Sunday, June 23, 2013

seattle snacking: a gluten free guide to eating in seattle! (part 2)

Because we are just visiting Seattle, I don't have access to all my gluten free kitchen items. While we have picked up a few basics to have with us on vacation, eating out is just something we can't avoid. I realized a few days into our trip, though, that this didn't have to be a stressful thing to deal with! With some research, planning, and iPhone apps like Find Me Gluten Free, we have found several safe restaurants, bakeries, and snack shops around the Seattle area!

To see the first set of Seattle restaurant reviews, check out the first Seattle Snacking blog entry!

Our week in Seattle has been extremely packed, with airport trips, college reunion, engagement parties, and catching up with people. We've got several friends here, all of them having different tastes in food (and some with allergies and preferences of their own). Friday's challenge was to find a restaurant that catered to Celiacs as well as vegetarians/vegans. A friend of ours suggested a restaurant called Plum Bistro, a completely organic and vegetarian restaurant with some gluten free options. They also had a few corn free options as well, so we didn't have to modify any of the menu items to find something safe for me to eat. Our party included a few vegetarians, several avid meat eaters, and of course, one Celiac. Plum had several options to satisfy all of us, though I did have to walk through the entire menu with the server to find something that was truly gluten free. Some of the options had no gluten ingredients but were cooked alongside other items that weren't necessarily safe. They were incredibly knowledgeable, though, and helpful in letting me know what would be safe for me as opposed to someone who might just be avoiding gluten for other reasons.

I finally settled on the tempeh vermouth, which was absolutely fabulous! The vermouth added a smooth taste to the tempeh, and the olive oil base and kalamata olives paired nicely with the pan-seared mashed potatoes and brocolli. Even the water tasted good, served in canning jars with cucumber and lemon.

Everyone else seemed pleased with their choices as well, and though the food was a bit pricey, it was well worth the visit! I highly recommend this restaurant, especially if you have friends who are vegetarian or vegan.

Saturday was a foodie feast! I spent the day with Victoria, who lives in the U District. Though she doesn't have any food allergies or vegan preferences, she does try to eat whole foods without all the chemicals when she can. She pointed out that a vacation is all about visiting and eating together, and she was adamant that she was going to give me that experience despite my limitations.

We went to lunch at a restaurant called Thrive, which was one of the first completely gluten free and vegan restaurants in the country. They are also 95% organic, 95% raw, and 100% delicious.

As we walked in, all I could think about was the smell of cilantro wafting through the door, as I wondered if I could find something on the menu that might blend that cilantro with cucumber. We walked in, and the kitchen manager (Jorge) pointed at each of us in turn and predicted our orders. We kind of smiled at him and then looked at his suggestions. Mine, the Buddha Bowl, guessed it...cilantro sauce and cucumbers in addition to toasty kale chips, bella burger crumbles, quinoa, and cashew onion sauce. Knowing I had the choice of anything on the menu (ALL gluten free AND corn free!!) was such a liberating feeling, so I looked through the menu before settling on his first suggestion.

I wasn't sorry - it was a fresh blend of warm and cold deliciousness and we both felt that "just-enough-food" fullness when we finished our half bowls. We also had smoothies, of course. I had the Sweet Tart, which was a perfect blend of strawberry and lime juice, while Victoria got a mint+chocolaty paradise called the Oh My Wonka. We were also given complimentary shots of the Nourish (a green smoothie consisting of kale, banana, almond milk, dates, and celery) to finish up the meal.

What a wonderful experience! I am hoping to visit Thrive again before we leave Seattle!

After we left Thrive, we headed toward a bakery Victoria was positively adamant about visiting. Jodee's Desserts, like Thrive, is vegan, organic, and gluten free. We had a great time talking with Jodee and learning her story. She had relatives with food allergies and medical problems. She knew that food additives, overuse of refined sugar, and unhealthy eating had a huge effect on overall health, so she sought to create food that tasted great and was made of healthy ingredients. She attended Living Light Culinary School in Fort Bragg, California, where she learned to create raw, vegan foods and desserts. Eventually she moved back to Seattle (where she originally worked at Thrive!) and then opened up her own bakery.

She had several questions about our time in Japan and we had a great time chatting and talking about personal experiences. What a great company and a great lady! I had a slice of the chocolate peppermint pie, which was light and airy, with a delightful coconutty crust.

We noticed Jodee had bread displayed, and she mentioned that it's made by a local pizzeria. I've been trying to find a gluten free bread that consistently tastes good and can be shipped to us in Japan, and she said she'd look into it, so I'm excited about that possible prospect! Jodee also suggested we stop by the pizzeria to try the bread before spending the money to ship it all the way to us.

Later that afternoon, we visited Razzi's Pizzeria to inquire about the bread. What we got was a meal and a story. Amir Razzaghi was the franchise owner of Romio's Pizza on Greenwood in Seattle. A few years ago, the Romio's chain did a gluten free promotion. The response at the Greenwood location was unprecedented, with a large number of new customers consistently eating at the restaurant. Romio's eventually ended the promotion, much to the chagrin of many of their customers. Amir was unyielding in his desire to continue offering gluten free options, and eventually left the franchise and reopened the restaurant with the name Razzi's Pizzeria. Since then he has continued to expand and perfect his gluten free menu. He offers four different menus, including gluten free and vegan options.

I explained to him that we had talked to Jodee about the bread, and he told us to go sit down and he'd bring some out. Little did we know he had made us fresh breadsticks and pita bread, complete with dipping sauces! All of his gluten free breads are made from organic sorghum, and they are delicious! In fact, it was so delicious that I took Ben back there for a late dinner after our friend's engagement party.

We decided to each get a small pizza so we'd have leftovers for the next day. I got a vegan/gluten free pizza with Italian sorta-sausage and Daiya cheese - it was spectacular and it was nice knowing I could get a pizza that was not only gluten free, but lactose free as well. Ben got a gluten free pizza with Gorgonzola and we split some vegan mozzarella sticks. We were both happy with our choices! When our server asked if we wanted dessert, I remembered Jodee saying that Razzi's used her pies on their dessert menu so I made Ben get a piece so he could taste what I had been talking about all day! His consensus matched mine and it was the first time we felt a little sad that we didn't live in the states.

Overall, we miss Japan immensely already and are excited that we get to visit the states but return to Japan in August. Knowing that we can find restaurants that are healthy and won't make me sick, plus taste great with a nice variety, has already made our summer trip an amazing one!

Friday, June 21, 2013

seattle snacking: a gluten free guide to eating in seattle! (part 1)

Okay, let me just tell you now that this is in no way a complete guide. It's merely a review of some of the restaurants we had the pleasure of visiting while in Seattle.

This is the first time I've been in the states since my Celiac diagnosis and I was very nervous to leave the safe confines of my gluten free kitchen. I did a lot of research prior to our trip and was pleased to see that the Seattle area has a huge variety of gluten free options. Of course, I knew I'd have the added difficulty of finding places that also have corn free items!

Our first stop after leaving SeaTac was Haley's Corner Bakery in Kent. I had emailed Janet, one of the owners, about the possibility of corn free products and she said there were several menu items that would be safe for me to consume. When we went to the store, they had a handy allergen menu. It listed every item on the menu and possible allergens that each item might contain. It was so easy to figure out what I could and couldn't have, and it was a breath of fresh air to know I didn't have to worry about cross contamination since it was a 100% gluten free bakery.

We each had a slice of the deep dish pizza, which was fabulous, and I took home a few burger buns. I later used these to make some delicious sandwiches with other ingredients from Whole Foods! I recommend that if you get the buns, you use them within 24 hours of your purchase. The first one tasted great, but the second one was more dry and crumbly.

Our second restaurant experience was an Asian restaurant in downtown Seattle: Wild Ginger. I had read a few reviews on this restaurant and had heard they had a great selection of gluten free options. I didn't call ahead, figuring that an Asian restaurant probably wouldn't use corn in every dish. That's what I get for assuming, I guess...

Apparently all of their gluten free dishes are made with corn oil, which is used to velvet the chicken. Our server was extremely knowledgeable and accommodating, though, and she checked with the chef to see if something could be worked out. We had been prepared to find another restaurant, but they worked to modify the item I wanted so it was safe to eat. I ordered the pad thai - they used a different oil and left the chicken "nude" (in her words). She had warned it might not taste as flavorful, but said they would do everything possible to make it a safe meal.

She brought it out and it smelled divine. It tasted even better - I was expecting a meal that wasn't up to par compared to what my non-gluten free companions had ordered, but it was spectacular! My modified gluten free/corn free pad thai was the essence of perfection and we could not have been happier with our experience at Wild Ginger!

Our third restaurant (keep in mind that most of these were not in the same day!!) was the Old Spaghetti Factory. Anyone who has known me for almost any duration of time knows that this is one of my absolute favorite restaurants ever. When I found out several months ago that they had gluten free items, I was so excited! Then, came the corn allergy. Their gluten free noodles are, of course, made of corn. I went to the location in Lynnwood, because that specific restaurant had the best reviews concerning accommodations and cross contamination. Figuring the answer would be a resounding "no," but knowing it wouldn't hurt to ask, I spoke to a manager and let him know my situation. I had found some gluten free/corn free noodles at Whole Foods and asked if it were possible to have the chefs cook those noodles with their sauce so I could eat there. The manager I spoke with made it sound like it was impossible and he couldn't believe I was even asking. After checking with the general manager, he begrudgingly said that the general manager had said it'd be no problem, but said that our wait time would be longer so I'd have to come in during a time that wasn't busy. I was ecstatic that the general manager had said we could do it, and was perfectly fine going in at a time they weren't typically busy!

We called ahead to let them know when we'd be coming in, and planned our dinner for 8:00 on Thursday. The last thing I wanted to do was stress out the cooks, so we planned a time that we figured the restaurant would be at its slowest. Our server was awesome and made sure to wash her hands before touching my plate (and to-go-box). The food was delicious as always, and it was such a relief to know that I could eat at my favorite restaurant without getting sick. For those who are gluten free, there are a few salad dressings, menu options, and desserts to choose from. For those who also have corn allergies, you can safely order the balsamic vinegarette dressing (with no croutons, obviously), but no spumoni. May was happy to claim mine, though, and we had a wonderful time!

Click here for Part Two of the Seattle Snacking series!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

sleepless in seattle

We've arrived! I know this blog post has the cliche Seattle title, but jet lag makes your brain fuzzy and I haven't slept much over the last few days!

Our trip to Seattle, overall, was great compared to our travel to Japan two years ago!

We decided that it would be easier to take the Patriot (military flight) directly from our base to Seattle rather than flying commercially, which would mean a flight to Tokyo, a change in airports, and then a 14 hour flight to the states. This way, we only had a 10 hour flight, plus 4 hours in the muggy (non-air-conditioned) flight terminal. Way better than 28 hours non-stop, like last time!

The plane ride only moderately comfortable, but better than was expected. We entertained ourselves with iPad games and the in-flight movies (which consisted of The Matrix and National Lampoon's  Vacation...random much?)

Landing in Seattle was more arduous than expected, though. We didn't feel much of the expected culture shock when we arrived in Japan, but we definitely felt it coming back.

The chaos and disorganization going through customs were overwhelming. After grabbing our luggage from 4 different carousels, we made it down to the rental car terminal and made our way to the nearest grocery store with a Starbucks to use wi-fi.

Driving on the right side again (and actually having traffic lanes to drive through) was crazy! And then we arrived. Just a random Safeway, but we both stopped for a full thirty seconds in the entrance. Bombarded with a florist, banking services, a Starbucks kiosk, a movie store, and a bakery before even entering the grocery section reminded us we were not in Kansas Japan any longer! No more small markets for us! The Wal Mart was even crazier. It's amazing how two years can change your perspective so much, with things any American completely takes for granted. I can only imagine how it must feel for a foreigner to come to America for the first time.

We got ourselves set up with a T-Mobile hotspot so we could use our Japanese phones, and headed back to the airport. We had found out a week earlier that my bestie, May, was flying back from South Africa only hours after we arrived! It was a loud and celebratory reunion and it was great to know we were both back on American soil together.

We then headed to a 100% gluten free bakery I had researched (Haley's Corner Bakery - see the review here if you're interested!) and had our first American meal: deep dish pizza. It was delicious! We then made our way up to Everett to find Bethel's house.

Long day, but we're so excited to be here in Seattle!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

arashi no ato

When we moved to Japan, I fell in love. I fell head over heels for the land, for the people, and for the culture. We moved here in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and saw first-hand the devastation that each had caused. As we got settled, we became friends with several Japanese locals, many of whom had lost friends and family during the tsunami. We saw the debris on the beaches, heard stories from those who were there, and watched video of the earthquake, tsunami, and the aftermath. We watched documentaries about the kindness and persevering spirit demonstrated by the people during and after, and once we moved here we saw and experienced it for ourselves.

I decided that I wanted my next tattoo to be something that symbolized the enduring spirit of the Japanese. When spring came and the sakura bloomed, it was perfect: these beautiful and iconic blossoms blooming after the long, cold winter marked a symbol of new life. I also wanted kanji, but could not decide for the life of me what I wanted it to say. It had to be meaningful, but I wasn't quite sure what words could sum up what I was feeling.

Meanwhile, Celiac happened. I gradually started feeling more and more sick all the time. There was no relief from the pain and nausea. After countless family doctor appointments and ER visits with negative results, nobody could give me a clear response as to what was wrong. I got to the point where I felt like I'd never feel well again.

After I went gluten free, I slowly started to feel better. When the reactions came, though, they were exponentially worse and lasted longer. One bite of something with gluten would give me physical and neurological symptoms that lasted weeks, and sometimes even months. Finally, around November, things were getting manageable. We had settled into a routine and things started to feel like they were becoming more...normal. Then the corn allergy manifested itself and it felt like the whole cycle was starting again. Panic attacks and depression seemed to be the norm, which was fitting with the long and constant winter. More than 20 feet of snow, and the storm felt like it would never be over.

I know you're probably thinking, all this because of gluten? All I can say is, until you've dealt with an auto-immune disease, you can't know the ramifications.

My faith was tested, my friendships were tested, and I felt like things would never get better. I was doing everything I could, and still it was not improving.

It was a time of helplessness for both of us. I felt helpless because I felt like nothing I did was helping. I felt so out of control. I felt like I was giving all I had to no avail. Ben felt helpless because he couldn't do much to help, as much as he wanted to. We both had to work and interact as if nothing was wrong, and it was completely exhausting.

During this rough time, Ben and I gathered up verses: verses about suffering and verses about healing. I started the 1,000 gifts project to look for joy in the little things. I played music that spoke to my soul. And these small things kept that little glimmer of light in an otherwise dark time.

One of the songs was After the Storm by Mumford and Sons. I've loved them from the first moment I heard them, ironically, in a tattoo shop in Reno years ago. One night, after a particularly long and draining panic attack, the song came on and it just...spoke to me. I'll admit I sobbed. I listened to it again, sobbed some more, and then made Ben listen to it with me. Over and over again. That same night, I was flipping through random verses and Isaiah 25:8 popped up. It, along with Revelation 21:4, also in my group of gathered verses, spoke the same ideas as the song. That night, I felt a peace I hadn't felt in a long time.

From that moment on, after the storm became my mantra. During rough days, I'd listen to the song and go through the verses. I repeated them to myself. Eventually, I started believing them. This was a passing storm and things would eventually be better.

It's been a few months since then. Spring finally sprang and so did I. I know I already posted a little bit about this in some of my 1,000 gifts posts, but I finally feel like I'm becoming myself again. I feel more happiness than depression.

I haven't had a panic attack in three weeks, which is the longest stretch I've had in over a year. I still have symptoms that will take time to heal (if they ever do) but I'm learning to be okay with that. I am making plans for the future, where before, I was hesitant to do so, knowing I'd probably have to cancel them because of not feeling well. I began taking photography clients again, and am actively planning excursions for our upcoming trip to the states. I have begun to see some good that has come out of having this disease, and have found and bonded with other people who have it as well. I feel like the storm is finally beginning to subside.

That long night, months ago, I found hope and meaning once again. I also found the kanji I had been trying to put my finger on for two years, a phrase that sums up the triumphant spirit of the Japanese after the tsunami as well as my own personal overcoming of the darkest period of my life...

嵐の後, arashi no ato, after the storm

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Today, our base Taiko team came to perform. Some of our students (including one in my class) have been practicing with them to learn a few songs to perform in front of the school. After this, the Taiko team performed some of their favorite challenging songs.

Taiko (太鼓) means "wide drum" in Japanese. The art of Taiko originated as a form of spiritual worship, and it is now used in festivals and even movies. It is very rare that Americans are able to perform with professional Taiko, because the traditional Taiko forbade foreigners from participating. The Dragon-Eagle Taiko Team, coached by Kazuko Igarashi, is Misawa’s Taiko team and is one of the few American teams to have ever performed with Japanese professional Taiko. 

Here is one of the songs they performed:

thankful thursdays - ink and karaoke

I'm finally getting the tattoo I've been planning for more than a year (more on that later), and we went to Hirosaki to do a patch test to make sure I'm not allergic to the ink. The town is beautiful and we can't wait to go back next week for the real thing!

93. A successful prick test that means Celiac won't stop me from getting my tattoo!

94. Puppy haircuts!

95.1 Celebrating our birthdays...

95.2 ...with some awesome friends! We had so much fun that we were still singing and dancing all the way to the parking lot...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

shoutout to a great company

Last week, Ben found a bag of organic chocolate covered apricots at the BX and was excited because it said gluten free in big letters on the front. He enthusiastically brought it to me because it's such a rarity to find something packaged here that won't make me sick! When I looked at the fine (and when I say fine I mean fine because it was tiny) print, I noticed that it said the product was packaged in a plant that also processes wheat and it may contain traces.


What about regulations? Silly me, but if a product says gluten free, I expect it to be gluten free. A product that might contain traces of wheat is NOT gluten free.

Unfortunately, this is a normal thing we celiacs have to deal with...checking and rechecking and triple checking packaging and websites, because you just never know. It stinks. But, I'm used to it so I put the bag back on the shelf and moved on without thinking about it again.

Ben, not so much. (This is the part of the story that warms my heart!) A few hours after we got home, he was furiously typing away on his computer. I asked him what he was so impassioned about and he said he was writing a letter. He was so upset to have gotten my hopes up, only to have them dashed, that he wrote a letter to the company. I will include the letter at the bottom of the post, but for anyone who doesn't want to read it, it basically shared our disappointment that the bag was clearly labeled gluten free but wasn't, in actuality.

Some of you may not understand the big deal. For those fad diet people, the words gluten free on a product mean that the product matches their want to eat foods not made up of wheat or other gluten-containing ingredients. For those of us who actually have Celiac Disease, though, this isn't good enough. That tiny speck of something is enough to make a Celiac seriously sick. In fact, it only takes 1/64 of a teaspoon (that's .08 of a ml) to cause intestinal damage.

He sent the letter to the contact email address on their website, hoping to spread some awareness but not really expecting to get a response.

Within an hour, we had a reply from the president of the company. He thanked us, admitted there was an problem, and explained that it had been a packaging issue. There was an error on the bag, and their product was only processed in a dedicated gluten free facility. They had already addressed the issue and the new packaging reflects that. The product we had seen used the old packaging.

We responded back again, thanking him for his response and explanation.

What a refreshing incident to have happened! That is good business practice - to have admitted something wasn't right and to have been so on the ball to have already fixed it. Not only did we go back to the BX and purchase the product (the apricots were delicious), but I want to make sure to spread the word of a great company!

Ben's letter:

Mr. Herzog,

I was very excited to see your product proudly displayed on an end-cap at our Base Exchange here in Misawa, Japan.  Not only did it look delicious, but in clear labeling on the front it said "GLUTEN FREE".  I checked the back and was even more excited that the ingredients were clearly labeled and most (if not all) were organic or non-gmo.  I brought the bag of chocolate apricots over to my wife, who is diagnosed with Celiac disease, and her excitement matched mine.

That is until we read the 'fine print' below the ingredients.  I did not purchase the product or take a picture of the ingredients, so I'm para-phrasing here, but it read something along the lines of: "May contain trace amounts of soy, wheat, nuts etc.".

I understand that for many people being gluten free is a dietary choice.  Unfortunately, for my wife, it is not a choice.  If we had not carefully read the back of your product and she had subsequently consumed it, even if it only contained trace amounts of gluten, that may have been enough to make her ill for several, days, weeks, perhaps over a month.  She may have had to miss work, possibly even visit the emergency room.  I sincerely hope that your poor product labeling is due to a lack of understanding about what 'gluten free' truly means, especially those with gluten sensitivities or Celiac disease.  

I hope that this oversight can be corrected.  Whether you change the labeling on your product so that it won't lead people to believe that it is completely wheat (gluten) free, or change your manufacturing process so that the product will no longer possibly contain wheat.

I look forward to your response, and hope that in the future we can even purchase your product.

          Ben F.

The company's response:

Dear Ben,
Thank you for your message and for your very valid comments on the way this is presented on that packaging.
We clearly made an error on that package, which was subsequently corrected and the new packaging does no longer state that the product was produced in a facility where wheat is processed - which it is not.
Your wife could eat this product without a problem. These chocolate item contain no trace amounts of wheat (apart from the chocolate coated pretzels).
Our sincerely apologies for this serious oversight.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

stocks and seagulls

One of our favorite places to visit and revisit in Japan is about an hour from where we live. The Tanesashi (tanesashi meaning a variety of species) Coastline is reminiscent of the Oregon/Northern California coastal areas. Cliffs and white sandy beaches, with multiple islets, make this a place we visit when we are feeling homesick. It reminds us so much of home that we feel a little less further away. Plus, it's beautiful and a great area to explore. Lush and green, this coastline features more than 700 different species of plantlife.

One of the great spots in the Tanesashi area is Kabushima Shrine. The shrine at Kabushima (which literally means shares island or stocks island) was built to honor Benzaiten, who is known to be the goddess of monetary and financial success. Most people, though, refer to it as Seagull Island. During the fall and winter, the reason for this may not be obvious, but once March comes, so do the umineko: black-tailed seagulls.

At any given time, there will be thousands of seagulls resting on or flying around the small islands in the Kabushima area. In the spring and early summer, nanohana (rapeseed/canola) cover the hill in bright yellow, making it a beautiful place to visit. But also covering the hill are seagulls. More than 30,000 gulls gather here between February and June each year. For this reason, complementary umbrellas are kept at the bottom for guest usage. It's said to be good luck if your umbrella receives a...well, let's just call it a present...while you are visiting the shrine. We tend to visit this place any time except the spring, because neither of us like seagulls, especially when they flock like this (too much like a Hitchcock movie!!) but the weather was perfect this week so we stopped by on the way to the coastline.

Another great spot along the Tanesashi Coast is the Ashigezaki Overlook. The stone circle begins one of the Tanesahi walkways down to the beach, and has fabulous views of the ocean and all the rocks, cliffs, and islets near the coast. Down the pathways are beautiful, white beaches! In any season, this is a beautiful and serene place to visit.

To get to Kabushima from Misawa:
  • Take the toll road to Hachinohe. 
  • Turn right onto route 45
  • At the traffic light at the bottom of the hill (at the overpass) turn left. You will see signs for the port/harbor
  • Follow the road (in the left lane) and stay left at the fork
  • Go straight through the tunnel and over the overpass, and then turn right at the stop light. Look for signs for Kabushima
  • Follow this road for a few km, and then you will cross a bridge and come to a T intersection. Turn left at the intersection
  • Turn right at the first light, and then follow this road to the right. Turn right on the last road and then left at the end of the block. You will see the port and the Torii Gate, along with a small parking lot.