traditional Irish stew at one of the coolest pubs I've ever been to: The Quay.  It was a lamb stew, with huge chunks of soft, slow-cooked lamb, potatoes, cabbage, spices, and tomatoes. It included sides of mashed potatoes, cabbage and a julienne of onions, red and green peppers. The Quay was, like most restaurants and pubs in the area, woody, tortuous, and soul warming. Unlike many, The Quay even had a glowing fire-place right next to the upstairs bar.  That was my last and best meal in Ireland.

I loved Galway. I loved the feeling I got as I was walking around the cobblestone streets, or along the sea-side paths.  First time in Ireland... but absolutely won't be the last:)

Our Final Days in Jamaica

The Honeymoon is over. Boooooo!  Mindy and I are back in body but not in spirit.  Granted, our work week was short, but after the amazing experience we had in Ochos Rios, Jamaica, we're having a hard time getting back into the grind.  After our Blue Mountain adventure, the next trip we made was to Dunn's River Falls.  We hopped aboard a "booze-cruise" and sailed along the coast to the mouth of the falls.  They made us all hold hands while we climbed, which was pretty ridiculous for us since we've spent countless summer days climbing the waterfalls of Ithaca, NY, but it was still fun.  I think they have everybody hold hands due to the high amount of inebriated tourists that descend on the spot throughout the day:)  It can be pretty slippery too. As soon as Mindy let go of my hand and began to pave her own trail, her feet flew out from under her and she took a spill.  She got right up though. She's tough like that.

The next adventure we took on was a trip to Bob Marley's grave. We ended up meeting a couple of Londoners that hooked us up with two great local tour guides.  We spent the entire day with them driving through mountain villages, meeting people, and taking in amazing views from lookout points.  The driver took us through the 9-miles of road that led to Bob Marley's house.  Mindy and I have always been big Bob Marley fans. In fact, our mutual love for Marley's music was one of the first things that drew us together back in 1996:)  Being there was kind of emotional.  It was an amazing experience for both of us, and we'll definitely go back the next time we visit Jamaica.

After leaving Bob's house our tour guides asked us what we wanted to do.  We said we wanted to visit a local restaurant popular with the locals.  They both said "no problem mon!" and brought us to a great place specializing in curried mutton and Jerk dishes.  I ordered the Curried Mutton, which came with rice and beans cooked in coconut milk, and some slaw. The meat had a good deal of bones throughout, but I didn't mind since the taste was amazing!

We spent our remaining days getting massages, laying out, swimming, snorkeling, and eating at all the resort's restaurants.  We also took advantage of the buffets and room service meals. It was awesome!  I wish we were there right now:(  Oh well, I'm sure the two of us will be on another amazing adventure sooner than we think... that's kind of how we roll:)

Biking Down Blue Mountains

The days are passing much too quickly.  I wish our honeymoon here in Jamaica could go on forever:)  We are both feeling so spoiled, and we're loving every minute of it!  Tuesday evening we ordered room service dinner again. This time I chose the "Saumon Fume": Smoked salmon served with caviar, sour cream and capers. I'm not very accustomed to caviar, but I have to say, it was pretty good.  It's definitely a textural experience.  The eggs tasted like condensed sea, and they popped like little water balloons on the roof of my mouth.  The salmon was excellent, especially when mixed with capers and a dab of sour cream. Very good meal!

Afterwards we wandered down to the chocolate bar, which had about 20 plates of chocolate goodies, and a chocolate volcano to coat fresh chunks of fruit. I kept to the solid chocolates and the chococano. We loaded up our plates, walked onto the beach, and enjoyed our chocolate while reclining on beach chairs watching for shooting stars.

The next morning we woke up to room service knocking on our door to deliver our breakfast. It's awesome having your breakfast delivered every morning. We have an ocean-view room on the top floor of our building. Sitting with each other, having meals, completely private, the sounds of gently lapping waves in the background, the distant cries of gulls, and the wind blowing through the coconut trees; it's all very romantic. Like I said... I could get used to this:)

After breakfast we headed off to the Blue Mountains, to take part of a mountain biking adventure.  The ride was about 2 hours, so I was able to really get a good look at the countryside of Jamaica. Mindy said it was just like Tanzania, and I thought it was very similar to the less wealthy areas of China.  But it was beautiful everywhere. The Blue Mountains were gorgeous and tropical. The air was warm, humid, and sweet with the scent of flowers and vegetation.

The bike trip ended up being only one way; down hill.  They brought us up as far as they could go and then guided us down the narrow winding road we had just driven up.  We stopped whenever we wanted to, talked with the locals, took in the views, and looked completely ridiculous in the helmets and pad get-ups they forced us to wear. 

At half-way point, we stopped at a small restaurant/coffee roasting station for lunch.  They served us Jerk Chicken with spicy rice boiled in coconut milk. I asked them about the various gluten sources I needed to avoid, and they assured me none were used.  It was an awesome meal. My lips were left slightly tingly and my whole body was being warmed from the inside out. 

Our meal was finished off with a freshly roasted, ground, and brewed cup of Blue Mountain Coffee.  I drank it black. Not something I typically do; I'm a light and sweet guy. But I could see the oil droplets, filled with flavor, appearing at the surface of the coffee after every agitation, and I had to know its taste. It was great. Very earthy and rich. I didn't even mind that it was black. It tasted that good. And it was grown right there, right around where I was sitting. I could see coffee plants all around me, scattered along the steep slopes.  I had passed many on the side of the road while riding down the hill.  And what I was drinking right now was locally harvested by Jamaicans working for a Jamaican company.  I just love this stuff!

After our meal we finished off the biking tour with a dip in a pool under a waterfall.  I was the first to swim out and climb behind the waterfall, and I dove off of every rock I could find:)  It was a great way to end the trip! I took in everything again as we drove back to our resort, enjoying every scene, knowing that all too soon this amazing adventure would come to pass. Like every other journey before it.  Like every journey ahead.

Arrived in Jamaica!

Wow, what a fast few weeks! The wedding is over and I'm in Ochos Rios, Jamaica at a Sandals resort with my new wife.  The Wedding was absolutely magical.  It was supposed to rain, but it didn't.  The ceremony was beautiful and flawless.  Our friends and family were wonderful. During the cocktail hour near a reflection pool surrounded by huge trees, the sound of an enormous bullfrog bellowing from the pond, flower petals caught by the wind lightly showered the guests. Everyone had a blast, getting goofy pictures taken in the photo-booth, eating, drinking and dancing their brains out. Mindy was unbelievably gorgeous! It was magic. It really was:)

Now it's Honeymoon time! Since we arrived in Jamaica all of our stresses, cares, concerns, worries, what have you - all of that is slowly seeping away into the sand, salty waters, waterfalls and pools. We have been eating a lot, drinking a lot, and relaxing a ton. It's nice. And it's only been a day and a half! I could definitely get used to this:)
Our room is completely stocked! It has a bar included, complete with mixers, wine, champagne, and four bottles of liquor where all you do is lift your glass up to the bottle and you get a perfect shot.  It has scotch, vodka, gin, and Appleton Special Jamaica Rum.  
Appleton is all over this resort, and is given out as contest prizes and bonus gifts when making "adventure tours." We're going to do a Blue Mountain Bike Tour tomorrow, and of course, we were given a complementary bottle of Appleton mon:)

The first night we were here they had a beach party with tons of food served out on the sand. It was pretty sweet. I gathered a smorgasbord of the offerings. The list included curried mutton, beet/date salad, local spiced greens steamed with carrot wedges, jerk chicken and pork, king prawns in chili sauce, and steamed clams.  Awesome!!  

Just in case, I took a couple of gluten-zyme tablets.  

When we returned to our room a plate with chocolates had been placed on our bed with a little note congratulating us on our marriage.  It was a nice touch:) 
This morning we ordered a room-service breakfast.  I ordered the "Jamaican" which was a mixture of spicy non-battered fish, eggs, plantains, red pepper, onions and a healthy portion of black pepper. It was served with potato wedges and two bread balls.  I gave those to Mindy:)  The coffee was from Blue Mountain, and it was great!  And the papaya was sweet and perfumey.  
We spent the whole day swimming in the ocean, laying out, sitting under the shade of palm trees, reading books, listening to music, drinking from pool bars and doing absolutely nothing productive.  About an hour ago we returned from a couples massage that was given to us by our friends Andy and Peggy.  Thank you Andy and Peggy! It was awesome.  Now we're waiting for our dinner to arrive. And later there's a chocolate bar!!  What is this place? Heaven?

Chongqing Flashback - Part 1

I really miss China:(  I lived in Dalian, China for a year with my partner Mindy, and it was one of the best years of my life.  There's a special feeling you get when you spend a substantial amount of time in China immersing yourself in the culture.  It's a sense of belonging. A sense of timelessness. A sense of connection.  My partner told me she also felt that sense of homecoming while in India and in Tanzania; two of the places I can't wait to explore.  But it's also more than that.  Witnessing people in true financial poverty, who have very little in the way of material belongings, but who are happy, and unbelievably wealthy in the realm of human relationships, really helps to put life into perspective.
I spent most of last month in Chongqing Technical and Business University; teaching a Clinical Social Work class, spending time at an elderly community, and conducting cross-cultural research with students regarding sexual anxiety, the fear of intimacy, and body image issues.  I also spent a great deal of time simply exploring and making human connections.  It was the first time ever visiting that particular area of China, and I loved it!  By far, it was the best experience I've had in China thus far.  It had all the historical and cultural enticements of the North, but also a sense of ease and contentment unknown to me throughout my adventures in this "Middle Kingdom."  Describing the food as "spicy" would be an understatement, and when I happened to sample a "typical" Sichuan dish found my eyes and nose watering, and my lips burnt and tingling. But it was GOOOOD!!  
Eating gluten-free in Chongqing was only slightly challenging, due to my GF-Awareness dining statements I carried around with me.  The biggest challenge was when we were taken out by our hosts to huge pre-ordered meals at nice restaurants.  It was pure torture to sit in front of a banquet of amazing looking and smelling food, watching everyone gorge themselves with beaming smiles on their faces, only to know that even a single bite may lead to sickness. However, for the most part, and with the help of our hosts, GF dishes were eventually brought out for myself and my friend with the same dietary affliction. We didn't have the array of choices that everyone else enjoyed, but we enjoyed every single gluten-free chop-stick-full!
Eventually I found a handful of canteens (what the Chinese students called their cafeterias) and a Dalian-Food restaurant outside of campus, that became familiar with my face, and my unique dietary restriction.  I would frequent the same places to eat every day, bringing with me a list of dishes written in Chinese Characters with English translations, and asking if they could prepare them without gluten.  Most of the time they could with no problem, and if they couldn't, I'd just go down the list until I found something.  Life with Celiac Disease, at least for me, involves being much less picky about what you eat, just as long as it doesn't poison you!

Every day I started off by walking out of the International Dormitory, half a block down the street to a little shop that sold Dzonza and vacuum-sealed cups of sweet and light, instant-coffee.  Dzonza are rice-triangles steamed in Banana leaves.  I had to order a variety before finding out which ones I could eat.  Each kind was wrapped in a different color string to indicate the filling.  I ended up sticking to the green-string dzonza, which were filled with sweet bean paste.  For lunch I would hit up the one of three student cafeterias where I'd order Dan-Chow Fan/Ji Ro (Fried eggs, chicken, and greens with rice), Chinese cabbage with beef or pork, Tang-cu Jia Pianr (sweet & sour chicken), and whatever else they could make GF.  I also brought a small bottle of gluten free soy sauce with me wherever I went.  It ended up being a wonderful culinary experience.  I ate well (and cheaply) every single day.  Man do I miss the food!!!

Well, that's it for this flashback:)

Chinese Flashback!

Now that I'm officially back into the swing of things, a lot of people have been asking me what my favorite part of being in China was.  I have a few favorites... The people come first.  My favorite part of my trip was definitely the great people I met while staying in Chongqing.  I never felt more welcomed in my life!  My second favorite part was definitely the food! I LOVE authentic Chinese cuisine.  Not the overly-breaded, fried crap they typically serve here in the States, but the fresh, multi-colored, multi-dimensional taste explosions they serve up throughout China.  Not one Chinese person I asked knew what Kung-Pao or General Tsao's chicken was!  Chinese fortune cookies?  Nope, not from China.  Our version of Chinese food sucks!

The last time I went to China (last year) I was ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of eating gluten-free in the Middle Kingdom.  I didn't think about soy sauce, or MSG (which doesn't always have gluten in it, but is an overall caustic substance), and wasn't yet aware that McDonald's fries have wheat in them!  I know, it sounds crazy but it's true!  Look up the ingredients on their website if you don't believe me.  Anyways... since I wasn't prepared I got sick.  Actually real sick, with blood in the toilet and two migraines before I boarded the plane to go home. I know I know, TMI.

However, this time with a little help from my good friend Shen Xu, I was ready.  Shen typed up a statement that lets Chinese cooks know exactly what gluten is, why people with Celiac Disease can't have it, and some common hidden sources of gluten (i.e., soy sauce and MSG).  She also typed up a statement for our friend Melanie who not only has to avoid gluten but also pork, eggplant, dairy and strawberries. I published them both on Scribed so if you're going to China or know anyone with gluten issues that is, make sure to take these: Chinese Gluten Warning / Multiple Allergy Warnings. 

With a bottle of Braggs Liquid Aminos (a tasty and super healthy alternative to commercial soy sauce), multiple copies of my gluten-warning statement, a couple of bottles of Gluten-Zyme, an Activated Charcoal Tablets, I had a much better go at eating well in China this time around.  I ate a lot of great food, and didn't become glutenated once:)  At least not bad enough for me to notice.

My plane ride there was pure hell.  As luck would have it, I sat a few rows behind three sick and miserable newborns that cried the entire 13 hours to Beijing.  I didn't sleep at all the entire flight, and ended up catching whatever those kids had.  My two days in Beijing were physically miserable, but experientially awesome! The very first night I wandered alleyways filled with food vendors selling every kind of living creature skewered on a stick, fried in boiling oil, and doused with hot pepper sauce.  I ordered a few servings of squid on a stick, some spicy chicken, and whole mini-fish, eyeballs and all:)  Although it was hard to do, I passed on the secada bugs and squirming scorpions.  Maybe next time.
The next day, after a large buffet of "Western Breakfast Food," we went to the Great Wall.  This was my third climb on the Wall, and each time was a different section.  I've loved them all!  I don't think I'll ever get bored of scaling those countless steps snaking their way across treacherous terrain like the spine of a water-dragon.  The Great Wall of China is truly an awesome sight to behold:) If you haven't been there yet, you are seriously missing out.  Do it!!!

Once again, here's my gift to you: Chinese Gluten/Allergy Warning Statements

Eating Mofongo in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!  Every year my partner Mindy and I fly to Chicago to spend turkey day with the Massaro clan.  It's an event I always look forward to, not only for the great food and company, but also to enjoy some much needed down-time amidst my busy grad-school schedule.  Right now I'm chillaxin at Melanie's house, one of Mindy's 5 sisters. The crowned pork roast is in the oven, and the two salsas I made are marinating in the fridge.  In an hour or so it will be off to the parent's to begin the feast! I think I just drooled on myself.

When I get time to relax, I begin to reminisce about the things I've done over the semester. A few weeks ago I was lucky to have the opportunity to spend time in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was awesome! I loved it!  One of the first things I wanted to do when I arrived, was venture out and sample some local foods.  Mindy and I ended up finding a great little place called El Jibarito Puerto Rico. The wait-staff were extremely friendly and helpful. I explained my gluten issues and he let me know exactly what to avoid on the menu. He seemed pretty knowledgeable about food allergies, and was happy to help me. I asked what would be one of the most traditional Puerto Rican dishes on the menu, and our waiter immediately said "Mofongo!"  So Mofongo it was!  I'm so glad too, because I absolutely loved it!  It was pure comfort food.  Mofongo is basically mashed plantain with garlic and spices, stuffed with a variety of fillings.  The mashed plantain is shaped into a bowl, then filled with things like pork, shrimp, steak, etc., and then sealed with more mashed plantain. It is traditionally served with rice and beans and salad.  I went with the waiter's recommendation, the Mofongo filled with Grilled Flank Steak ($14.95).  The spices were amazing! The steak was tender and juicy, and the mashed plantain was delicious and filling.  If you are ever in Old San Juan and you get the chance, stop by El Jibarito. You'll love it!

Here's a recipe I found that is exactly what I ate at El Jibarito. Enjoy!

  • 4 green plantains, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 cups gluten free beef or chicken stock
  • oil (for deep frying)
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite seasoned filling (pork, beef, shrimp, etc.)
  • 1 tblsp. chopped garlic
  • Fresh ground black peppercorns 
  • Sea Salt
  • Cilantro leaves (chopped for garnish)

Cooking Directions
  1. Mix a handful of sea salt into a bowl of cold water and soak the chopped plantain. 
  2. Warm stock in a saucepan over low heat.
  3. Bring at least 1 inch of oil to around 350 degrees F. in a deep skillet.
  4. In the meantime, cook your meat/seafood until crisp. Remove from heat and drain.
  5. Remove the plantain from the water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Deep fry the plantain pieces until brown and tender (watch out for splattering!). Remove from oil. Flatten the plantain with a flat-bottomed glass bottle. Fry the plantains again for 30 seconds on each side, or until slightly crispy.
  6. While the plantains are still hot, take a wooden mortar and pestle, and smash them with the garlic, and salt & pepper (to taste).  Shape the plantain mash into a small bowl, making sure to leave a space for filling.  Fill the space with your favorite filling and seal with another layer of plantain.  Place on a plate and douse with warm stock and garnish with cilantro.
  7. Serve with rice and beans, and some salad. Turn on some salsa music, light some candles, and chow down!  

Gluten Free Flights

Before I begin posting new recipes, I want to talk a little about how difficult it can be for a person with celiac disease to catch a good meal while traveling by air. On my trip back from Australia, I first tried to catch a meal at the Cairns airport. The only places to get a meal was a coffee stand (with nothing but gluten filled baked goods), and a store dedicated to selling Australian food products. For around $15, I purchased a meal consisting of camembert cheese, a dry and crumbly GF triple chocolate fudge cookie, and a Pasteli sesame and almond bar. Not exactly the breakfast I was hoping for, but it was a quick fix.

On the flight to New Zealand, no GF meal option was offered, so I ended up choosing the "fish cake" meal. I gave the fish cake to one of my friends and ate the rice and veggie side dishes. Once again, not exactly a great meal.
On the second leg of my journey I found myself stuck in the Auckland, New Zealand airport for a 13 hour layover. After passing out on a bench for 6 hours I awoke famished. My two options were Burger King and another Coffee Stand. Fortunately the Coffee Stand had slices of GF Orange Cake, so I ordered one with a steaming cup of cappuccino. However, a slice of cake does not a real meal make, so my only choice for something of substance was to order a burger from the King. I ordered a Whopper Jr. with cheese and no bun, and received the usual look of confusion at my request. But I'm used to it now.
On the flight to Los Angeles, California, Air New Zealand offered a GF meal option, for which I was very grateful. The meal came with baked chicken, veggies and potatoes, a GF bun (not so great), and a fruit/nut bar. I enjoyed my meal and passed out feeling full and satisfied.
On the last leg of the journey, from L.A. to JFK Airport in NYC, not only was there no GF meals available, but since it was United Airlines we had to pay for any food we received. Knowing my predicament, my two friends suggested that we all order different "snack packs" and then divide the foodstuffs up so that we could all eat. One of my friends is vegetarian. That arrangement worked out good and we were all able to fill up reasonably well. That "meal" consisted of cheese, potato chips, hummus, raisins, and two almond bars.

I think it will always be a little more difficult for people with food allergies/restrictions to travel via air and eat well, but hopefully U.S. airlines will soon follow the example of many foreign carriers and offer gluten free as well as vegetarian options. But I won't hold my breath.

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island has been my favorite place to explore thus far. The island itself is part of the Great Barrier Reef, so snorkeling and diving is amazing! There are also tons of secluded bays and beaches to explore, boulders to climb around, and native wildlife (like Koalas, Parrots and Wallabies) to come into contact with. I saw two wallabies, a sting ray, puffer fish, parrot fish, and a slew of birds including Kookaburras, parakeets and rainbow colored parrots. Snorkeling around the reef, away from all the tourist locations was just the experience I was after. It was just two of my friends and I diving into the depths to swim among schools of fish, swaying anemones, jellyfish and crabs (and probably sharks lurking nearby). All you could hear, besides the crash of waves above, was the crackling of the parrot fish feeding on coral.

The hostel we stayed at doubled as a koala refuge, so the animals in the area were more than friendly. One day, during a feeding frenzy, a group of parrots landed on me and proceeded to scream in my ears. I liked them, we made friends, but boy were they loud!! At night, bush possums would descend from the trees like soldiers rappelling into a drop zone. They were running around, wrestling, and causing mischief throughout the camp. There was one with a missing eye that charged my friend Keegan, giving him a bit of a shock. I thought it was pretty funny!
Everywhere you go in Australia, there are outdoor barbeque grills free for use in public areas. All you have to do is push a button until a green light comes on, and an automatic cooking cycle begins. I would use the grills to heat up leftovers, cook burgers, or anything else I had during my travels. On one particular night I decided to cook some fish on the bar-b. We picked up some fresh perch fillets, gave them a generous coating of garlic powder, cajun seasoning, sea salt and black pepper. I spread a couple pats of butter on top, added thinly sliced lemons, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Then I just wrapped it up on tin foil and let it bake. In less than a half an hour I had baked fish to contribute to our gypsy caravan supper. Those we were with pitched in fruit, drinks, cheese and chocolate, and we all ate together in front of the ocean listening to music out of a 1980s boombox. Classic!
I arrived back in Cairns yesterday morning and found a place called "Eating @ the edge" that served GF French Toast!! I couldn't believe my luck. When the plate came out I was in awe. I was charged $2.50 extra for the GF bread, but it was totally worth it! The heaping stack was covered in fresh berries, spiced yogurt, and topped with just-picked mint leaves. I rounded the meal out with a Cafe Latte. It was a delicious start of a beautiful day:) A day spent swimming and jumping off of cliffs with friends.
I leave Cairns tonight to head back to Philadelphia. I'm a little sad, but happy to go back to my great life. Plus I really miss my partner Mindy. The whole time I was here, I wished that she and my brother were at my side. Oh well, there will always be the opportunity to do this trip again:) The next big trip will be in November when I go to Puerto Rico to present research I conducted in China. I'll be sure to post what gluten free goodies I find to eat there. In the meantime, I'll be happy to have my kitchen again. It's been a while since I've been able to cook a well-rounded GF meal, and I'm particularly looking forward to making some cookies!!!

A Few Lazy Days at Mission Beach

Even though, in general, Australians are more keen to the realities of celiac disease, I'm often relegated to the salad menu when dining out. Fortunately for me, the salad menus have been awesome! We were getting close to Mission Beach when we came upon an isolated little gem named the Mint Cafe. It was decorated in light greens, and had catchy beat-laced world trance music pumping out of little hidden speakers. The server was aware of gluten problems and let me know exactly what I had to choose from. I decided on the salmon salad, and I'm glad I did because it tasted amazing! It was huge too. I can't wait to recreate this one for my friends:)

The salad basically breaks down to this:
  • Mixed Greens/Spinach
  • Capers
  • Avacado Slices
  • Smoked Salmon Slices
  • Spanish Onions (thin Sliced and halfed)
  • Tomatoes (wedges)
  • Italian Vinaigrette Dressing
That's it. That's all it is, but it's awesome!!

After we filled our stomachs, we ventured into town, exited the vehicle, and proceeded to sniff out some live music. We ended up wandering through a small maze of mom and pop shops until the echoing music led us to a little pub facing the beach. A lone guitarist/song-writer sat on a little wooden chair, with his amp (aka bear holder) to his right, and the blissfully inebriated owner playing spoons to his left. I'm pretty sure Dennis and I were the only non-Australians in the place, and that everyone there knew each other well. He was a great musician, played a huge variety of songs, and much to our touristy-gleeful delight, he even played Men at Work's "Land Down Under!" And of course, Dennis and I were the only ones clapping afterwards. When we realized it, we tried to fade the clapping out smoothly, but the gig was up. Awkward... Still, it ended up being a great night, and we closed the place down with the locals.

Mission Beach is seriously chill. Everybody seem slightly sedated. I thought about living there, on a little house on the beach, owning a bed and breakfast or a hostel, and just living a relaxed, tropical life. Sigh... Who knows where life will take us.
Next stop, Magnetic Island

A Day in Mossman, Australia

There's not much to Mossman, except a few cafes, a skatepark, and a beautiful state park.  I ended up staying in a place called the White Cockatiel for a night, a place known for its transformation into a "nudist" retreat from October to May.  Mossman gorge is beautiful, speckled with unbelievable swimming holes, and lined with boulders worn round by countless flash floods.  I spent a few hours gleefully jumping from rocks and diving into the crystalline water.  It was cold, refreshing, and all around a perfect place to swim.

However, before I ventured into Mossman Gorge National Park, I stopped at a little cafe on the edge of town called "Tobys Estate."  I think Toby's is a chain, but I can't be sure. What I am sure about, is that they have the best Cappuccino and breakfast plates.  I ordered an Omelette with spinach, goats cheese (very soft and creamy), cherry tomatoes and Spanish Onions.  It was perfect!  I've been taking a lot of notes while eating around Australia.  There have been a lot of unique taste combinations that I'm looking forward to bringing back with me.  Next stop, Mission Beach!

Living Gluten Free On The Beach

If you look closely, you can see my friend Will clinging to the trunk of the coconut tree.  Using a simple rope and skills he acquired through months of practice, Will cut down a cluster of coconuts for us to eat with our lunch. The coconuts were ripe and full of milk.  Delicious! Coconuts are a bit challenging to get into, but with a sharp hatchet and a little patience, the procedure gets easier and easier.

We met Will and his partner Sheila (who also has celiac disease) at the Cairns Skatepark.  They are both from Arizona and have been traveling around eastern Australia in a mini bus for nearly six months.  They plan on staying another six months before returning to the states.  Although theirs is a no-frills experience, I understand the allure of what they are doing.  

Traveling around and sleeping on beaches is fun, but is also a bit challenging for  us with gluten sensitivities.  
What I've been sustaining on is a mixture of fruit, nuts, protein bars, and whatever we cook over the fire. In addition I carry around rice/corn cakes and 
one jar each of jam, Nutella, and peanut butter.  Will and Sheila made burgers with cheddar cheese and fresh avacado one night.  I used my skateboard and a sheet of aluminum foil as my "skateplate" and sat on the beach under a nearly full moon.  It was pretty amazing! 

Right now I am at the Cape Tribulation Beach House.  We had to cross a river ferry to get here, and I'm not kidding you, it was like going into Jurassic Park!  Just this morning I watched a four foot Goana (Monitor Lizard) ramble by me as I was eating my morning meal of rice porridge and Nutella covered rice cakes.  It moved too quick to get a pic, but it was cool nonetheless!  Last night a few friends and I were treated to a fancy meal at one of the local cafes, and the whole time we were there, we watched "flying foxes" flying overhead, and listened to their loud screeches.  It was pretty wild!  Flying foxes are like dogs with wings, no joking.  They only eat fruit, but are still intimidating to me.  Flying foxes are everywhere up here.  You can find them hanging upside down in the trees during the day, chatting away and bombing unsuspecting tourists with guano:)