Stuffing My Face in Plymouth

As I shared a few weeks ago, we’re on the move.  Last week, I finally got to visit the place we’ll soon be calling home. We got to spend a lot of time exploring the town and walking around between house viewings. One of the things that worries me about going anywhere new is just not knowing what I can eat.  It’s one thing to read reviews of restaurants and think I’ll be all right; it’s another to actually go and find yourself with choices!

The first place we went when we got to town was The Chancel.  Their website said that they offer a lot for Celiacs — not just that they stick a couple of G symbols on the menu — so I thought it would be a good first choice.  When I asked our server what I might could have, she told me to take a look at the menu and “we could have a conversation”, adding that the chips would not be suitable.  I decided on pasta with a cream sauce and, at the last minute, garlic bread.  I inhaled it, stuffed myself, and didn’t eat for the rest of the day. Whoops.

pasta

Mushroom pasta & garlic bread at The Chancel

The next day, we spent the morning walking to view a few houses.  We discovered that Plymouth is a lot hillier than we originally thought — my FitBit clocked 59 stories of climbing on this day, 50 of which were before noon.  I was running on only coffee at that point, so, when we stopped to eat, I was ravenous.  CB had scoped out a place called The Stable which boasts more ciders than I’ve seen in my life, as well as gluten-free pizzas.  Their GF pizza bases are made off-site, and they are knowledgable about their ingredients.  I picked the ‘Sir Francis Drake’ pizza, which is loaded with perhaps the best combination of goodness I’ve ever tasted — slow-roasted Spanish onions, local blue cheese and spinach, herb roasted chunks of potatoes on a tomato and mozzarella base.

pizza

I ate it all.

Remember when I said that Plymouth had a River Cottage Canteen?  Well, I wasn’t going to let an opportunity to visit pass me by, so we booked a table for dinner on our second night.  When booking online, there’s an option for allergy information.  I didn’t know whether that would mean anything once we actually arrived.

RCC menu

River Cottage Canteen menu

When our server brought our menus, mine had already been adjusted.  He had spoken with the chef at the start of the shift and had crossed out the things I couldn’t have and scratched through the bits that could be changed to work.  The menu was a foodie’s dream, full of “freshly prepared seasonal, local, organic and wild food” (according to their website).  I chose a halloumi, asparagus, and potato salad, which was as beautiful on the plate as it was delicious.

halloumi salad

Halloumi is magical.

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and ran for breakfast before our next house viewing appointments.  We went to The Dock.  I couldn’t resist the idea of gluten-free blueberry pancakes, and neither, apparently, could CB.  Once we got there and I looked over the menu, I had a change of heart — a GF veggie fry with halloumi was calling my name.  Yep, halloumi for two meals in a row, and I’m not a little bit sorry.  Unfortunately, in my hurry to eat said halloumi, the only picture I got of the plate is woefully out of focus — but look at those GF pancakes!

pancakes

Blueberry pancakes at The Dock

veggie fry

Blurry picture of the veggie fry at The Dock

While walking the 8.5+ miles a day we averaged while exploring, we have also found what is clearly the best ice cream around. Langage Farm has, according to their website, “remained a working farmstead for over 900 years in the rolling Devonshire countryside” — which is kind of spectacular.  They have stockists all around Devon, and they have clear allergy information in the shops — the information on the ice cream truck we saw was a bit sparse (not all flavours had information) but enough for me to get by.  If you try their ice cream, go for the Caramel Pecan Crunch.  CB tried to convince me to trade flavours with him once he tasted mine!

The other thing about moving to a place like Devon is cider.  CB was laughed at in a restaurant when he asked what local beers they had on tap.  I mentioned the ciders at The Stable briefly earlier, but it was at River Cottage Canteen where I had a Heron Valley cider.  It was dry, crisp, and almost spicy; I kept saying it was weird but in a good way!  I am definitely not a fan of sugary-sweet beverages, so this one did the trick.

On the basis of really good food for me to eat on a rather limited diet, I think this is going to be a good move.  Now, if only we could find somewhere to live…

Advertisements

The World’s Best

I have devised a recipe for the world’s best salad.  I know it is the best because I have personally taste-tested it against all other salads I have personally made, and I have personally decided that it is the best.  You can see that my system is fool-proof.

I’m not greedy, though, so I’m wiling to let you have the world’s best salad, too.  You can even pretend it’s your own if you want.  I’m not going to tell on you.

See, I’ve never loved salads.  I have always thought they were boring and bland.  They never filled me up.  I didn’t understand why there was always grated carrot and red cabbage at the bottom of the salad bowl, and why is a massive ring of red onion okay to just drop on top?  Add that confusion to the fact that I don’t like tomatoes, I can’t have croutons, and most salad dressings are either awful for you or just awful for me in particular, and I usually had a bowl of lettuce with a couple of sad cucumber slices.

After seeing a dietician recently and finding out that I don’t eat enough food — shocking news! — I realised I was going to have to make more of an effort to eat lunch.  I whined, ‘but lunchtime is the exact time of day when I least want to eat!’  Why?

Well, I used to eat sandwiches for lunch.  I thought I was doing all right by it, never eating plain white bread, typically passing up the crisps, and adding lettuce to give me a vegetable.  After I’d eat, though, I would get very tired.  I didn’t want to do anything; I wasn’t sure I could do anything. What I didn’t realise was that I wasn’t really feeding myself; I was just putting stuff in my body.  There wasn’t anything nourishing to what I was eating, and, while I don’t knock a good sandwich now and again, I just know it doesn’t function as a daily standard.

Knowing that someone else was looking over my food journal with me made me a bit more self-conscious.  Of course I wanted to look like I had it all together, but I also came to realise that I simply knew better. More fruit, Sydney, and more vegetables.  Just get over yourself and do it.

Thus, THE salad was born.  There’s crunch, there’s heft, there’s sweetness, there’s protein, and there’s also a little bit of heat.

World’s Best Lunch Salad

Ingredients:
Romaine lettuce (or favourite leaf)
Spinach
Sunflower seeds
Pomegranate seeds
Sprouted mung beans
Sprouted lentil beans
Cucumber
Broccoli
World’s Best Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
Your favourite hot sauce (I use Frank’s Hot Sauce for this salad!)

Hardware:
Big bowl
Hands

Directions:
Assemble as big or as small a salad as you’d like with the ingredients.  I start with the lettuce and spinach, tearing them into bite-sized pieces by hand, add broccoli and cucumber around the edges, and add the smaller ingredients in the middle.  Then, I dress it with a couple of shakes of the hot sauce and a quick drizzle of the vinaigrette.

salad

This is the little version. I may or may not have used a mixing bowl for just myself before. (I definitely have.)

World’s Best Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar (may not be needed if you shell out for expensive oil and vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use pink Himalayan salt for a couple of extra minerals)
1/8 teaspoon chilli powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cumin

Hardware:
Jar that will fit at least 1 cup of liquid (with lid)
measuring cups and spoons
heavy-duty shakin’ arms

Directions:
Dump everything except the sugar into the jar.  Shake, shake, shake until it is completely combined.  Taste and see if it needs the sugar for your tastebuds.  Some vinegars can be more tart than others, and some people like a more tart vinaigrette.  Add the sugar if you want and shake again.

Store in the fridge.  Remove a while before you need it, and shake it again to reintegrate the oil and vinegar, which will separate when cold.  If you forget, pop it in the microwave without the lid for 15-20 seconds — just enough to soften the oil but not “cook” it — and shake.  Oh, yes, more shaking.

Did I Ever Tell You about the Time . . .

I once tried to make my own rice flour without a mill.  It was a spectacularly bad decision.  It was Easter weekend, which, in Belfast, means almost everything is closed for at least three or four days.  I really wanted to make quinoa cookies, and I needed rice flour.  I’m not known for my patience, so I wouldn’t wait until the following week.  I did have brown rice and a food processor, so, hey!, how hard could it be?

It turns out, making flour without a mill is hard.  Huh.  Who could have known?!  I stood in front of the processor, scraping the sides, pushing it down, yelling at it, mumbling at it, pleading with it.   THREE HOURS (yes, I’m that stubborn) LATER, I had a cup of flour.  You can’t tell me it wasn’t worth it.  You also can’t ever, ever tell me to do it again.

Rice and Quinoa Cookies

I made piles of these cookies just to prove a point (to myself)

I made piles of these cookies just to prove a point (to myself)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup tahini (or peanut butter)
1 cup brown or white rice flour
3/4 cup quinoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Hardware:
Mixing bowl
Spatula
Baking sheet
Various measuring cups and spoons
Oven
Wire cooling rack
Paper towels

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

Combine honey, brown sugar, butter, and tahini in bowl and mix until creamy.

Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Drop teaspoon-size balls of batter onto baking sheet and bake about 14 minutes. They spread out pretty far so space them well.  Let cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack with a layer of paper towel to completely cool.  They are great with greek yogurt because they lack the heavy richness of other cookies.

Guest Post at Domestic Mamma

Today’s a special day here at sydneylikesfood because I have written my first guest post on another blog!  I feel very important, indeed.

Go check it out at Domestic Mamma (and get a special recipe I considered keeping for myself).  Tell Vicki I sent you.  She’s a cool lady, especially to let me take over her blog for a day.

Yes, there is a typo in the ingredients list.  Ignore the word “cup”, and we’re golden.

A Pizza Praise

I know I JUST wrote a post about how we feel bad when we eat things that aren’t homemade, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t scaremongering. No matter where you live, there are some wholesome choices you can make outside the home. You can find restaurants with sustainable, fresh, local ingredients, who do not use chemical-laden products because the real thing is so much better, and who care about your specific dietary restrictions or concerns. There are restaurant kitchens you can learn to trust nearly as much as your own.

This post isn’t about them. This post is about pizza.

Pizza is one of my favourite foods. I love love LOVE pizza. One of my favourite silly jokes is even about pizza:

How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?
Deep pan, crisp and even

You’re groaning now, but you know you’ll tell someone later. Anyway, I sorely miss good pizza (and even bad pizza).  I haven’t yet perfected a gluten-free pizza dough myself. A lot of pre-made bases are chewy, and I never remember that I need an extra hour before baking for boxed doughs to proof. The frozen pizzas offered in the Tesco and Sainsbury’s shops here vary wildly, and, when I found one I really liked, it disappeared forever. What’s a gluten-free girl to do?!

Last year, Dominos UK announced they were rolling out gluten-free pizzas to all their stores by 1 November. All staff would have to take gluten informational training to know about cross-contamination. A couple of days before the 1st, we decided to give them a try. If the Belfast branches were waiting until the 1st to roll out, I figured the worst that could happen was we would be told to wait a few days to order. Wrong. CB phoned, and it went something like this:

CB: Do you offer your gluten-free pizzas yet?
Dominos employee 1: I don’t know what that is. I’ll get the manager.
Dominos manager 1: We did have gluten-free bases, but nobody ordered them. We binned them.
CB: You binned them? You didn’t even advertise them. It wasn’t on your menu.
Dominos manager 1: You can call another branch and see if they have them still. Tell them I told you to call over.

Second branch:

CB: Do you offer your gluten-free pizzas yet? One of the other branch managers told me to phone over to you.
Dominos employee 2: I don’t know what that is. The manager isn’t in, but I’ll phone him and have him phone you back.
. . .
Dominos manager 2: I’m not sure if we have them. What is gluten?
CB: In short, gluten is something that’s in wheat and other grains that some people are allergic to.
Dominos manager 2: Really? Can you tell me more about it? What does it do?
CB: [proves he actually listens to me and spends about 3-4 minutes talking about Celiac and gluten]
Dominos manager 2: Wow. Thanks. I’ve never heard of that. We don’t have anything gluten-free, I don’t think.

While the employees and managers were really nice, they had no idea what was going on (and I have to assume the bit about having binned them was a panic-driven fabrication). At that point, I wasn’t even so bothered they didn’t have the bases — I was prepared for that possibility since it was only rolling out — but I was very concerned by the fact that the information was so sparse and different. They clearly had not be trained about gluten cross-contamination if one of the managers didn’t even know what gluten is. As you may know, I like to have my voice heard. I got in contact with the national Dominos folks and discussed the issues we discovered in the Belfast branches. After a bit of back and forth, we agreed that it was best they pushed the roll-out date back a few weeks and work on employee education. I was later offered a voucher for my assistance and trouble and to try the new pizza when it came out and give feedback.

A few weeks later, voucher in hand, I tread onto the Dominos website. There is a big GF on the choice of bases. There are comments about which toppings are not gluten-free, which, it is good to see, are very few. I double- and triple-check everything before I place the order. I half-expect the phone to ring, and they will tell me they still don’t have them in Belfast. Not even three minutes later, an unknown number calls. I answer.

Dominos employee: You ordered a gluten-free pizza?
Me: (sighing) Yes, I did.
Dominos employee: I just wanted you to know there is egg in the base. Some people are allergic to eggs, and I wanted to make sure that was okay.
Me: Absolutely. Thank you so much for asking.

What a difference. Less than a month prior, no one in the shops even knew what food allergies were. Now they’re phoning to make sure I’m not allergic to eggs?! How wonderful! The delivery driver explained that they always make sure the pizza boxes marked with a gluten-free sticker sit on top of the others, just in case something could fall down into it somehow. Some drivers choose to leave off the dips because they aren’t sure about the content and don’t want to give out something that might have gluten (They don’t; I checked). I was overwhelmed by the allergy-attentive service by a take-away pizza chain!

The Dominos pizza is good and tasty, but it’s not fantastic. It relies a lot on corn, which results in a heavier crust than their usual fare. It is crispy, which is a big problem with gluten-free doughs, and it isn’t too chewy. It only comes in one size (9″), but, in all, it makes for a good indulgent take-away, especially since they added spinach back to the toppings choices! The next hurdle I see for them is understanding that, because of some recent recipe changes, not a single side item or dessert is gluten-free. Currently, the only gluten-free option is the pizza itself.

Dominos Pizza delivered

Dominos Pizza delivered, pre-spinach return

Only a few weeks ago, Pizza Express announced their new gluten-free range (It’s even on the main page of their website!). After doing my research on how they are meant to be trained for cross-contamination (and knowing that I expect a little more from them than I would from Dominos), we decided to give them a try. The menu clearly marks items which have “NGCI”: Non-Gluten-Containing Ingredients. There aren’t a ton of options, but there are a few starters (including a lovely white wine and butternut squash risotto), at least one dessert, and a beer. (Their extensive online allergen menu (PDF) makes suggestions on how to make other items suitable for X allergy.) Nearly all of their pizzas can be made on the gluten-free base without any topping adjustments.

The service astounded me. I always fear the worst when someone questions the gluten-free thing.

Server: Oh, are you gluten-free?
Me: Yes, I am.
Server: I will alert the kitchen.

Rather than being made to feel a picky eater, she let me know with that simple statement that my dietary needs would be taken seriously. One table over, I heard the same server discussing with the mother of a young Celiac girl the changes the company had made in every kitchen for the gluten-free range. They have a completely new and gluten-free portion of every kitchen. Nothing ever goes on that side that has touched the other foods. They have a new oven that is only for gluten-free pizzas. In the cases where they are forced to utilize the same shelf space, the gluten-free items are all on higher shelves so that no errant flour can fall onto them. They are clear when they deliver the pizzas to the table which is gluten-free, but the setting is just the same — it sounds like such a little thing, but, when something is obviously different from others, it draws attention to it when you’d rather just get on with eating.

Pizza Express does have a superior crust. I would expect that. They have quality ingredients with responsible sources. The crust looks and tastes like a regular pizza crust. I’m shocked to say that I almost forgot I was eating a gluten-free pizza. Every once in a while, if I let my mind wander while eating, I’ll come back to the meal with a sudden paranoia that I have made a massive mistake and WHAT HAVE I EATEN?! That panic lasted a second longer when I realised there was pizza in my hand and it looked so good.

REAL pizza from Pizza Express!

REAL pizza from Pizza Express!

Pizzas from Dominos and Pizza Express lead completely divergent existences in the pizza world. Though Dominos did stumble at the beginning, eventually both chains impressed me. I can’t expect for any employee or company to know everything straight out of the gate, but a true willingness to learn and a commitment to respect go a long way in my book.