Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eat, Drink and be a Merry San Francisco~

It's hard to believe but Christmas is just around the corner...five days from today, to be exact. The season of eating, drinking and consuming loads of gluten is upon us...well, not all of us, right?!

With that said, I can verify that it's quite possible to get through the multitude of holidays and parties without eating an ounce of gluten, while still feeling satisfied and included in all the Christmas cheer!

This past weekend I enjoyed the delights of San Francisco and all that my beautiful hometown has to offer during the Christmas season. I have such wonderful memories of being a child in San Francisco: standing in Union Square in awe of the abundant amount of beautiful, lighted wreaths decorating each window of Macy's and "how on earth," I would wonder, "did they manage to bring that giant Christmas tree through the small front doors of Neiman Marcus each year?" And one of my most favorite sights and as child and still today is driving westbound into the City at Christmas time to see how the Embarcadero buildings are outlined with thousands of white lights, further emphasizing the "fairyland" that seems to hover over the water, yet can be seen through the shroud of fog.

Wonderful memories - past and present.

This last trip "home" however, was also one of indulging in some delicious gluten-free meals at some terrific and affordable SF haunts - all of which I will share with you! I have found that there's a true sense of peace that comes to me when I know that I'm able to eat safely and well in restaurants that completely understand and "get" the concept of gluten-free eating, yet leaves you completely sated and happy.

I have several readers andone in particular, who are always looking for more safe places to eat in San Francisco. So here's the rundown of some pretty terrific restaurants and eateries that are wonderful enough to make you feel special for eating there, yet affordable enough that you can visit regularly without breaking the bank, because we all know how $$$ it is to be a Celiac, especially in this economy.

Soup for you~
Our first stop was to grab some lunch and take a gander at the lovely Westfield Center on Market Street. They have a gigantic upscale food court on the concourse floor of the building, along with a full-size Bristol Farms market. Amazingly enough, I found gluten-free soups at the San Francisco Soup Company. I indulged in some delicious Tomato Bisque - but they also have four or five other GF soups to choose from...I had a tough time deciding which one to choose, as it's rarely an option for me. They also create delicious salads made-to-order, so I was able to dictate to the preparer exactly what I could or could not have on the salad. They put together a Greek Salad that was fresh, nutritious and safe. I recommend stopping there for a quick lunch when you take a break from shopping.

Tapas galore~
If you have read my blog, I'm sure that you have figured out by now I am Basque and have a strong propensity to navigate towards anything Spanish, French or Basque when it comes to cuisine and drink. Bocadillos, was just what we were looking for the first night out to dinner in SF. This hip, San Sebastian-style communal bar and restaurant that's nestled in the Financial District was created by the renowned Gerald Hirigoyen, owner of Piperade and uber-entrepreneur...and I'm proud to say that he's also a fellow Basco friend of mine.

I had been so anxious to eat at Bocadillos, (which also serves breakfast and lunch) but was always swooned by the amazing dining experience at Piperade, so on this trip my mom and I made the exception to sway our loyalty and wow, was it worth it. Now I will be torn between where to dine the next time I'm in SF! But here's the scoop for a Celiac who wants to eat there - you will leave VERY, VERY full. Our server was great and guided me through a few tricky questions regarding the oil they fry in and rice starch vs. flour, etc. We were given the green light and ordered four tapas plates. One of those plates was their patatas bravas with romesco sauce...translated to, divine potato wedges with a tomato/aioli sauce you can't get enough of! Then we went for a sautéed spinach bowl, a plate of chorizo and grilled peppers and did I mention the potatoes?! Our last plate was the best tasting cod with garbanzos in a Meyer lemon and kale sauce I have ever eaten. And last but surely not least, my mother and I can both vouch for the fact that Bocadillo's caramel flan with maldon salt was the best we have ever tasted...and we are fairly experienced flan eaters!

So weather you are dining at Bocadillos or Piperade, you'll be in gluten-free Heaven!

Who needs to fly across the Pond when you have Bocadillos in SF! Speaking of travel, I just wrote an article on eating in the Basque Country for a UK Celiac website/Blog, Enjoy!

Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market~
I have a confession to make...I am officially addicted to Miette's Parisian Macaroons, found in the Ferry Building. I also got my friends hooked and let me tell you, there's not turning back - ever. Vive la France! They are completely gluten-free and 100% delicious - they come in several flavors; the lemon was suburb! If you are anywhere near the Ferry Building, it's an absolute must that you stop by and try one of these little delights - it's well worth the walk, trust me!

Since my authentic exposure to real Italian espresso and cappuccinos from Italy, there's no turning back. There really is just something methodical and soothing about holding onto that warm mug and sipping through the beautiful froth of steamed milk with streaks of caramel-colored espresso tempting your taste buds. No matter where I choose to enjoy this beverage, it always conjures up a bit of Italy for me and the Piazza here's a terrific and authentic place to indulge in YOUR Italian coffee fantasy ~ Emporio Rulli il Cafe in Union Square. They have indoor and outdoor seating and it's a great place to sip your beverage and to people watch. Not to be missed!

Celiac Basque~
Another Basque restaurant in the City that is really unique and fairly authentic in its menu choices is Iluna Basque, located in North Beach with panoramic windows facing Coit Tower and a very large moon on the night we dined there.

This was my first time dining at Iluna, though one of my Basque friends who joined us had eaten there several times. The atmosphere is "contemporary" Basque with the dark red walls and mementos typical of our culture; however, it also possessed a bit of "funk" and some fun twists, like the red velvet curtains ordaining the front entrance and the large video art screen flashing black and white photos of the French Basque Country, which was a bit mesmerizing. The tapas were good, especially the Tortilla de Patata - and they were all easily adaptable to a gluten-free diet. I also found out that the chef uses corn starch in many of the dishes vs. wheat flour, so even if you are not versed at "tapas ordering"...just be very specific with the server and you too, will enjoy a tasty meal at Iluna Basque.

As you can see, we didn't enjoy our dinner of tapas at all!

Brunch Delight~
I've walked past Boulette's Larder several times in the past while cruising around the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, but never really noticed it until my neighbor suggested we eat there for brunch on this trip, so we did.

It was a rainy, cold morning as we trudged down Market St. with our umbrellas flapping in the strong wind, but didn't sway us from the pursuit of our brunch that was awaiting us. I always love experimenting with new restaurants and after reviewing their menu first on-line and calling, I was certain I would be pleasantly surprised with what I could order there. As we sat in the courtyard/hallway just outside the tiny eatery across from Frog Hollow, we would get cold gusts of rain-whipped wind blowing through every time an employee opened the door to haul in a load of food or supplies...after all - it is still an "industrial-type" building with lots of fancy food inside. I love the contrast.

I also loved the food and the totally unique menu that's seasonal and offers such a variety, with an Italian twist. My friend and I both ordered the divine scrambled eggs with porcini mushrooms, loads of aged pecorino cheese and a dash of olive oil and sea salt...oh, and some fun organic greens, along with some fresh-squeezed orange juice.


And one last bit of fun I would be remiss not mentioning...not related to food but equally "tasty" the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the deYoung museum in Golden Gate Park. It's the exclusive U.S. presentation of the exhibit celebrating his life and showcasing 40 years of creativity.

It runs now through April, 2009 and it truly was a magical exhibit to see and well worth the extra $10 per ticket. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and pairs very well with tapas!

So, "Tis' the season to be jolly and gluten-free." Enjoy the holidays and the next time you are in San Francisco, enjoy these fine eateries, and please, let me know of any new finds that you have to share!

Merry Christmas ~ Zorioniak

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pie in the Sky ~ Lemons in Hand

'Tis the ole season for pies, cakes, cookies, candy - you name it! This lovely pumpkin pie is mine all mine and I would love to claim that I baked it, however I did not. Last week, in my haste to get out of town for our family vacation over the Thanksgiving week, I managed to find a perfect gluten-free pie crust at Whole Foods and then convinced a local (Reno, NV) Austrian baker (Franz's Backstube Austrian Cafe) to whip up a safe pie for me to take with us to Palm Desert.

Very exciting. Very delicious!

There's still half a pie in my fridge. I've noticed as the years pass I truly crave less and less sweets and really a piece or two is all I need to feel sated. A far cry from my years before being diagnosed when my body had an insatiable craving for sugar. I've heard from other Celiacs that they too have experienced similar shifts, major shifts in their eating habits. It's a good thing, I believe! If you really listen, our bodies always tell us what they really need to be healthy and happy...well, almost always.

Digressing a bit to Thanksgiving, I hope it was a great one for you all. I have come to enjoy this holiday a little more each year since my diagnosis. I remember the first couple of years were much more daunting for my poor mother who was in charge of the Thanksgiving kitchen - and we both made plenty of mistakes along the way but have learned that it's quite simple to create a wholesome, delicious Thanksgiving meal that's gluten-free and the best's a FAR less filling menu than the traditional gluten-laden meal that leaves you in a coma for a few hours...and you thought it was the turkey!
One tip that I readily give out to newbie Celiacs is this - do yourself a BIG favor and don't eat from a turkey that was baked with stuffing - no matter if the meat did not touch the gluten stuffing. Don't eat it. People don't realize that there's a huge cross-contamination risk with eating a bird that's been cooking for hours stuffed with gluten.

A much simpler and safer idea is to simply purchase a small turkey breast, baste it with yummy butter and herbs and voila....your own Thanksgiving turkey that's perfectly gluten-free. You might even catch envious glances from across the table as you carve into your lean bird that's sans giblets!
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't once again, mention the wonderful Cliffhouse Restaurant in La Quinta, CA where we dined for Thanksgiving this year. I have eaten there several times since I became a Celiac and the chefs and staff completely understand gluten-free food preparation. My Thanksgiving dinner was absolutely perfect all the way down to the special sauce they used on my salmon dish - yes...I ate a divine plate of salmon vs. turkey this year. The sweet potatoes were heavenly and they even brought me a special desert that was double-checked by the chef...but honestly, I only ate a few bites because I had my pumpkin pie at home waiting for me. If you are ever in the Palm Springs area, I highly recommend this restaurant, and their manager Chris is terrific and so interested in making your meal perfect.

Since returning the other day from the Desert, I've been obsessed with lemons. I mean I'm squeezing lemon juice onto and into everything I'm eating and drinking and guess why...because I picked a bag full of little yellow beauties from one of the lemon trees outside of our townhouse - they are abundant in the Coachella Valley, as our the grapefruit trees.

You know that old saying, "when life gives you lemons...make lemonade." I was thinking about just how apropos that bit of advice is for Celiacs and how fitting it is for us all. I mean, we could come up with our own bit of advice..."when life gives you Celiac, enjoy the gluten-free flours"...or how about the lifestyle, the healthy eating, the kinship and support and life-changing lessons we learn. The abundance.

See what little lemons can help conjure up!

Continuing on the topic of lemons...did you know that as a world-class seasoning ingredient, the lemon is second only to salt and pepper?! I find that to be fascinating. The lemon also originated in India and may actually be a citron and lime hybrid - who knew? But this is my favorite a medicinal agent, the lemon is remarkable. Here are just a few highlights about the lovely little lemon:

- It has a cooking effect and is good for fevers

- It aids digestion and eases the work of the good old liver

- It can act as a laxative and a diuretic and has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties

- and it treats high blood pressure, cleanses the blood...oh, and can relieve sore throats AND hiccups...and many more things.

It's like a little powerball and the best part - it's naturally gluten-free!

And after allll of that Thanksgiving eating, here's a simple and easy way to cleanse your body and drink this every morning as your elixir - energy booster:

Morning Elixir

- 1 cup of boiling water

- 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Honey to taste

Simply stir the ingredients together, and sip away.

All this talk of lemons and pie has now inspired me to go make my own cup of tea with lemon juice and honey and a nice big slice of my remaining pumpkin pie.

Before I go, I would love to hear how some of you use lemons and what your favorite gluten-free recipe(s) might that calls for them.

Enjoy the goodness that the good 'ole earth provides us, and while you are at it, go pick a lemon or two ~