Sunday, December 30, 2012

Crystal Castles, (III), November 5th 2012

On their third album, appropriately titled (III), Crystals Castles seem to have simultaneously produced something that is different and the same all in one album. It's as if they have somehow generified their sound, that you can have different productions - but it's still the basically an equivalent output.  All of that despite the fact that the band got all new pedals and instruments for recording this album so they could have an original sound. Really?

That being said, it's a good same-same. I like this album. It creates the typical beautiful, melodic and sometimes cacophonous, all with a cool beat, sound of Crystal Castles. I guess I just haven't been in the mood for it. Next time my heart aches, or I don't want to feel like I am becoming an old lady, I will turn on this epic hipster elctronica album and rage away the pain of heartache and fear of growing old.

For now, I am going to keep listening to Bat For Lashes' new album that I blogged about previously. At least her sound matured, rather than merely morphed by a change in drum pedals.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Silver and Gold by Sufjan Stevens

So you hate Christmas music. Or do you really?

Maybe you are just too cool for a little bit of, yes, cheesy tunes. But Sufjan Stevens isn't. In fact, he takes the classic, albeit cheesy Christmas tunes and makes a hipster twist. Sound like an oxymoron? Sufjan Stevens' five disc album "Silver and Gold" is all over the map. From melancholic to upbeat, from folky to electronic, from cheesy to hipster, there is something for everyone. While many attempts in life to achieve so much may utterly fail at achieving anything at all, this album seems to work out just fine. I believe that anyone could listen to this album, and like it.

Not only does Sufjan make some interesting versions of the world's most well known Christmas songs, sometimes mixing them with other random tracks (such as Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart), but he also has some tracks I am pretty sure are completely original. Songs such as Christmas Unicorn and and Happy Karma Christmas just sound too goofy to come from anyone but this Christmas hipster mix master. Sound like he's trying to hard? Well, these are actually quite good songs.

Search for it on Spotify, download it, buy it on vinyl, I don't care. If you are a typical bah humbugger, I whole heartedly encourage you to check out this album. It just might get you in some sort of semi-hipster-ish Christmas spirit.

Would that really be so bad? I don't think so!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Minako's Organic Japanese Restaurant, Mission District, part 2

The sauce was incredibly yummy! Minako, the owner recognizes me because I've been to her restaurant so many times. This time, she confessed to me and my first-timer friend that she was a little bit frazzled because most of the customers, contrary to the norm, were also first timers; she had to explain the system to them, they didn't get it, and thank you for not being a familiar face, she said. She then chided me for asking if the Hamachi Mint could be made gluten free. "We only have three things on the menu that can't be made gluten free!" She exclaimed.

The twice cooked eggplant is really good! She's a character no doubt, and it was nice to be appreciated as a regular customer. She brought us some yummy snacks-pickled cauliflower and some sort of fermented and spicey noodle like veggie things. Yum!

Are you wondering why do I keep coming back? First of all, she really gets gluten contamination. Also, there's something for everyone- besides being so gluten free and celiac friendly, she uses organic foods, and has many vegan options.

The chicken katsu is at the bottom of the picture. I can't remember what the other thing is. The main reason I go back is for the gluten free Chicken Katsu. I don't know if there is anywhere else you can get that. And her's is damn good. Her mom even makes the Katsu sauce from scratch, so that it is gluten free. This is another reason I love this place. It's a small family business and I love that she knows and appreciates her customers. Additionally this is probably also the only place with gluten free inari (tofu pocket stuffed with rice). They only use gluten free tamari there, that's all you'll find in the bottles on the table. The inari is made with this. While the inari there isn't as stellar as the chicken Katsu, its still great and I get it everytime.

The sushi at Minako's is not my favorite. Some of the rolls are huge, and hard to eat. The rice is brown rice, which, while very healthy, is not my favorite for sushi. However, I usually get the small sized spicy tuna roll - pretty darned good and still a rare treat since gluten contamination at sushi restaurants is such a problem.

I love Minako and her food! This is my favorite gluten-free and celiac friendly restaurant in San Francisco hands down. I will keep coming back over and over just like the majority of her customers!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GoPicnic - Gluten Free Airport Food

I usually bring my own stash of food on plane trips, and supplement with Kind bars, fruit and various fruit/nut based food items. This ends up being a very sugary journey, ending my trip not only with the typical dehydration, but also sugar toxicity.

This time, I found GoPicnic. These little packages make for a nice mini meal. There are different types, but only one that is gluten free and dairy free, as well as being free of five other common allergens such as nuts.

The package includes the very yummy sunbutter, with certified gluten free crackers in just the right proportions to each other. The tropical fruit snack is delish, and the certified gluten free chocolate chocolate chip cookie was darned good considering. There was also a little pack of seeds and fruit, which was the least exciting in the box.

Upon completing my meal, I found a soduko puzzle. Yay! Gluten free goodness and math in one place? I'm a taker!

Lana Del Ray, Paradise, November 13th 2012

Lana Del Ray's last album Born to Die has such a distinct sound and image, that I thought she could not possibly replicate either without sounding like a cheap stretch on her gangsta Nancy Sinatra image.

Her new album Paradise delivers everything I hoped it would and more; not only is it a collection of great tunes that feed my hunger for the persona that is Lana Del Ray - it deepens that musical lust. While the first song "Ride" opens the album a bit weakly, the tracks after have their own haunting, sultry sounds. The second track "American" definitely satiates my need for the sexy American trailer park glam. "Cola" is a particularly great track, destined to repeat in my brain for days to come. While "Body Electric" falls short, there is still something great about the song - slightly straying from the overall sound in a nice way.

"Blue Velvet" reminisces the swaying era of the 50's, perhaps really bringing home Lana Del Ray's persona on this album. Another slightly different tune, "God & Monsters" also gets a bit crass, only to be followed the very mellow version of the already mellow, previously released tune "Yayo." The album ends with only eight tracks, with the last song "Bel Air" which is hauntingly beautiful and shows Lana Del Ray's more delicate side.

The only downside of this album - it's a bit of a tease with only eight tracks, one of which we've heard before. Definitely worth listening to, especially if you liked Born to Die.

A Sunny Morning After a Night's Rainfall, with Fresh Herbal Tea

I woke up early this morning, after a beautiful night of rain. After my yoga and some bone broth soup, I headed out to Hayes Valley Farm to help harvest vegetables for Project Open Hand, for their meal program.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, and as I arrived at the back gate of the garden, the sun was just shining over the hill that is the old off ramp (pre-1989 earth quake), the many droplets of water shimmering on the greenery.

Instant healing for the soul.

I crossed paths with another volunteer who was there to show me how to do the harvest. We spent over an hour collecting collards, kale, and various greens, trying some along the way that I had never heard of and can't remember their name now. Yum!

At the end of the harvest, I collect some lavender and fennel, also fresh with dewy drops of rain. As I write, I am sipping a tea made with these herbs, as well as mint from my garden. This is a great tea for me, especially since I just ate lunch, as all of these herbs help digestion. At least, the lavender is very soothing. Fennel promotes digestion, as does mint. Both reduce gas and nausea.

Fresh herbal tea reminds me of my grandmother Luna. I read an old journal entry recently, where I explained that it was when she moved in with us, that she introduced us to making tea with fresh garden herbs.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bat For Lashes, The Haunted Man, October 23rd 2012

I liked Bat For Lashes' other albums, in theory. The blend of dark, magic, and ethereal with pop was intellectually satisfying to me. But somehow her music didn't really capture me.

Until The Haunted Man.  On this album, Bat For Lashes has grown into her strengths somehow. It is sophisticated and strong. No longer trying too hard to be interesting, she has found her voice. The album grows on me with each listen, the lyrics beating into my brain, the drums connecting with my body, most notably in the song "Horses of the Sun." Another song, "Marilyn," has a much softer sound, with musical accents from the 80's, given a modern twist with her echoing, soulful voice.  There is no bad song on this album.

This is my new favorite album! A must listen.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dragonette, Bodyparts, September 25th 2012

The entire album fell flat, save for one song "Riot."

Here's a live video of the group performing the song.

Here's the actual song:

This song is great for work out mixes or dance parties! Other than that, this album was a bust. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lord Huron, Lonesome Dreams, October 2nd 2012

For an album titled Lonesome Dreams, Lord Huron certainly has come forth as the next great indie folk artist - this time with a happier tune. With similarities in sound to Band of Horses, Bonnie "Prince" Billy and maybe even a little bit of Smog, Lord Huron is my new favorite crooning, acoustic dude music. To boot, this guy is a cowboy-style cutie. At least by the looks of his marketing:

What a hottie! Who cares if he is hot if his music were to suck, but the fact of the matter is, I have fallen in love with his music, and am having a hard time believing this guy knows the meaning of lonesome. Maybe if he is super picky and only waiting for the right one...

The album's first song starts off mellow, but picks up speed; "Ends of the Earth" is probably the song at the album that sets him farthest apart from the previous mentioned indie folk dudes. The following songs have a similar upbeat (not lonesome) sound. His voice definitely has that lonesome country singer sound, but paired with the music, the overall sound is really not that of a lonely cowboy but rather has ecstatic build-ups that feel a bit like you just climbed a beautiful mountain on a horse and found your true love up there. The entire album is fantastic, with no particular song standing out, although "The Man Who Lives Forever" has a little bit of an extra country twang twist. My only complaint is that this album is too short. With only ten songs, I am always surprised when it is over, and  just end up playing it again.

So far, this appears to be his only full length album. He has a couple EPs with entirely different songs. I intend to check those out too! For now, Lonesome Dreams is a great album, one you should definitely check out.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Teachers 4 Social Justice Conference 2012, San Francisco

What an inspiring event! It took me many years to make it there - in the past I was too exhausted and perhaps worried the conference would leave me feeling overwhelmed at the work ahead in creating equality in and out of the classroom. I may have been worried that I wouldn't feel radical enough too, as if I wasn't good enough to be there.

On the contrary, the conference made me feel good about my continued pursuit of teaching through a social justice lens. My purpose was affirmed in one workshop (A Mindful Approach to Creating Inclusive Classrooms by Robin Morales and Ebony Sinnamon-Johnson), and another workshop (Talking in Math Class: Using Discourse Practices to Promote Equity by Rick Barlow ) gave me new tools towards achieving an equitable math class discussion.

This is a picture of the keynote speaker, Seam Arce, an ethnic studies teacher from Arizona. He described how he used Mariachi music to successfully inspire his students, but how other teachers and the institution actively de-valued his methods and achievements. Additionally, he lead a protest with his students to fight the state's ban on ethnic studies. So far, because of their efforts, Arizona officials have not been able to meet to make this ban official. Ethnic studies continue! This isn't a very good picture, but it's the only one I took since I was too busy having a great time!

If you have not gone to a T4SJ conference yet, I highly recommend it. If you are a math teacher, or aspiring to be one, I highly recommend an upcoming math for social justice conference called Creating Balance (in an Unjust World). This conference is held over the MLK Jr. weekend. This may be the last year it is in SF For awhile- the conference started in New York and may end up in Chicago or LA in the future.

Mark your calendars for these two exciting events in 2013! January for Creating Balance and early fall for T4SJ. Both of these conferences are held at Mission High School, in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Niki and the Dove, at the Rickshaw Stop, October 5th 2012

What do you get when you cross Stevie Nicks and Cyndi Lauper?

Niki and the Dove!

Niki and the Dove's album Instinct blew me away. The first song I heard was DJ, Ease My Mind and my body started moving and I thought, "yes, yes, yes!" This is definitely my new favorite band.  The song In Our Eyes moved me, made my body pulse, made my heart swell. The entire album is fantastic, opening up with the song Tomorrow, only to be followed with great song after great song.

I was fortunate enough to hear about their show at the Rickshaw Stop on October 5th, at the last minute, and find someone selling tickets on craigslist, as this show was sold out FOR GOOD REASON. This was a magical show. Niki, captivating us with her quirky beauty. People were moving. So was I.

This is the only video I found of the show online. It really doesn't capture how amazing the show was. I can see myself dancing, although it would be too hard to describe where I am. I do believe I am moving around more extremely and erratically than anyone else.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Healing Our Relationship with the Planet through Food

In my attempts to eat healthier, I've been going to farmer's markets. The quality of the produce continually strikes me. Waxed apples and bagged veggies at Trader Joe's no longer feel healthy enough to me and I am now wanting to only buy my produce at the farmer's market.

There are just so many reasons to do that, and not too many good reasons to buy food at the grocery store.
1. Local food means a greater energetic connection to your surrounding community.
2. Buying directly from your farmer increases this connection.
3. Produce is fresher; wasn't shipped and stored for days. This also means it will last longer in your fridge or pantry!
4. Eating seasonally puts your body in rhythm with nature - your energetic being can function in congruence with nature's energy, rather than against it.
5. Shopping at farmer's markets reduces your exposure to ice cream and processed foods.

Decrease your eco-footprint even more by walking or biking to your farmer's market!

While the prices might seem higher, I think the value is worth it in the long run, both for your own life and the future generations.

Alternatively, I theorize that if I do 70% or more of my shopping at farmer's markets, I will actually spend less money on higher quality food. No more sodas, cookies and excess carbs. I'll buy mostly veggies, some fruits and meat, eggs, local honey, olive oil, nuts, and maybe an occasional goody like the lemon lavender elixir they sell at the Inner Sunset farmer's market. My plan is to eventually spend 70% of my food budget at farmer's markets. Over the winter, I'm going to aim for 50/50.

Summer 2013 I'll be onto an even bigger goal: growing my own food! I wanted to do it this last summer, but I didn't know where to begin. My yard is concrete, which in San Francisco is a blessing even to have that. I'll have to get bins for growing and I'll make my own soil with a worm compost bin.

How will I go from zero to urban farm goddess in less than a year? I signed up for Hayes Valley Farm's Urban Permaculture apprenticeship! This is a six month program that meets every other Saturday. What is urban permaculture? It is about re-connecting the urban environment with the earth, through growing our food, healing ourselves and our relationship to the planet. The prime directive is to take responsibility for our own role on the planet; our health, our foot print, our affect on the other people we share our city with.

Save yourself from Nature Deprivation Disorder! Learn more about the urban permaculture movement!

If you are in San Francisco, you can volunteer at Hayes Valley Farm which is soon to be morphed into "49 Farms."  If you are elsewhere, you can always google! Feel free to leave a comment and I can ask my teacher to help find programs in your location.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Nopalito, Inner Sunset, San Francisco

Nopalito has delicious, upscale Mexican food, with many gluten free options. Modern remakes of Mexican classics have a refined feel in this ambient space, with prices that are reasonable.

I was apprehensive about trying Nopalito. My friend's boyfriend works there, and he had told me there were many gluten free options. But I'm trying to avoid contamination. And my ideal restaurant has no gluten I it. Fortunately, I learned, Nopalito has very little gluten ingredients. My friend explained to me that only their pork and meatballs have gluten.

I of course, wanted the other thing on the menu that has gluten - the mole has bread crumbs. This is also the source of gluten for the meatballs. The pork is marinated in beer. There is some risk of contamination, but at least it is minimized by the small presence of gluten. Although bread crumbs are a pretty dangerous form of gluten, easily getting all over the place and into my supposedly gluten free food!

I ended up getting the waiter's recommendation, which was something with perfectly cooked salmon, large beans (fava?), and a really yummy sauce. The tortillas are hand made on site, and you can watch the process as the kitchen is on display. This is always a nice perk for Celiacs.

Other treats included delectable champagne with hibiscus (see picture), ceviche on a crispy tortilla, a dairy free chocolate cinnamon paleta (Spanish for popsicle) and another champagne cocktail, this one with ginger and lemon. All of this was fantastic, and I would highly recommend this place to those who are not concerned about contamination. The risk seems minimal, so I may come back. I'll have to ask some more questions about contamination before my next visit.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Mature Themes, Aug. 21 2012

Critics can't agree on the mishmosh that is Ariel Pink. Mature Themes has been labeled both Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's most-likely-to-weed-out-the-die-hard-fans, as well as their greatest cross over album. So which is it? When Pitchfork described the album as grittier then the previous, I'm not sure what they were taking about. To me, this album seriously lacks the grit that I originally loved about Ariel Pink. NPR's First Listen review seems to have the opposite, more accurate take - that this is the album that win over the masses. But I think it's actually neither. I don't think this album will appeal to die hards, nor your average Joe.

When my favorite indie artists achieve mainstream status, it's usually because they lose their creative edge in favor of something more generically appealing. Mature Themes is supposed to be a great work, if you get into the musical intricacies of it. But to me the album is only mature in the sense of old and boring.

Few songs stand out; It seems like a rehash of old themes. Without the edge of the previous albums, Ariel Pink is not mesmerizing me, as his music never really spoke to me on a deeper level- I just liked him for his signature 80's warbly mixed tape sound. Speaking of vintage, there is one song, which when I listening to it on shuffle with other artists, I thought it was an old Doo Wop song. "Baby" is a beautiful song, perfect for a dreamy mix for the one you love.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh about this album. It's good in many ways, but with only one song that struck me, it's hard for me to be excited. The rest of the album sounds like the band America writing dreamy pop folk tunes for commercials about wiener schnitzels.

In the end, Mature Themes is my least favorite Ariel Pink album. I can see how music nerds could appreciate the music technically speaking, but maybe they are the only die-hards anyway.

Apple-berry crisp - Gluten Free and Vegan!

My sister made this fantastic crisp for a dinner party, and being a good sister, she made it gluten-free and dairy-free for me!

It was so fantastic,  I had to make it myself. My sister is quite the baker, (check out her blog here), and she simply made up the recipe herself, to accomodate my dietary needs. Here are the directions she gave me, noting that they were all approximate:

1 bag frozen mixed berries (no strawberries because they are too watery)
1 cup oats
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
Pinch of salt
about 1/3 cup of sweetener

The topping mix should be dry. Cook at 350F until the fruit is bubbling and condensed, and the topping is browned, about 40 minutes to an hour.

Being an improvisor myself, this is what I did:

1 bag Trader Joe's cherry berries
2 small apples, diced into small/medium pieces
1/2 cup certified gluten-free quick oats (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 cup certified gluten-free almond meal (I used Bob's Red Mill)
2 Tablespoons safflower oil (I was out of coconut oil)
a couple grinds of Himalayan sea salt
1/3 cup of sweetener dehydrated maple syrup granules
a few dashes of cinnamon
a few dashes of cardamom
Tablespoon of vanilla extract

I accidentally baked it 450F for the first 25 minutes, and then had to take it out, to go do something. 2 hours later, I baked it for another 30 minutes on 350F. It came out fantastic! 

The cardamon and the vanilla added amazing dimensions to the tart-sweet flavor. I highly recommend using these spices - I use them in pretty much all of my desserts these days!

Variations to try:
  • Use ghee! This is not vegan, but you can get ghee that is lactose and casein free. 
  • I might try it with a bag each of blackberries and raspberries. I am not the biggest fan of the cherries and blueberries. 
  • Add a little more topping. 
  • Bake in individual Pyrex dishes in order to easily pack for lunch! 
  • Use peaches in the summer, instead of apples. 
  •  Try palm sugar, 1/2 a cup, for the sweetener. 

If you try it, please let me know how yours worked out in the comment section!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cat Power, SUN, September 5th 2012

I didn't have high expectations for a new Cat Power album. Not even when I read NPR's review, touting it as her best album to date. It's no surprise to me that the NPR reviewer doesn't deeply love her early albums such as Myra Lee and What Would the Community Think? That kind of young female angst is not something that everyone understands, and especially if they don't have an appreciation for dark music.

There is so much raw, creative talent in Cat Power's earlier albums, words can hardly describe it. None of her albums since have come close to making an impact on me the way that those first ones did. Her sound has become increasingly happier, which is nice because we have grown out of our angst together. However, the creative edge has not been as strong, perhaps no longer freed by the booze.

I listened to SUN apprehensively. The first song "Cherokee" was disappointing. Trite rhymes, "Cherokee, kiss me" are not only heard in this track, but also on other tracks such as "3,6,9." The eagle call on "Cherokee" is just, well, trendy.

The rest of the album is quite good. "Manhattan" is a great tune. "Nothin' But Time" is a long, beautiful song, written for her ex-partner's daughter. It also features the deep voice of Iggy Pop - deep voices make for complimentary backgrounds with Chan's dreamsicle voice, as heard on You Are Free in 2003 with Eddie Vedder. "Human Being" is another good track, with a nice message.

While not my favorite Cat Power album, SUN is still a good one, that I enjoyed washing dishes to and in the office. I am glad Chan Marshall is finally back in my good graces, although hopefully she can redeem herself more on her next album.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Band of Horses, Mirage Rock, Sept 18th 2012

Mirage Rock's first song kicks in with a rockin' beat, as not yet heard by Band of Horses. While their last album Infinite Arms (2010) was their most upbeat at the time of its release, Mirage Rock has it, well, beat. However, Mirage Rock has a more natural feel to it, and comes off as the better, and happier album. It would seem that indie rock is catching up with the happy times of its counter part - indie pop.

While the influence may have been there on previous albums, it is on Mirage Rock that I notice lead singer Benjamin Bridwell channeling Neil Young the way Christian Slater channeled Nicholas Cage; on some songs I caught myself wondering if I was indeed actually was listening to Neil Young, circa Harvest Moon. This is a good thing, in my opinion. Song "Dumpster World" particularly conjurs up images of Harvest Moon crooner, until it breaks out into a Band of Horses-esque rock out chorus.

Other notable songs:
"Electric Music" has a great American rock feel, both with twang and lyrical imagery about the open road. 
"Heartbreak on the 101" has an altogether different musical feel, distinctly different from all other Band of Horses tracks, yet still fits in with the tone and theme of the album.
"Ego Nightmare" sounds like a quintessential upbeat Band of Horses song, with a slight Beach Boys influence.

Overall, a good album I think I'll be listening to more. Definitely worth checking it out.

Grizzly Bear, Shields, Sept. 18th 2012

This is a very mature album, playing off their previous signature sounds and remaining edgy while losing the hipster whine.

I'd listened to their 2006 album Yellow House and put a song or two from there onto playlists. But the album as a whole didn't capture my interest the way Shields has.

Shields is an excellent album overall, with no song particularly standing out, it's the kind of album where you actually listen to the whole thing as one piece of art work. The music seems more technically and artistically interesting than their previous work.

There are aspects of this album that remind me of Band of Horses. These bands are chummy, having played shows together and Band of Horses did cover a Grizzly Bear song Plans. Or maybe I just like this album more because as another review said, they got "rockier."

A very evolved album for Grizzly Bear - highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pacific Catch, Campbell, California

Pacific Catch is one of the restaurants I found on the Gluten Intolerance Group's Gluten-Free Food Service training.  On Friday, September 14th, I visited their location in Campbell, CA.

The place was packed, hostesses were friendly. We waited at the bar. When we finally were offered a drink and menu, the bar tender was very professional and happily went to get me a gluten-free menu as well. This menu was very short.

The drinks sounded amazing but fell a little flat. My favorite of the three we had was a lemongrass Mojito, which was mostly good because it was super sweet.

When we were finally seated after about 30 minutes, the waiter was very friendly. However, he was not able to answer most of my questions about their food. I was curious as to why the tacos were not on the gluten-free menu, as most tortillas are gluten-free. He explained that he didn't know much about gluten, which was a major disappointment for me (remember, this place has a gluten-free service training). He said something about how the tortillas have white corn, and then pointed out that they made the gluten-free menu for a reason. Point taken. I ordered something off of there.

I do acknowledge that the GIG's website about their Gluten-Free Food Service training only describes their training as having to do with aspects in the kitchen. Yet, as a Celiac customer, I will only feel comfortable with a waiter who is knowledgeable about gluten and the kitchen policies. How am I supposed to be assured of my food's safety if my point of contact, the waiter, is not knowledgeable? And really, what is the point spending effort, energy and money on training in the kitchen, if your waitstaff can't communicate that to customers? Is the GIG supposed to be a substitution for good communication with customers? Not in my opinion!

In the end, my item from the gluten-free menu was pretty good. I got the Salmon Thai curry, with half rice and half lettuce. It had a very pleasant sweet and tangy flavor.

Before going back here, or to any Pacific Catch location, I would talk to the manager first and clarify what gluten-free practices they actually use. I would definitely recommend it for non-Celiac gluten-free people.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Celiac Awareness Day!

September 13th is Celiac Awareness Day.

You might have heard this statistic already: that 1 in 133 people have Celiac disease. That might not sound like very many to you, but if you think of how many restaurants are Celiac friendly, it's more like 1 in a waaaaaaaay too many!

How to celebrate Celiac Awareness Day?

1. Take your favorite Celiac Diva (that would be me for most of my readers!) out to one of the few Celiac friendly restaurants. If you don't know which restaurants can be trusted, you can check out:The Gluten Intolerance Group's list of restaurants that have their gluten-free food service accredidation.
My personal favorite restaurant right now is Asquew Grill.

Or just ask said Celiac Diva and s/he will be happy to tell you.

2. If there aren't any great choices, a home cooked meal is a good way to go. Just make sure all utensils, dishes and surfaces are cleaned well (no bread crumbs). Gluten-contamination is a huge issue even in food items labeled "gluten-free."  To be safe, only cook with raw ingredients or items that are Certified Gluten Free. Items that you might never think twice about, like ketchup, are things that this Celiac diva makes sure to get certified gluten -free. One of my favorite brands is Organicville.

How to continue to support your Celiac friends?

Besides celebrating, let's create more awareness about gluten-free issues! The mainstream knowledge of gluten-free is tainted with an imagine of fad dieters. Often, when I tell people I don't eat gluten, they think I'm doing it for weight loss. The reality is, that Celiac disease is a very serious health condition that requires much stricter adherence to a truly 100% gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, the mainstream idea of gluten-free is more aligned with Trader Joe's (not a Celiac friendly place) clever phrase "no gluten ingredients used." Just because there are no gluten ingredients used, does not make it gluten-free! My new term that I will be using now, rather than "gluten free," is "Celiac friendly." Spread the word!

Stay tuned for future blogs:
  • Three Stone Hearth
  • Asquew Grill
  • Pacific Catch
  • Ristorante Bacco
  • Mariposa Baking Company
  • Pica Pica Maize
  • The Northwest Public House (in Portland)

 Thanks for reading and happy Celiac Awareness Day! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

EO Body Products: Certified Gluten Free!

Gluten free body products??!! Wah? Do we really need to worry about that?

I say, any gluten you put in or on your body is not good for Celiacs. Some doctors say that the concentration of gluten that would be found in body products is too low to have an effect. But if I can find good gluten free body products, that makes me happier. There is a good article on this issue at

Where would one find gluten in a body product? I think the most concentrated source of gluten in body products would be wheat aminos that are often put in hair conditioners. Upon scouring the ingredients of several conditioners and leave in hair treatments, I found that many have wheat aminos. Some just say "aminos," and you have to wonder what kind. Some products do have soy or quinoa aminos. You can't just believe the front of the label though; for example, Aveda's Quinoa hair products actually have more wheat aminos in them than quinoa.

Another common gluten ingredient is wheat germ oil, although this should theoretically have all the gluten proteins filtered out, it's possible it could have some in it. Additionally, oats could be contaminated. 

EO is a brand I've known about for a long time, but never was impressed with their products, mostly because they were expensive and the scents didn't intrigue. I recently bought their lavender lotion, to use lavender to help me relax at night. However, the lotion itself is incredibly silky and luxurious. I can't believe I never tried it!

My most recent purchase is a product that I had tried before, and liked. I bought it again, gleeful in my knowing that it is gluten free. It's a great product, making your hair silky smooth. One key thing, that I think is necessary with lots of all natural products, is to emulsify the hair product before putting it in your hair. I pump out a dime sized amount in my hand, then pour some water and get it all mixed up. Then I distribute it through my hair. The wild lime & ginger scent is one of the EO ones that I do like, though it's subtle.

EO is not paying me to write this review. Certified gluten free products are few and far between, and I want to support them, so they persist and create more demand for certified gluten free.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nuts for Gluten-Free Nuts at the Farmer's Market

Today at the Upper Haight Farmer's Market, the lady selling a plethora of nuts, flavored, salted etc, looked at me like I was nuts for asking about whether hers nuts possibly were exposed to gluten. As I asked her a few more questions about how the nuts are processed and packaged, she seemed annoyed by me and finally walked away suddenly to help another customer. She clearly thought I was NUTS and didn't want to waist more time with my silly questions.

I walked away without buying anything.

This situation may be due to both our ignorance. I certainly don't know a lot about how nuts are handled, processed and packaged. I have heard that I do need to be careful about that, because sometimes nuts are processed in the same facilities as wheat or other gluten. While I was told raw nuts usually aren't cause for concern, one can never be too careful. The great thing about Farmer's Markets, is you can speak to the employees or owners. You don't always get an immediate answer. At the Inner Sunset Farmer's Market, I asked one of the guys at the nut stand about their nuts, and he didn't know. He said he could check with his boss when she got back from vacation, and I told him I would come back in one of the following weeks.

This guy did mention that at least one of their nut products was seasoned with a gluten ingredient, and I would guess this would be the case for the nut lady at Upper Haight. However, as I walked away from her stand, I found a fruit stand that also sold raw almonds. I asked the cashier if the nuts could have been exposed to gluten. She wasn't sure, so she asked her boss, and he said they went straight from the tree, into the bags, and there was no gluten in the facility. Eureka! I bought a 5 pound bad for $20.

As an end note, some people may think I am NUTS for nit picking over the details about how the food I eat is processed. Well, they won't get my business. My health is not a trivial manner. If these people knew how bad I feel for months if I am exposed to a tiny bit of gluten, maybe they would get it. I do need to make myself more aware about how the foods I want to buy are processed. I welcome any comments - if anyone knows how nuts are generally processed, both for raw nuts and salted nuts. I'm specifically curious about Trader Joe's - one of these days I am going to do research on their policies and procedures and write a blog about that.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gluten-free vegan Apple bread

This is a documentation of my attempt to make the recipe at:

I had some apples that needed to get used before they went over the edge. While I'm not vegan, only dairy free, I was excited to find this recipe which is not only gluten-free and vegan but very focused on coconut which I am very into these days. No refined sugar is a plus too! I went into this experience knowing this wouldn't be decadent delight, but a good snack or an emergency breakfast.

The recipe given on the website, with my adaptations in parenthesis:

1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour mix (1/2 cup Gluten Free Pantry mix and 1 cup coconut flour)

2 tsp organic cinnamon (have you tasted the difference?)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp sea salt

2 1/2 tbsp of ground flax combined with 3 tbsp warm water (ground Chia)

1 cup coconut sugar (I used coconut crystals - I think that's what they meant)

1/2 cup melted coconut oil, plus more for brushing

1 cup peeled, shredded apple (I put 1 1/2 apples in the food processors, which was more than 1 cup, all of which I put into the batch)

My batch:

The ground chia seed and water combination was very thick, but mixed okay with the apples. I'm sure ground flax seed would work much better, but I didn't have any. The apples smelled like a great apple cider, the cinnamon was fragrant. I was getting excited about the potential. Once everything was mixed together, the dough was not as I expected. I was never a big baker until I went gluten free and have recently been making muffins and brownies with pre-made mixes. These have been much more liquid. Worried about how dry the dough was, first added 1/4 cup almond/coconut milk. I added another 1/4 cup. Still not as fluid as I thought it should be, but I was afraid to add anything else. At this point I was able to smooth it out in the pan decently, so I threw it in the oven. After the recommended time, I felt it needed more. It started to brown on the edge, so even though it seemed very moist still, I took it out. After my friends and I sampled some, I'd say it's good but amazing. I'd be willing to try it once more using flax seeds.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

In-N-Out, Daly City

It's an ironic twist that something seemingly so healthy-nutty such as "the gluten-free" diet, is actually usually best accommodated at chain restaurants. Many charming restaurants in San Francisco are still clueless about gluten-free issues, especially cross contamination issues for those of us with Celiac disease. The fact that chain restaurants are more adequately meeting the needs of the gluten-free crowd than are the mom-n-pop places is probably a matter of numbers - more customers means more people who are demanding gluten-free.

I knew In-N-Out had a "protein-style" burger, which is basically their burger wrapped in lettuce instead of between a bun. Their menu is simple, so fries are the only thing in their fryers - no onion rings adding gluten crumbs to the oil. After researching online forums, I read in-depth details about how many In-N-Out customers had tried to figure out the level of gluten-free-ness of the chain.

The scoop, thanks to one women's hard detective work, is that In-N-Out's only gluten containing item is the bun. The issue of cross contamination comes into play in three places: the surface on which the meals are prepared, the utensils which flip the burger and place it onto the bun, thereby possibly transferring crumbs onto future burgers, and the knife used to spread the special sauce onto the buns. This sauce has relish in it, and cannot be put into squeeze bottles like the ketchup and mustard. The recommendation was to go at a non-peak hour, request clean surfaces and utensils and/or ask for the special sauce in a packet.

I visited the Daly City In-N-Out at 10:30am on a Thursday. I felt confident that was not a peak hour, however, they only had one line, which was long and the cashier was rushed. I prepared my speech in my head, and as soon as the waitress heard no-gluten she told me very knowingly that she would mark my order for gluten-allergy. While this is technically incorrect as I have Celiac disease which is an auto-immune disorder, I was just glad they had a system in place to deal with people who need gluten-free food. I asked her if they could use clean utensils and she kept punching things into her screen and while she vaguely responded, did not give me the reassurance I wanted. She did turn and tell the cook that the order had a gluten-allergy, but she did not tell me what exactly the cook would do differently. I got my sauce on the side.

It was an absolute delight, biting into that charbroiled flavor. Although, I did bite into some paper that got between some lettuce. Not tasty. I never loved their fries, but now that I am gluten-free, fries are such a novelty since most fryers are contaminated. While In-N-Out's system is not perfect, they are doing far better than most places. I probably won't go there a lot, based on this experience, but, it is one of my best options when in a pinch. I hope they will continue to improve the dining experience for those of us with Celiac disease! They may just need more customer service training on the importance of reassuring customers that every measure is taken to avoid contamination.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Minako's Organic Japanese Restaurant, Mission District, San Francisco

For the gluten-free, this place is a gem! The main waitress, whose family runs the place totally "gets it" in regards to being 100% gluten-free. I went there with a party of four, me being the only gluten-free person. She gave me my own Wasabi and ginger dish, so that the others would not contaminate mine with their chop sticks because they were eating some non-gluten-free stuff (it's all gluten-free Tamari there though). It is so reassuring for those of us with Celiac disease when the waitstaff understand details like that. She explained to us that they have two tempura fryers to avoid contamination there, and she even told me Tobiko is not gluten free! I did not know that. It turns out Tobiko is usually processed with wheat starch.

The first time I went there, we mostly had sushi and I was not super impressed, not being a fan of brown rice in my sushi. The gluten free tempura was definitely a disappointment. However, at Minako's is the only gluten free inari I've found so far. So we went back. This time I ordered the gluten free Chicken Katsu and it was AMAZING. I can't wait to go back for more.

One thing that sucks about being gluten-free is that even though restaurants are getting better at coming up with gluten-free options, it's usually a regular menu item without the yummy sauce because the yummy sauce that really makes the dish has gluten in it. I'm pretty sure that this is the only place in San Francisco that has gluten-free Chicken Katsu with gluten-free sauce! YAY! I can't wait to go back for that.

Not only do they accommodate the gluten-free, but they are also very vegan friendly, all while offering plenty of options for those who eat the full spectrum off foods.

On a totally unimportant side note - their bathroom is super cute!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Picaro, Mission District, San Francisco

I had been to Picaro once before a long time ago. It was someone's birthday and I think we got mostly seafood paella. As I'm not the biggest fan of either, I was not impressed.

I recently took a out of town visitor to Picaro after a revelation that tapas might be a good way to get gluten-free items. At Picaro at least, I was right on - while they have some breaded and/or fried items, most of their dishes are cooked simply with olive oil, garlic, wine and some spices. Lots of garlic, lots of lemon wedges to squeeze on top. It was delightful!

My absolute favorite, which I will be going back for more of soon, was the grilled artichokes. The artichokes flowers were sliced thinly and nicely crispy. With garlic. And a fresh lemon wedge.

Did I mention garlic and lemon? Yes!

Also yummy was their tortilla de...I can't remember what the name was but it was basically like an omelet without the cheese and instead potatoes and onions. On the menu they says it's a popular item, and I can see why. Comes with a dollop of mayonnaise.

What is a tapas restaurant without sangria? Their's was good, but perhaps a tad too sweet.

Also of note was that the waitress was very nice about checking the ingredients on everything for me. And that most of it was indeed gluten-free and dairy free was excellent. I'll definitely be going back often.

If you are following the paleo diet, note that some items come with rice, but mostly the dishes are vegetables, meat and seafood, seasoned without sugar.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Masala Dosa, Inner Sunset, San Francisco, CA

Since I've been diagnosed with Celiac disease, I've been very shy of restaurants. Generally the only restaurants I feel comfortable eating at are fancy, expensive ones, because service is top notch and that includes attending to the needs of the food allergy ridden. I also feel relatively comfortable at restaurants with a gluten-free menu becuase they often have a more knowledgeable staff. Now, the latter is tricky because you have to wonder what definition of gluten-free they are operating under. Five years ago, I tried a "gluten-free" diet, because I had heard about how hard gluten was hard to digest, but it never occurred to me that there could be gluten in fish sauce or chicken broth. Even if you read ingredients carefully for gluten-ingredients, there is then the issue of gluten-contamination, which may not be a big deal for your average gluten intolerant person, but for a Celiac, this trace contamination can be as harmful as eating a cookie. How can I be assured that the chefs are aware of these issues? That they make sure not to prepare my food on surface with flour or bread crumbs? The answer is: I can't. But as awareness increases, I can just do my best to talk to the wait staff, and maybe someday get assertive enough to call ahead and talk to the chef and other staff. But for now, I cannot be sure.

With that frame of mind, I agreed to meet a friend at Masala Dosa for lunch with some apprehension. I often find my gluten-free friendly spots with a simple yelp search. Though, sometimes it can be hard to tell how good the options will be. I found a review for Masala Dosa that referred to a gluten-free menu, so I thought there must be something good there for me. Sure enough, the dosa section of the menu noted that all dosas were gluten free except for one kind. Fun! I had options!

Often times in restaurants where the owners and waitstaff do not speak English fluently, I have a hard time inquiring about whether the food is really gluten-free. With a lack of public knowledge of gluten-free issues, plus a language barrier, it can be hard to get the reassurance I need. I asked the waiter, a very nice guy with an accent, about whether any meats were prepared with flour, or if there was any flour added to the sauce. He said no, but he seemed to understand the importance of the questions, and said he would double check with the chef. He came back confirming that all the curries were gluten-free - no flour on the meat or in the sauce. Since I didn't get to talk to the chef, I have no idea if they really "got it." I can only trust that the waiter conveyed the importance.

My friend and I shared a masala dosa with chutney and a spinach and chicken curry. While not the most amazing Indian food I've ever had, they were both very tasty! The flavors were fragrant and rich and the quality of the food was quite good.

As I don't seem to be having a gluten reaction, I think the food was free of gluten contamination. I will definitely be going back to my new gluten-free Indian hot spot!

I can't eat dairy either, though I think it's easy to avoid the creme sauces and the paneer. I wonder about which items include butter that is not stated in the description. I'll have to ask about that next time.