March 10, 2012

Bi-Lo 7-Layer Salad

Bi-Lo deli sushi is AWFUL. In my opinion, Bi-Lo everything is awful…plus, they have bad worker’s comp policies, I'm told by someone who knows, so I avoid shopping there in general. Back to sushi. There’s not a grocery store in town I haven’t tried the sushi from (Bi-Lo, Kroger, Publix, Piggly Wiggly, Earthfare), and Bi-Lo is hands-down the worst. Why, then, did I buy a 7-layer salad?

Same reason I got the sushi that one time: hunger and laziness and desperation. The usual reasons for trying something usually beautiful in nature, and sullied by grocery store delis (see: deviled eggs, roasted chickens, salads).

Really isn’t too bad. The dual lettuces amused me

I wouldn’t have bought it, if it was all iceberg. Iceberg’s not good for you. Took some tossing, but I got everything coated enough with…well, yeah, mayonnaise, ok? It’s 7-Layer Salad. It’s DELICIOUS and it’s covered in MAYONNAISE! The red onion and bacon bits pretty much make it.

If I ever find myself needing something to tide me over for less than five bucks, I’d eat it again. Especially with wine, Primal Roots, chosen for it's swirly-pearly label (and cheapness, just assume price is always the first reason I pick a wine).

The wine has a much lovelier description.

It is reminiscent of a poor man’s Cupcake, just has a…snippy bite that doesn’t allow for a fully enjoyable swallow. Wine 2, chosen solely for price, was FishEye

The review: Oh my, that tastes exactly like the non-alcoholic grape juice communion “wine” from childhood.

Second sip: Oh my, that tastes exactly like the non-alcoholic grape juice communion “wine” from childhood.

Third sip: Oh my, that tastes exactly like the non-alcoholic grape juice communion “wine” from childhood.

This stuff is awful!!

Drive to the store included: Grouper, Beats Antique, RHPS sdtk, Justice, Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Watching as I blog: Stephen Fry in America (his assessment of Atlantic City is spot-on, and his host in DC is Jimmy Wales)

Romano's Macaroni Grill has a gluten-free menu, but...

Oh, Charlotte. Land of Ikea and Fuel Pizza.

Around here, for gluten-free pizza, I've got Mellow Mushroom, Z's Pizza, Uno's and...I think that's it. A few hours away I have Fuel, the best gluten-free pizza I've had in a restaurant, by far (some locations have Redbridge).

The plan last night was to drive to Ikea right quick and stop for Fuel on the way home. Alas, I found myself at a "Romano's Macaroni Grill and Italian" instead. Though it's become easier over the last few years to eat gluten-free in a mall restaurant, as I call them (Applebee's, Chili's, TGI Friday's, any chain near a mall), words like "macaroni" and "Italian" are good tips that it's probably not gluten-free friendly.

A phone call informed us they had gluten-free pasta and pizza. I was surprised and skeptical but outnumbered, so Gluten Factory - I mean, Romano's, it was.

It's one of the worst places I've eaten - no, I can't really say worst because that implies there's something to talk about. It was one of the most flavorless and - let's start at the beginning.

It was packed. Smack in the middle of the floor was a table of 20+ people. We were seated in a booth between them and the open kitchen.

This open kitchen could get its own post. "If they're going to have an open kitchen," I said to my companions, "they should at least keep it clean and pay the staff a little extra to not yell at each other." Dishes were stacked upon stacks. The overall energy of the staff seemed somewhere between harried and confused. Our table was covered in white paper and the waitress wrote her name in crayon. ...ooookay. America can have this weird effort of trying to pull off a faux-classy ambiance, while leaving crayons on the paper tablecloth. It's mall food. It's a culture of pretending to be things you are not.

"She's got to be new," I remarked about our waitress. "She seems confused about everything." And like she really didn't want to be there. At an hour, we still didn't have our entrees. If it wasn't for the bottles of water they leave on the table, we'd have been pretty thirsty, too.

Long story short, the food was terrible, the service was absent, and I would rather eat gas station snacks than go there again.

Here's the thing, they do have an extensive allergen menu giving options for gluten-free, dairy, nuts, shellfish and several other common food no-nos. The majority of the gluten-free options just involved using gluten-free penne and removing the bread. And, the majority of the menu was not an option. I can eat pasta marinara at home. When I eat out, it's for something I can't have at home. More on that later.

The regular menu also mentions that gluten-free pasta is an option. The menu on their website does not mention allergens. I had to google "romano's gluten free menu" to find it.

We got the baked prosciutto and mozzarella to start with (Ikea hunger!) - without bread. Actually, we asked for the bread on the side since one person could eat it, but better safe than sorry. Usually we DON'T ask for croutons, and get them, so no big deal. We got a little dish of prosciutto slices rolled around mozzarella in a bright red sauce. It tasted like salt. Yes, prosciutto is salty but this was unpleasant to eat, it was so salty. The mozzarella was rubbery and flavorless. The tomato sauce was a little sweet and fairly fresh-tasting, but otherwise non-remarkable. If the cheese had been a lovely, melted, proper mozzarella I might have suffered through the saltiness but it simply wasn't worth eating.

I spent the next hour or so people watching. Waitstaff seemed to be all over the place - at one point a woman in a chef's coat served a table, so we assumed they were super busy/short-staffed. They have this...water bottle-filling station smack in the middle of the main floor, it was pretty wet when I went to the restroom and I thought, "Liability not a concern here..." I was nearly to the point of trying to approach someone to ask for more water, and check on our food, when it arrived.

I wish I'd had a camera. The shrimp portofino with gluten-free penne pasta was about as anti-climactic as I could have made up. It's described as, "jumbo shrimp, capellini, spinach, mushrooms, pine nuts, lemon butter." It arrived as regular-sized, overcooked and dry shrimp, baby spinach out of a bag, not even wilted, mushrooms, no pine nuts and some sort of cream sauce with no flavor. It was so bland, I think I laughed. It didn't have pine nuts - the boyf ordered the regular version, his also didn't have any pine nuts. At this point I just wanted to get out of there (it was pretty loud and just felt crowded and over-seated) and I ate maybe half of it. It just, like the appetizer, wasn't worth eating.

Adding insult to injury, mine had a regular spaghetti noodle in it. Cross-contamination is a tough topic because some people don't care and others are fastidious. My girlfriend in Atlanta wouldn't have touched it. She doesn't use pans that have touched gluten. Me, I was hongry! The boyfriend snatched the offending noodle and that was that.

My mom's fettuccine alfredo looked like the sauce was cold, it had that congealed/chunky look cream sauce gets after it's been sitting. She commented later she thought they were pretty "stingy" with the sauce. And, her bowl of gluten-free penne pasta not only had a regular spaghetti noodle in it, but some sort of mystery chunk that we surmised might be chicken! Who knows? What if a gluten-free vegetarian had ordered it? And people are allergic to chicken.

She and I don't worry too much about gluten cross-contamination but for others with more serious allergies it could have been a serious problem. I figured they probably used the same tongs for all pasta, and it just stuck. My mom's guess was they use the same water to boil all the pasta. Either way, cross-contaminating in a restaurant is bad news.

Remember the girl with a nut allergy who died from kissing her boyfriend, after he had a pb&j sandwich? Though gluten isn't necessarily an instantaneously life-threatening illness, other food allergies can be. A restaurant who goes to the pains of printing out an extensive menu with allergen info should be making every effort to guarantee the products they list as __-free actually are!

I will say this: the pasta itself was cooked to perfection. It really was.

But there's no way in heck I'd want to eat there again. Later in the evening, when boyf and I were going back over the meal we both agreed that regardless of the obnoxious ambiance, the poor service and the cross-contamination mishaps, at the end of it the main problem was the ridiculous price they charged for what we got (the fourth dish, salmon, was downright burnt). A bowl of unseasoned pasta with a scant handful of uncooked/seasoned spinach from a bag and a couple of mushrooms and over-cooked, unseasoned shrimp, no pine nuts, no trace of lemon or butter flavor for $15. Nuh-uh. Mark-up all you want, restaurants, but give me SOMEthing for my money!

I think it's fantastic that Romano's Macaroni Grill has their allergen menu, I do, but there's not really a point in saying you can make something gluten-free, if you don't.

Now, the follow-up is a much happier tale. My mom emailed them about the cross-contamination issue - not to complain, just to alert them to the issue. Having a food intolerance creates solidarity, you know?

Within a couple of hours the manager of the location we were at (in the University area? On Research Road?) called her back! She was very apologetic (of course) and said the waitress was indeed new, and that they have very strict protocol and procedure for handling allergen requests/orders and that clearly, the procedure was not followed. So, boo to Macaroni Grill for their food, but hooray for their excellent customer service. Again, I want to give them credit for having a gluten-free/allergen menu but if the food isn't actually free of the problem ingredient, what's the point??

If you're in Charlotte, eat Fuel. And send me some. THE END!

February 26, 2012

Chickpea and Roasted Garlic Soup

This is a recipe from the "DEAR GOD WHY WON'T MY SKIN CLEAR UP" panic of...oh, the last 15  years.

Garlic, of course, needs no introduction.

This recipe for chickpea and roasted garlic soup survived the first round of testing (I have one binder of recipes to test, I make notes and it either stays there or goes to the "keeper" binder). This past weekend I gave it another go. Bear with me, my Canon's down and I'm using my phone camera.

The double can of chickpeas amounts to a solid three cups.

Added the two cups of cooked chickpeas to a cut-up onion, two or three stalks of celery (didn't have any carrots) and two bulbs of garlic. It calls for one head of roasted garlic. My notes say "more garlic!" and I am lazy, so two raw bulbs it is. Instead of two tablespoons of olive oil I used a glob, probably 1/2 - 1 T, of bacon grease.

Sauteed that for a bit. I didn't chop anything up too fine, because it all gets blended later.

The recipe then calls for 2 quarts of chicken stock. Stock. Salty water, right? I had one of these,

but all it said was "add 8 oz water for a tasty mug of soup." Not exactly two quarts. I have a small stock stash, however, because the good stuff is expensive, so when I find a deal I stock up.

HA! Stock up!!

Big Lots strikes again. Now, this is one quart. The whole box! The Depression-Era granny in me couldn't handle it, so my plan was to use that box, then fill up the box with water and use that + the bouillon packet.

Decided against that. It all fit in the pot fine, 

Simmered a little too long, see how all the green went out of the celery?

Fit just perfect into the Vitamix, 

so I just went with one quart. And it was deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelishus. For reals, I took a spoonful after the blending and actually said out loud: "Wow. I understand the cult of stock." 

The flavor was so...present. So there. I completely understand, now, why Top Chef contestants freak out about their stock. The stock made an abjectly noticeable difference. 

So, I might not be so cheap about it, from now on (feel free to leave comments about doing it yourself, but also feel free to come clean the fridge a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, when my drawer of turkey bits "for stock" has outlived it's usefulness). I garnished with parsley et voila:

Parsley is super good for you. The recipe claims it serves 6-8, I state it serves 2-3 me. Incredibly simple, yet elegant and versatile as either a starter or a meal (chicken and dumplings could easily be added).

February 24, 2012

What is No Gluten? My Goodness? all about?

Because what the internet needs is another food blog.

Pretty much every time I cook, I blog it in my head. I annoy friends by taking pictures of food before I eat it. I started this blog years ago, but abandoned it. I’m back. Gluten-free is more relevant than ever. 

Gluten-free is the new synergy!

But there’s so much crap on the internet to slog through. 

Gluten-free as a new snooty domestic craze

Gluten-free as the latest diet fad. 

Gluten-free as a box on “I’m better than you because I raise my own chickens” list. 

Sooooooo, the chicken. It's fed and watered gluten-free?

 This week I finally decided to just do it, to clutter the internet with yet another food blog.

What this blog will be:

  • A source of any recipe I try, like or don’t like. Meat to vegan to raw, Southern to chichi, I eat everything so don’t complain about the poor animals or the pictures of tofu.
  • Tips on being poor. How to save money. How to recycle ingredients and other things. I’m unemployed and broke. Again. I have experience crying myself to sleep at night over money worries, so let me share what I’ve learned.
  • A non-professional description of booze. I went on a winery tour once. Got , legs and bouquets.
  • Commentary on anything else I feel like blogging about or sharing, to a limited amount.

What this blog will not be:

  • Some sort of cutesy “look at my baby and this tacky-ass craft I just made OMG I love my husband puppies are sooo kewt!” schlock. This blog is about food, particularly gluten-free food, and that is that. No offense to your baby, I’m sure he/she is adorable. Some of my best friends are mommy bloggers and husbands.  
  • Fancy and properly-done. I'm not putting the food in white boxes for photos. My Office Paint skills are sublime, but that's about it for my photo editing skills. If I need to credit something, somehow, please let me know! I'm not doing it intentionally. Hopefully as I go along I'll improve.
You know...

Hey…if I’m going to be blogging, why not try to make some money from it? I wasn’t expecting to get rich, but every penny counts. If a month’s worth of blogging could cover the phone bill, AWESOME.

After several days of researching, I have all but given up on this whole “make money blogging” thing. There’s not an affiliate program, a poorly-written “work from home!” article or a smug “I make $2000 a month blogging!” testimonial I haven’t read this week. It seems that generally you have to be a chatty brown-noser to make it work.  

 Ask questions like “WOULD YOU LIKE TO MAKE MONEY?!!??!!?!?!?!?!?!?”

Instead of “Why do Udi’s muffins cost so much?”

Most important advice I've learned: niche or die.

According to Mike and Molly, in their post on "SEO Keyword Hell," a niche must have at least 250 google searches, less than 50,000 other sites about the same thing, and the top-site must suck so that yours will take its place.

So, I’m going to be remodeling this blog for a new-and-improved niche site:

Sexy Gluten-Free Clowns

(I used to tweet in Klingon.)

So, yeah, the ads are obnoxious. 

However, I do my best to make sure they’re NICHE! relevant and not total spam. Nothing wrong with Spam, mind you, so long as it’s thinly sliced and fried, topped with sprouts, Duke’s mayonnaise, red onion and tomatoes…all lovingly stuffed in-between two slices of toasted Udi’s bread…

One problem I’m having is: 

Should I type gluten free or gluten-free? The latter is correct, but when people search do they bother being right (I mean, have you READ the internet??).What should I do as labels? Should they all be verbatim - that means using space on typing out "gluten free." Or "gluten-free??"

One problem I won’t have: 

Wondering if I should say “nitch” or “neesh,” since you’re just reading niche.

So remind me, why another gluten-free food blog?

 I’m blogging to share gluten-free recipes. I’m sharing my great finds and wastes-of-money with you because that’s what I want to read. Making money just hopefully will be a side-effect of my spectacular blog.

Why will my blog stand out from other gluten free blogs? Aside from being funny and well-written, it’s short and to-the-point.

Pictures will be relevant and helpful.

Instructions will be clear, and tested.

No, “What a neat recipe! What do you think?” BS trying to rack up comments.

If I haven’t tried it, eaten it, read it or used it, I won’t post about it.

Being gluten-free isn’t hard, but it’s not always easy. It’s not expensive, but it ain’t cheap. I’ve got a decade of trials and tribulations to build on, so stick around! 

The idiocy of jean ads

Levi’s new ads on Hulu make me ashamed to be a blogger. The commercials are just the worst. Hey rich white (please note: "white" in this case applies not to race, but to a whole...erm, lifestyle) women! Our jeans are just like you! Mass-produced, unoriginal and overwrought.

  This chummy-chummy approach always seems like a stereotype of a commercial. Some out-of-touch ad exec on the 80th floor in Manhattan is like, “How can we sell more jeans to suburban moms? They’re crazy about babies and they hate jean shopping, plus all this new fangled social media-ing…”

So we get these “just us girls” spots talking about how unique some factory-produced in Costa Rica? China? jeans are, how these amazing jeans make these women feel special. And, of course, some of the usual crap about how hard it is to find jeans that fit, the interchangeable swimsuit/jeans “OMG math is hard” sad faces.

Also special is how they’re made just for curves! That means real women like us, you know?  Real women like the four women I’ve seen in the ads thus far, upper-class bloggers with seemingly indistinguishable personal style, home décor and other characteristics like babies, husbands and blogs about their babies and husbands.

I was glad, yesterday, to see I’m not the only one with sore eyes (you know, from rolling them so much). The Daily What showed us their print ad:

We won't even talk about butt size and race, here, ok?

….yyyyeeeeeeaaaaaah. Wouldja just LOOK at these real, curvy women!! Finally, these poor ladies have some jeans that fit! No more hours schlepping from store to store, leaving the dressing room in tears because this 16 is too big, this 16 is too small, and you JUST WANT A FREAKING PAIR OF JEANS WHY DOES FASHION HATE WOMEN??

You want a nice pair of jeans that fit well? Pay for them. Pay for the time it takes to make them, and the skill required to construct them. You can’t afford them (I sure can't)? Don’t wear jeans. I don’t like wearing jeans – mostly because I can’t find any that fit. Fits thighs, not waist. Might fit waist but I don’t know, won’t go over thighs. So, instead of shaking my fist at God, I just don’t wear them. I pick out clothes that are comfortable and look nice – jeans are not some sort of holy, required article clothing. Feeling good about yourself in whatever you want, that’s  required. And Levi’s clearly does not agree.

February 23, 2012

Oatmeal is so gross! But so good for you. But so gross! But...wait, good??

Oatmeal...super healthy! Good for your bowels! Sexy breakfast, in an old-fashioned, Irish kind of way...

Bernard's fate could've been avoided with a little more oatmeal.

 It's just not good. Gummy. Bland. Sticky and boring. Tried some Bob's Red Mill GF oats...that bag lasted a year or two.I made it with milk, cream. Added all manner of fruits and sugar. Waffles are just so much better!

I don't buy a lot of gluten-free stuff (because it's expensive) but I'm always interested in new stuff - especially when it's on sale. I guess it was the sale crazies ("but it's 83.56% off!!") that put this in my basket:

Bakery On Main makes my favorite granola, so I figured it'd be worth a shot - plus, it'd be a good one for travel since it just needs hot water.

Small size for a purse, glove compartment, etc. If you're gluten-free, never leave home without a snack on stand-by!

Couldn't be easier to make:

You can't tell here, but there's strawberry bits a-plenty

Turns out, it's just a good one, period!! Super strawberry-y, just enough sweetness to make it

a) not awful and
b) palatable for someone like me, who doesn't really like sweet-sugary food.

Creamy, too, without being gummy  - and with just water. I have a feeling the extra, non-eat ingredients help:

Not to mention the health boost of chia and flaxseed

I also like reading backstories of GF products, especially over the past few years as "gluten-free" has become a buzzword and a diet fad - I like to support old school, independent companies as much as I can.

 this guy Michael Smulders sounds pretty cool

 There's plain and apple cinnamon, too, but I have a feeling I will stick with Strawberry Shortcake. Die-hards like Gluten Hates Me can have their bowls of hand-crafted oats, Bakery On Main's instant is good enough for me! Thanks, sale crazies!

Organic Beauty — It's Not Just For Food Anymore. Natural Hair and Skin Products are Effective, Affordable.

As published in the Free Times.

Whether you’ve practiced it for 30 years or recently jumped on the hip green bandwagon, organic is in. Chemical-free, all-natural products are increasing in popularity as Americans seek to care for themselves as well as the environment. But while organic produce is turning up in refrigerator drawers, shelves outside the kitchen tend to remain stocked with chemical-laden, toxic products — and we’re not just talking about household cleaners. With so much time, energy and money spent ensuring what goes into our mouths is good for us, we need to remember another way our body intakes substances — our skin.

An oft-heard cry is “But organic is so expensive!” Au contraire! Going “green” for your hair and skin can be easier and sometimes less expensive than using conventional products.
Hair Swap shampoos that strip your hair of its natural oils for something detergent-free. The selection at Rosewood Market includes the Aubrey Organics line, starting at $5.95. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own shampoo by starting with a base of Castile soap (the generic term for soaps not made from animal fats) and combining it with eggs, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and herbs. Belladonna’s and Target carry an 8-ounce bottle of the beloved Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap for $7.99.

An apple cider vinegar rinse will get rid of product build-up and soften hair. One-third cup vinegar mixed with one liter of water can be kept in the shower for regular use. Apple cider vinegar restores your hair’s PH balance (abused by the high alkaline of most hair products) and can also help with dandruff. Or, to go über-Earth friendly (and save money!), try the no-wash method gaining popularity. After six weeks of not washing one’s hair, the natural balance of oils is restored, eliminating the need for shampooing altogether.

Make-Up “Mineral” make-up is quickly becoming an alternative to conventional foundations and powders. There’s no need to shell out money for kits containing abrasive ingredients when the only shells you need are right at home. Grind clean, dry eggshells to make a powder suitable for the face; add your favorite fragrant oil for a body powder. Arrowroot powder (available at EarthFare and Rosewood Market) is also good to set make-up and absorb oil. A smidge of brown iron oxide can be added for color, and micronized titanium oxide will add sunscreen protection. Iron oxide or mica in other colors can be added to create chemical-free eye shadows.

Also, use olive oil and a cotton ball instead of commercial eye makeup removers — your sensitive eye area will thank you.
Sunscreen We all know how important it is to protect our skin from the sun, but how do we avoid incurring other damage from what we slather on to keep sun’s rays at bay? Chemical sunscreens soak into your skin, absorbing some of the UV waves. However, they also tend to involve ingredients you want to avoid, like parabens. The old white-nosed lifeguard standbys, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, sit on the surface of the skin, and are the common ingredients found in natural sunscreens.

Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen ($15, Target) adds hempseed oil to its mix, giving an added boost of antioxidant protection. Shea butter (available at Lamb’s Bread Vegan Café) and sesame oil have a low SPF (around 4), and can be mixed with titanium dioxide for a super-softening and protective sunscreen.

The ingredients in shampoos, make-up, lotions and anything else that touch our porous skin will be absorbed into the body and, unfortunately, the FDA’s regulation of the cosmetic industry is strangely lax. Curious to know just what you’re introducing into your bloodstream? Grab a few bottles from your beauty drawers and head to Save the planet (and your health) one beautiful step at a time. Visit,,, or to find ingredients and recipes mentioned in this article as well as more skin, hair and beauty regimens.

Go Natural - Organic Beautifying Recipes

Natural Shampoo 1 egg 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 cup water or herbal tea A few drops of essential oil of your choice (or none for unscented) Mix together, rub in and rinse out with cold or lukewarm water.

Natural Hairspray 2 to 4 lemons, sliced Water Cover the lemon slices with water in a pan. Simmer for 1 hour, adding water as it evaporates. Cool, then strain. Pour liquid into a spray bottle. Keep in the fridge up to a week.

Natural Lip Balm 1 oz. apricot or almond oil 1 oz. coconut oil 1/4 oz. beeswax 1 tsp honey Natural flavoring oil (vanilla, orange, almond, peppermint, etc.), to taste Melt oils and beeswax in a double boiler (medium heat). Remove from heat and blend in the honey and flavoring with a handheld mixer or whisk. Pour into small jars with screw tops and allow to cool. Keeps for 6 months.

Photos by Jen Ray