Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Opa! of Greece in Saskatoon

Eating out for lunch is a wee bit difficult, because I work in an industrial area, and there aren't very many restaurants close enough to make it there and back in an hour, and even less of them have gluten-free options.

But when my friend asks if I want to make a lunch date, how can I say no?

I had recently eaten at the best GF places in the area, so I did some UrbanSpoon research, and suggested Opa!

The North Industrial location opened recently, within the last month I think. As such, there weren't very many reviews on UrbanSpoon, but they were rated gluten-free friendly, and the company's website had a small, limited gluten-free menu posted.

The lunch hour was crazy busy, with a line all the way back to the door from the moment I walked in until I left to go back to work. When I got to the front of the line, I told the girl that I had a gluten allergy. She immediatly pulled out a gluten-free menu, and I quickly ordered off of that. I also asked if she could make note that it was an allergy, and she enthusiastically nodded and pushed a bunch of buttons.

I ordered a small greek salad, a lamb souvlaki and a chicken souvlaki. Since my friend ordered before me, when she was called up to select what went on her wrap, I followed to watch how they made my food.

The girl at the counter (a different girl from the till) handled my friend's pita, touching the wrap itself with her gloves, and after handing it off, she pulled out a plate and spooned some salad onto it. I was bothered that she didn't change her gloves, but I didn't want to be that person so I didn't say anything, until a piece of lettuce fell off the plate onto the crumby counter and she picked it up with her gloves and put it back on my plate.

I stepped forward. "Is that the greek salad?"


"Could you actually change your gloves?"


"It's an allergy. Could you change your gloves?"

She looked the the slip of paper in front of her that I knew had my order on it and rolled her eyes. "You want me to remake this?" She looked a little indignant, and I felt bad, but I nodded. She tossed the small salad in the garbage, and slowly changed her gloves. Then she went through the same process of spooning out my salad and added two skewers of meat on top.

A couple more things bothered me, but I let them drop.

First of all, she didn't wipe down the counter or use a fresh spoon. Two small things that would make a big difference to me. Second, while spooning out my second salad, she asked her coworker to start making the next pita (since, you know, changing her gloves really put her back...).

So here are my problems with this restaurant... They have a gluten-free menu, and the girl at the till understood and seemed positive about an allergy, so I was hopeful. I thought that if she is knowledgeable and helpful, surely I'll be fine, right? Wrong. The people making the food have clearly not been trained on how to handle an allergy, which I would expect from a restaurant that rates itself as gluten-free friendly on UrbanSpoon.

I mean, sure. It's not 100% gluten-free and I'm taking a risk, and blah blah blah, but a business needs to train their food handlers on how to handle an allergy. What if it was an anaphylactic allergy like garlic or nuts? Would she have taken it seriously? Honestly, I doubt it. And that's a major health concern.

Oh, and I got sick. Yep, changing her gloves wasn't enough. I have my headache, fogginess, stomach pains and all the other wonderful symptoms that go along with accidentally consuming gluten. I'm sad, but I don't think I'll be able to go back to Opa! again.

However, my friend thouroughly enjoyed her pita/wrap thing, and the restaurant was clean, quick and delicious. If you eat gluten-free because of a preference, or if you don't care to eat gluten-free, I would reccomend this place. However, if you have an allergy of any sorts, I wouldn't bother going here. If you absolutely have to, maybe call ahead and ask about their allergy procedures...

Opa! of Greece on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Conversations about Crackers

N: "Hey, do you want some crackers? They're healthy."

J: "Well of course they are. They're not poison."

N: "Oh, Robynne, do you want some?"

R: "No thanks."

J: "Why? Do you think they'll poison you?" (Obviously joking)

R: "Umm, actually they would."

N: "Oh, are you allergic to something?"

R: "Yep."

N: "Is it gluten?"

R: "Yep."

N: "Preference or allergy?" (And immediately got distracted by someone else talking to her for a few seconds.)

J: "Oh, it's a preference, but I bet she says it's an allergy."

Umm... excuse me?

A) You have no place saying that, ever. About anyone. To make an assumption that someone is attention-needy and dramatic is rude, assuming, and officially classifies you as a jerk.

B) You don't know me well enough to make a joke, if that's what you were trying to do.

C) If you did know me better, you would know that I have celiac disease (which is not an allergy) and that people who don't eat gluten out of preference but go around saying it's an allergy are the people that make my life the most difficult.

D) I wish I had a preference. I wish I was turning those crackers down by choice. I wish I had made this decision for myself. I only wish that I had any say in whether or not I eat gluten.

So before you go saying judgmental, rude, assuming statements about somebody, maybe get to know them first.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about the above conversation, it did continue...

R: (After staring at J for a solid few seconds, I regained my composure.) "I have celiac disease."

J: "What?"

R: "I have celiac disease."

J: "What's that?"

R: "It's an auto-immune disorder." (I know I was being unhelpful, I was still a little thrown off, and I figured if someone is going to go around saying that other people call it an allergy, they would at least know what an allergy sounds like.)

N: (Finally able to rejoin the conversation.) "It means she can't eat gluten because her body attacks itself."

And that was pretty much the end of that whole conversation. I was really impressed by N who had knowledge of gluten preference, allergy and celiac disease, without having anyone in her immediate life who is afflicted.

And I was really upset at J. I don't even care if he's ignorant and unaware and the general public needs more education. That was rude.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Home is Where the Heart Is

For the last two weeks, I have been confusedly referring to both my house in Moose Jaw and the place I'm staying in Saskatoon as home.

After a couple of days at "home" in Moose Jaw, I drove "home" to Saskatoon, and was trying to figure out why it's not bothering me that I think of both as home.

Well, home is where the heart is.

So, where is my heart?

Half of my heart is here in Saskatoon, in the big city, filled with people I care about, places I want to go, events I want to attend. I feel at home here, because my heart is here.

But half of my heart is still in Moose Jaw, because my husband is there.

And sure, the house he's still living in feels like home because it's filled with our furniture, boxes of our stuff, and our pets, but mostly it's home because that's where the other half of my heart is.

I'm not going to feel complete until he is here.

I'm not going to feel truly at home anywhere for another two weeks.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Very First Fried Chicken

Have you ever made fried chicken? I hadn't.

I've made baked, "breaded" chicken and I've made cutlets, which is beef or pork breaded and fried, but I had never made friend chicken. Guess that goes to show how far North I must live. ;)

My sister and I (absurdly) married fellows who share a birthday. Since they only just got married, we agreed we had to do something with the four of us, and settled on cooking dinner at their brand new house.

Growing up, my family's birthday tradition was that my mom would make your favourite meal (or whatever you requested) on your birthday. My sister and I tried to get our husbands to name their favourite meal so we could cook that, but neither would. So I suggested mashed potatoes and cutlets, which was probably the most common birthday meal in our family. Everyone agreed, and my sister and I went out to buy the groceries. We found everything except the cutlets... So we bought chicken fillets instead, and called it good.

I breaded the chicken, and as I was setting them in the frying pan, I realized I was making fried chicken. The two guys then thought it completely absurd that I had never made fried chicken, although I've never even had homemade fried chicken.

Anyways, I was really concerned that making it gluten-free would make it less good, but everyone was amazed at how good it was and insisted they couldn't tell.

I used white rice flour, rather than a GF flour blend, and I bought some rice bread crumbs, both of which I doubted.

I followed my mother's instructions on making cutlets. I mixed some seasoning salt into the flour, then coated the raw chicken in that. Then it got a raw egg bath, before being covered in bread crumbs and dumped in the frying pan. My sister got a fancy-dancy fried chicken frying pan for her wedding, which is extra deep and has a screen lid. I had probably an inch of melted margarine in the pan (forgot to pick up olive oil, might try coconut oil next time), and I fried it until it looked done. I warned everyone to cut into the chicken to check for doneness, because I was too afraid of burning it.

This left us with tender chicken meat, covered in crispy breading, which was tasty, moist, perfectly cooked, and paired with mashed potatoes perfectly. Also, something that my fast-food-deprived-mouth was excited to eat (read: reminded me of a lot of restaurant food I haven't been able to enjoy).

Very simple birthday dinner, but something that I enjoyed cooking and will definitely be making again.

Monday, 28 July 2014

My Life, Lately

I'm not going to apologize for not blogging lately, and I'm mostly just here to tell you I can't imagine I'll be blogging much for the next few weeks.

I already told you that we're moving to Saskatoon, but now all the little details are finalized. I start my job two weeks from today, and I'll be staying in a friend's guest room for four weeks, until we move into our new place on September 5th. My husband will be staying at home for those four weeks, and I'll be living out of a couple plastic totes.

I found out a week ago, and I have spent every single day since then packing, cleaning and sorting. With an hour or so of downtime to play The Sims. (The Sims 4 comes out in September, so I have to play lots of The Sims 3 now, right?)

So here's my life, lately:

Packing. So. Much. Packing. I'm trying to pack up as much of the house as I can now so that my husband doesn't have to do it all after I leave. I'm also doing it all alone, because he'll have to do everything else once I'm gone. It's kind of tricky to pack all the stuff that won't be needed in the next month and a half (or rather two months to play it safe - who knows when we'll finish unpacking). Lola (above) loves how all these cardboard boxes are sitting around.

The other tricky thing is packing my clothes. I've sorted through my wardrobe and put everything in one of four piles:

  1. Get rid of. I don't care if it's donate or garbage, but I'm trying to really purge my clothes.
  2. Pack into a cardboard box. If I don't think I'll wear it in the next two months, it's going in a labelled cardboard box, to be opened sometime in September.
  3. Keep out. I still have two weeks of work left here, so I have to make sure to keep some work clothes, some comfy clothes, and some regular clothes out.
  4. Plastic totes. If I'm not going to wear it in two weeks, but will wear it in two months, it goes into a plastic bin to go to Saskatoon with me.
As I'm sure you can imagine, category 3 & 4 got a little tricky later on, so I made it simpler. I decided to wear all of my favourite things during the last nine days of work at my current job. All the weirder stuff (super vintage, a little risque, a little difficult to pull off) needs to be worn before I start a new job and have to figure out a new "dress code". So I went through and pulled out twelve of my favourite/weirdest dresses or skirts. I then put together whole outfits, including tank tops, tights and sweaters, and put one full outfit on a hanger in the closet. When I had twelve of these hangers (nine work days, plus a little wiggle room to allot for mood and weather) I packed all of my other work clothes, including all of my dress pants. This means that for two weeks, I can't wear pants to work! No matter how lazy I feel. Yay!

So what you're looking at a above is a snapshot of my side of the closet, in the terrible lighting that is my house. I know it just looks like a normal closet, but right next to the green dress is a blue dress with a cream-coloured bolero. And the mint dress next to that has a tank top underneath. My closet is so impressive right now, and I feel so organized!

I'm done with all the clothes from my dresser and my closet. I still have some dirty laundry that I need to wash and sort, and I'll have to do laundry the day or so before I leave and pack all these lovely dresses that I have left out.

So... There's my life. I guess I'm finishing that binge of cleaning I started months ago. Although, you know, all of this would be a lot easier if I'd finished purging and cleaning back then. Ugh.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

My 200th Post!

Hey guys! This is my 200th post!

When I started this blog, I thought I'd hit 200 in the first year, but I was being silly when I thought I could blog every day. Well, sort of silly. I did blog every day for a while, and it really helped me in the beginning. Eventually, I stopped needing the daily vent and I stopped having new gluten-free adventures every day.

I've been thinking for a couple of weeks of what to do for my post #200. It seems like kind of a big deal. Maybe I'd make a new recipe? Maybe I'd do a round-up?

Well, I have big news to share instead!

I am moving to Saskatoon! This small town girl is about to live in the big city!

I start a new job up there on August 11th, and my husband will move up when we have a place, which hopefully will be September 1st. Things might get a little weird in the interim, so bear with me.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Why I Love Vintage

There's a quilting store here in town; it's the only place within an hour's drive that sells fabric, so on a whim, I wandered in, hoping to find something to make a dress out of. I chatted with the lady working, an older Polish lady, and told her I wanted to make a dress. She told me she just sold cotton and fleece, things to make blankets with.

I meandered over to the sale rack, and picked up a colourful print. "Could I make a skirt out of this?"

She laughed. "Maybe a poodle skirt."

"Right. Like a 1950's circle skirt?"

Her eyes lit up. I realized she had been joking, and when she realized I wasn't, she just got so excited.

Every time I talk to older women and ask advice on how to do my hair, or genuinely ask about fashion and makeup of forgotten times, their eyes light up. I'm sure they're used to young people snubbing the bygone ways, and they're happy to hear someone is interested in their lost arts.

This. This is one of the reasons I love vintage. I love when the elderly lady tells me all about the day she got her tea towels, and I love learning the perfect way to place a set of hot rollers. I love learning about anything mid-century, and my favourite people to hear it from are the ones who were around.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I bought the fabric. It was half price, and I bought more than I needed for $20.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Street Fairs + Celiacs

Recently, there was a street fair here in town. They shut down one of the main streets, and set up booths, vendors, games and stores all the way down the road. My hubby and I actually ended up going for at least an hour on three different days. He knows a lot of people, and a lot of people wanted to stop and talk to him.

There were probably at least 12 different food booths. When we got hungry on the first day, I told my husband he could eat wherever he wanted, I would surely find something.

I started out at the sushi restaurant. Except that I'm realizing I can't really eat sushi. I used to just get crab rolls, but I found out recently they use imitation crab, and the one package of imitation crap that I could check the ingredients on contained wheat flour. Most of the rolls are various types of tempura, which just plain doesn't work for me, and then anything cooked, like squid, doesn't work because it may be contaminated while cooking. That leaves the salmon rolls, and I'm possibly allergic to salmon (*I've never had enough salmon to determine if I am allergic, but my doctor told me to just avoid it anyways). And all that leaves is veggie rolls. Which are good, I guess, but not filling or satisfying.

On the second day there, I just gave up on sushi, and hunted through the other food booths. The one that is famous for fried chicken was also selling taco in a bag. I asked to see the bag of chips they use, and happily they were zesty cheese Dorritos that also say Gluten-free on the back, so then I asked the fellow what they add to it. The expected sour cream, salsa, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and beef. So I asked about the beef. At that point, the guy asked what I was looking for. I told him wheat or gluten, so he checked the beef, and then asked me if soy protein was okay. Hooray!! I can eat the taco in a bag!!

I then had three tacos in bags over the next two days. I couldn't find anything else that I could eat, besides lemonade, frozen chocolate-dipped bananas, and shaved ice.

The other celiac moment for me was when my husband saw a couple that he knew and took me over to introduce them. The fellow popped a mini donut in his mouth, brushed off his hand, and stuck it out to shake my hand. I apologized, and told him I couldn't shake his hand. I then, of course, had to explain and he was completely flabbergasted that shaking his hand could be a risk for me. But at the moment, I was drinking a smoothie. I kept stirring the drink with the straw, and I explained that if I shook his hand and then touched my straw, I could easily get sick. I felt like such a jerk for not shaking his hand, but I just saw the mini donuts in one hand and freaked out.

I'd like to forget about my celiac, and I'd love to pretend the whole world eats the same food as I do, but events like street fairs remind me how unusual I am, and how difficult my dietary needs are.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Chili's Grill & Bar in Regina

I don't spend a lot of time in Regina, so I don't know it very well. When my husband and I decided to meet my brother and his wife in Regina for a late lunch, I pulled out my phone and did a quick search on Urbanspoon for gluten-free friendly restaurants. Chili's came up, and I am always in the mood for Mexican food (even lame Canadian-ized Mexican food), so I basically insisted we go there.

When we got there, I flipped through the menu, hunting for anything that said anything about gluten-free. On the very last page, I found a note that said "Gluten menu available upon request."

First of all, restaurants really need to work on their phrasing. I don't want a "gluten menu". I want the exact opposite of a "gluten menu". I also don't want "gluten friendly menus" like most restaurants offer. I realize their intent, and I understand that a "gluten friendly menu" will have gluten-free dishes listed, but I would prefer if they called it "Gluten-free friendly" or "Gluten aware" or something that actually suggests there is no gluten.

Anyways... I tracked down a hostess and asked her for a gluten-free menu, and she said "We don't have any." I pointed out the note on the menu and she explained, "Yeah, we used to have them, but our whole menu changed so now we don't." Okay, so you got new menus. I get that. But your new menu says you have a menu for me, but you don't, because you got new menus. Hmmm.

Whatever, I can handle that. The hostess said the waitress would be able to point out some options for me, so I waited for the waitress. When she came, I explained I have a gluten allergy, and asked what I could eat. She said "Well we have corn tortillas available, so basically whatever you want."

Umm, no. Nope. It doesn't work like that. But okay, I'll play your game. My husband wanted an appetizer of chips and salsa, so I asked about that, and she said the chips are corn chips.

"Okay, but are they deep-fried?"


"Are other contaminants deep-fried as well?"

"I don't know."

"Can you check?"

She ran off to the kitchen, although I already knew the answer. I wasn't having any chips. I really just wanted to prove a point, and make her realize how severe my gluten-free-needs are.

When she returned, I asked about the fajitas. She didn't even ask which fajitas, she just told me I could get them with corn tortillas. Well, the chicken on one was marinaded, and on another it was rubbed. Either could contain gluten, so I sent her back to ask again. She came back telling me the marinade was a lime-something-or-rather, so I could have it. I gave up at that point, and ordered those fajitas.

The fajitas were delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I was also really frustrated. In my opinion, that was not a gluten-free-friendly experience, but rather an "I'm sure you can eat something" experience. If they'd actually had a gluten-free friendly menu, I might have had a fine time. As it was, I did enjoy my food, and I didn't get sick, but I just really wasn't impressed with the service.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this place. If you have strict gluten-free needs, find a different restaurant. If you want Mexican food, there's a ton of places that make better Mexican food. If you want to go to Chili's, go to Chili's, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Chili's Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 July 2014

Gluten Free Butter Pecan Cheesecake Truffles

As I said in my last post, I made two desserts for the wedding. I immediately settled on sugar cookies for the first dessert, but the second dessert took a lot of brainstorming. I wanted something that would travel well, be spectacular, unique and gluten-free. I wanted something in small servings, but we already had cookies and tarts. 

After a couple weeks of thinking and searching, I put it off for awhile. Then one of my favourite blogs, EZ Gluten Free, posted a recipe that I thought sounded pretty perfect. The best thing was that I could make it several days ahead. Since I had a lot of things to do the week before the wedding, I made it as early as I could.

The recipe does include a lot of chilling time, and one ingredient did require some hunting down, but the actual work didn't take all that long and I managed to get some other things done will the ingredients were chilling.

Also, seriously, does it get better than Butter Pecan Cheesecake Truffles?

So you really need to click through and read that recipe, but to sum it up for you... You brown some butter and brown sugar on the stove, then mix it with some cream cheese and vanilla. The cream cheese mixture goes in the fridge to chill, and you mix some chopped pecans with some crushed cookies. The very specific gluten-free pecan shortbread cookies were the hardest thing to find, but I did find a pack at the health food store. Also, it's the only ingredient that is explicitly gluten-free. If you don't care about gluten content, just use regular pecan shortbread cookies.

Once the cream cheese stuff is chilled, you scoop up little balls of cream cheese and roll it in the pecan mixture. Once every little ball was rolled, I put them into containers between layers of plastic wrap and froze them for several days. I kept the containers frozen until it was time to leave for the rehearsal dinner. The wedding (and rehearsal dinner) was all in a town two hours from home, so I put the truffles in a cooler until we got there, and then they went back in a freezer. A few minutes before the reception, I pulled out some mini cupcake liners and plopped each truffle in a liner on a table. It took maybe five minutes. Right away, they were frozen solid, but they warmed up pretty quick, and by the time the last one was devoured they were still a little cold.

Overall, these worked perfectly for what I wanted. They didn't take long to make, they kept well, and they travelled just as well. Oh, and they delicious. Everyone who had one told me they were amazing.

Except my sister (the bride). Apparently, she doesn't like cheesecake. I knew that, I guess, and she didn't mind, because there were plenty of other sweets. The groom, on the other hand, told me that I'm going to go visit them and make these. I don't think he even cares if I visit, as long as he gets more of these.