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…

Much better, Delta!

"Gluten-free" breakfast, January

“Gluten-free” breakfast, January

This picture is the breakfast that I was given on January 6, 2013 on a transatlantic Delta flight.  If you’re not familiar with Special K cereal (which I was not), here is a close-up of the label.

Special K label

Special K label

I know it’s blurry, but I think you can read it well enough.  The second ingredient is “wheat gluten”.  There is also an allergen warning which reads “CONTAINS WHEAT AND MILK INGREDIENTS”.  I can understand the confusion — it says “Lightly Toasted Rice Cereal” — but, as a major company, you have to pay closer attention when a passenger asks for a special meal.  Just because the first ingredient is rice does not mean that it doesn’t have wheat.

I complained.  I do that.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.  No one wants only a banana for breakfast, especially when they’re travelling and have allergies which might mean it’s the only meal they’ll eat that day.  If you were with me, you’ll be happy to know our voices were heard.  Here was my breakfast on April 10, 2013:

So. Much. Better.

So. Much. Better.

Since I couldn’t get a great picture before I devoured it, I’ll tell you what it is. It’s an Udi’s Gluten Free Foods Double Chocolate Muffin, and it was delicious.  I can even forgive them for insisting that everyone wants orange juice with breakfast for giving me something so yummy.  What an improvement, Delta!  Because I’m just as vocal when I’m impressed as when I’m disappointed, I’ve let both Delta and Udi’s know how pleased I am.

Edit: Is it a coincidence that I just received my first-ever Delta flight survey?

Back in Belfast and Black Bean Brownies

From my last meal before travelling

From my last meal before travelling

I am back home to Belfast!  I wish I could say it feels great, but so far it feels like my head against my pillow — but MY pillow!  The tiny traveller made it, too; she got lots of special attention from a lovely family on the transatlantic flight, so she arrived feeling very important and very cute.

She climbed into her luggage while I was packing and did not want to get out.

She climbed into her luggage while I was packing and did not want to get out.

A couple of days before I left, I made dinner with dessert for the family. I’ll be posting the dinner later, but the dessert was too good to leave for long.  The beans provide the starch necessary to hold the brownie batter together without the need for any sort of flour, but they also provide a high level of fibre and protein among other great things.  Even my incredibly picky grandfather enjoyed these guys. If you’re not a big fan of dark chocolate, use regular cocoa powder.  My mother didn’t care for it until she had a scoop of ice cream with it because of the richness.

Decadence

Decadence

Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients:
1 can of black beans (or cook up your own), about 15 oz
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used 3 tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa and 2 tablespoons regular cocoa)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup honey powder)
a bit of icing sugar
cooking oil or spray

Hardware:
large food processor
sieve or colander
mixing bowl
spatula
8×8 baking pan
oven
measuring spoons and cups
cooling rack
knife

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

Drain and rinse the black beans in the sieve/colander.  You want the water to run cleanly through the beans.  Shake off the excess water.  Blitz the beans and eggs together in the food processor.  It will look soupy, but the eggs helps the beans to break down better.  Without them, the beans will be very lumpy.

Bean and egg soup

Bean and egg soup

Add the vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder.  Pulse to combine.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Stir in the sugar with the spatula.  When completely combined, it should look like any other brownie batter.  I added some chopped pecans and chocolate chips (no measurements, just whatever looked right), but I think they would be great without them.

Brownie batter -- can you even tell this stuff started as a weird soup?

Brownie batter — can you even tell this stuff started as a weird soup?

Pour into the greased baking pan and bake for 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.

Brownies!

Brownies!

Sprinkle the icing sugar over the top if you’re feeling fancy.  I was.

Fancy

Fancy

Wait until they are completely cooled before slicing.  I cut mine into 16 pieces.  If you make them bigger, no one will judge you.  Just tell them you’re eating your vegetables.

One Lie about Cupcakes and One Curiosity Fulfilled

As I mentioned in my last post, CB got a job.  We have started and ended house-hunting, and, for those of you crossing your fingers for me, I got a great kitchen and a yarn room that I don’t have to share (except with this spoiled rotten little gem).

zoe

Until we move in, I’m basically chronicling thoughts and meals, which, admittedly, isn’t the most interesting way to keep a food blog.  Every time I think about getting into creative mode in the kitchen, I’m confronted with the idea that this is not-my-kitchen and these are not-my-things.  So, back to CB got a job, and we looked at houses.

The day that he found out he had gotten the job, I decided he needed a little something of recognition. I spoil him, I do.  I secretly arranged with the woman who made our wedding cake to make a tiny congratulations cake for him.  The best part of her cakes is that not only are they tasty, but they have little clay figurines on top.  I dare say more people commented on how good our little figures looked on the big day than commented on how good we looked!

CB cake

The reason I mention the cake, besides just being very tickled by it, is that The Little Cupcake Cafe is one of the few places in Belfast to get a decent gluten-free treat.  I had already arranged with CB’s mother to help me pick up the cake, but it was turning into a logistical nightmare to try to get it without him knowing.  Thus, the little white cupcake lie.

Ah, yes, the sunny days of house-hunting.  While the rain was holding off, we decided a constructive use of our time was to simply take a taxi to a nice neighbourhood and walk until our feet fell off.  We made notes of real estate agencies and houses that looked pleasant.  We walked, got a little sunburned, and ended up with just about nothing once we looked up the prices.  We kept fairly good moods, considering the poor luck we were having.

Until Cake Day.

We were well across town from the shop, and I declared that I wanted a cupcake.  An hour later, it escalated to my needing a cupcake.  Another hour and CB was simply refusing me a cupcake.  Never mind that we were too far away for either of us to do anything about it.  By the end of our house search, I said that I was going to get a cupcake because his mother wouldn’t like to hear of his refusing me a simple pleasure; she would surely drive me to get one.  She played along brilliantly, feigning exasperation at her son and immediately driving to the only shop which could provide me with what I wanted.

We sat down for a cup of tea and a cupcake.  Cathy, the fondant artiste, silently showed me the cake and placed it behind the till.  I managed to signal to the girl working the counter that I was to pay for the cake while asking for a glass of water; she casually slipped my change on the counter and walked away, enjoying the bit of espionage.

As we were standing to leave, I said to CB, “That box behind the till says ‘Burke’.  Do you think it’s for us?”
CB: “Burke is a common name.  I’m sure it’s not.”
Me: “But it could be?”
CB’s Mum: “Did you buy Sydney a box of cupcakes?!”
CB: “No, let’s leave.” (getting a bit embarrassed by now)
I peek behind the till.  “But, it has MY name on it.”
CB: “Sure it does.”
I am handed the box.  “Look, it does!”  I open the box and all is revealed.  I thought he was going to hit the floor with shock.  After he eyes up the little figure of himself, I add: “I didn’t even want a cupcake.”

Less sneaky but equally as exciting (for me. Only me.) was the idea of eating on our short trip to Dublin.  As a thank you present for helping him with the application and interview preparation for his job (and probably for constantly stating how much I believe in him), CB bought two tickets to see Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance in the Gate Theatre in Dublin. [Go!  See it!  Bring a wee hand fan because it is boiling inside!]  We already had our mind set on where to eat dinner before the show, but we still had an opening for lunch the next day.  CB sent me a link with gluten-free possibilities to browse, and there it was.  The restaurant that had managed to slip my mind that I used to obsess over visiting.

Cornucopia.

It was somehow a hundred times better than I even imagined it.  We got there just before the major lunch crowd, so we got a table just as we got our food.  By crowd I mean that the queue was completely out the door, and people were sharing every little corner of tables just to be able to eat.  The menu is a set of blackboards behind the counter.  Not everything is gluten-free, but everything is vegetarian.  There was a legend hanging above the blackboard explaining what was egg-free, gluten-free, nut-free, chili-free, vegan, etc.  It truly felt empowering not to have to ask what was in something before I ordered.  I am aware that that last statement will sound completely alien to anyone without dietary restrictions, but I felt like I owned the place when I ordered my food.

cornucopia

THIS was the amazing, empowered meal I had.  Curry and rice with sweet potato, carrot, chickpea, fine beans, and broccoli; kidney bean, tofu, and rocket salad; and a garlic and almond potato salad.  100% vegan, 100% gluten-free, 100% giddy-inducing.  Eat there.  Just do it.

Brava, Sligo!

pancakes

When I decided — with my husband and his family — to go on a weeklong holiday in the west of Ireland, I honestly wasn’t sure if I would end up starving to death while we were gone.  After all, “gluten” seems like such a foreign word in rural places, and let’s just forget about “Celiac”!

To my extremely pleasant surprise, it turns out that Sligo, Ireland is a Mecca for Celiacs.  I was even able to do something that is a no-go in the big city of Belfast — eat breakfast in a restaurant!  I’m so happy that my favourite little town in the world is able to cater for my particular needs so well.

It appears that the reason Sligo is so Celiac-friendly is because of the hospital in town.  In 2010, they began testing and trials based around Celiac (Coeliac) and Hemochromotosis (“iron-overload”).  Apparently, the incidence of Celiac diagnosis in northwest Ireland is very high, and gluten-related investigations in Sligo’s hospital sit at about 2,000 cases per year.  That number is extremely high when considering Sligo is a very small place.  Sligo now has the technology to perform Celiac testing in house, rather than sending the materials to Dublin for processing.

I was previously in Sligo in 2008.  Though I can honestly say that I wasn’t looking for gluten-free options in restaurants, I do know that nothing caught my attention back then.  (Having many restrictions on my diets, I tend to pick up on available options and the fine print that says to ask your waiter if you have any allergies even if they do not relate to me.)  I can only assume that the more the community learns about Celiac, the more likely they are to provide options for their own citizens and vistors.

The following is only a guide.  Since a lot of the information I found before heading to Sligo was quite old, I thought I would offer an updated account of what I found.  It’s not exhaustive — I didn’t go door-to-door, restaurant-to-restaurant (though it does sometimes feel like what I do!).  These are the places I discovered. [Note: Everything food-related in Sligo seemed to be a bit pricey.  I was tempted to say that about all the restaurants.]

Bistro Bianconi, Tobergal Lane, Sligo town
I think we ended up eating here three times over the week.  Pizza, pasta, etc.  It’s a nice sit-down restaurant, but it doesn’t require dressing up.  Everything we tried was great, gluten-free or not.  They have gluten-free pizza bases and pastas.  They don’t charge more for them, and they don’t look at you funny when you order.  The four course early-bird menu wasn’t entirely Celiac-friendly (soup, Caesar salad, garlic bread for starters), but the regular menu is always available.  Their ice cream was gluten-free, and they had a lovely pavalova on for the dessert of the day once.

Osta Cafe, Garavogue Weir, Sligo town
Ok, I’ll admit it.  I ate their pancakes on four different occasions.  But, in my defense, they have several different options!  While there are not a ton of gluten-free choices on their menu, a simple breakfast is well-handled.  There are scones (I had a plain one with jam and butter.) and muffins (Mine was raspberry and coconut.) baked every morning.  Gluten-free pancakes come with the following options: lemon, butter, and sugar; cinnamon-infused berry compote and greek yoghurt (seen half-eaten above); local honey, greek yoghurt, and sliced almonds; bacon and maple syrup . . . and I’m pretty sure I’m missing something.

Bella Vista, Shore Road, Strandhill
Strandhill was a beautiful little place not far from Sligo town.  It’s famous for its surfing (no swimming allowed), but the view is amazing.  Of course, everything on the west coast is the Atlantic Ocean, but you really feel like you’re looking out into the ocean from Strandhill.  As far as I can tell, all the businesses in Strandhill are on one road — Shore Road.  We passed by a couple of restaurants where I could have eaten (a lot of Asian cuisine is safe if you know what to look for), but we stopped at Bella Vista because there were a lot of options.  I think the place is a bit under-staffed, but hopefully that was only a temporary problem.  They also charge €2 for changing a pasta or a pizza base to gluten-free.  I ordered tagiatelle a la pollo.  It turned out that they had actually run out of gluten-free tagiatelle, and the waitress was too busy to ask me if substituting spaghetti was okay until it was being presented to me.  Of course, I was fine with it, but why bother asking if they had already made the decision?  My husband, CB, would like to point out that you should discourage anyone non-gluten-free in your party from getting the steak sandwich.  Everything else was good.

The Yeats Tavern, Drumcliffe
The Yeats Tavern is just down the road for where W.B. Yeats (and his wife! Don’t forget his wife!) is buried.  Otherwise, it seems to have nothing to do with the poet.  Regardless, I had a very decadent meal here.  It started simply enough — their vegetable soup is gluten-free, and they have a lovely note just under it on the menu that says “Ask your server for gluten-free bread!”.  And, what a lovely piece of bread it was!  My main course was a special of pan-fried chicken smothered in roasted peppers and covered in a thick slice of goats cheese, which was baked to form a crust. It was drizzled with balsamic vinegar and pesto.  It also came with a choice of potatoes — the dinner menu does not mention that the chips are not gluten-free, but I noticed it on the early-bird menu posted at the entrance — where I chose the buttered new potatoes and stole a few sneaky bites of CB’s garlic and cheese au gratin (we checked on their Celiac status!).  For dessert, they have gluten-free ice cream, around which they formed several options, and a chocolate brownie with a “gluten-free alternative”.  I didn’t find out what that alternative was because I opted for an ice cream dish with bananas and toffee — surprisingly light and refreshing!

Poppadom, O’Connell Street, Sligo town (no website)
Considering my love for Indian food, I knew I would be visiting this restaurant again after a positive experience four years ago.  It did not disappoint (except that CB wanted Peshawari naan and did not find it on the menu — he got on just fine with his regular naan).  I always find myself customising my meal in Indian restaurants as of late, and they were more than happy to provide exactly what I wanted.  We were confused that there was a tasty chicken option on the early-bird menu (which we missed) that wasn’t on the main menu, though I can’t remember what exactly it was.  Best yet was that, after a warm and muggy day, they had an air conditioner!  I know, I know: I’m a spoiled American and my husband is an over-warm Irishman, but we like our cool air.

Tesco store, O’Connell Street, Sligo town
This entry is the one real oddball on my list because it is not a restaurant.  However, I can’t speak on my time eating in Sligo without mentioning shopping at Tesco.  They had a great selection of gluten-free flours (even Bob’s Red Mill!), mixes, sauces, breads, and other food-stuffs.  I found things I haven’t been able to find anywhere up North.  In fact, we indulged a bit on some sourdough bread (well-sealed) and a box of deep-pan pizza bases to bring back home with us!  There were some mini baguettes from a gluten-free bakery in Cork (who knew?!) that made for great sandwiches for the days’ adventures (believe it or not, we did more than eat!).

And, in case you were wondering why I’m so shocked at the gluten-free selection, this was the view from our bedroom window every morning!

cattle