August 31, 2008

Anybody want some yam fries?

I love yams. They're absolutely yamtastic. To be honest, I'm a bit of a yamaholic myself, for real, I truly yam. But seriously, I've loved yams ever since I moved to China, to a little city called Dalian (little by Chinese standards, at a little over 5 million people). Around the medical university at which I lived, there were people who sold baked yams off of carts. The carts held one or two steel drums in which the yams would be cooked. Their heat source were piles of glowing hot charcoal bricks (that could be purchased from other fellow street vendors). The vendors themselves were often dressed in layers of dark clothing, darkened even more by soot. Their gloves were fingerless and they always greeted you with a smile.

There was nothing like walking down to the yam man (or yam woman) and being handed a piping hot, charcoal crusted root on a cold winter morning. The first quarter inch or so would be charred, but when you broke them open, you would see caramelized layers surrounding a deep orange core. And the smell was awesome! My hands would always get dark and sooty from handling the skin, but it was all part of the experience.

Back in Australia (a couple weeks ago) I schooled some Aussies on baking yams in beach fires. I bought a handful of yams, wrapped them in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and threw them into the blazing fire. Some of the people around the fire shot me inquisitive glances, beers in their hands, others asked me what I threw in. I told them they'd find out later, and when the time came, I pulled out the blackened yam coals with a stick and set them in the sand to cool. After about 40 minutes I handed out yams to those willing to dig in, and told them tales of charcoaled yams on Chinese street corners. Everybody in the yam feast remained quiet until they were finished eating. That's how into the yams they were.

I've recently learned that someone close to me shares my love affair with the mighty yam as well. My very good friend Dana loves yams (almost as much as me), as well as peanut butter, almonds and yogurt (all of which are in bulk supply at her place). Dana came over one day, with a big smile on her face, and with a sack of yams, proclaiming that she was going to make some yam fries, and that I'd better start getting excited. I did too! Not because she told me too, but because I'm yam-junky. And I had never made yam fries! The way Dana makes them is to cut them up into little wedges, place them on a baking sheet lined with heavy duty aluminum foil, brush them with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle them with garlic, salt and pepper. Then you just bake them at 400 degrees F. for 20-30 minutes. In that amount of time they come out cooked, but flexible. Another 10-15 minutes more and they become crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. But all ovens are different, so keep an eye on them while they are cooking so as no to burn them.

You can make all kinds of yam fries. I experimented and used butter and cinnamon-sugar. YUM! You can also throw some cheese on them, oregano and oil, or any combination your imagination can muster. Alright, I think I'm done praising yams. I talked about the nutritional benefits of yams in a previous blog on making Sweet Potato Bake (aka yam-bake), in case you missed it.

August 29, 2008

Gluten Free Flights

Before I begin posting new recipes, I want to talk a little about how difficult it can be for a person with celiac disease to catch a good meal while traveling by air. On my trip back from Australia, I first tried to catch a meal at the Cairns airport. The only places to get a meal was a coffee stand (with nothing but gluten filled baked goods), and a store dedicated to selling Australian food products. For around $15, I purchased a meal consisting of camembert cheese, a dry and crumbly GF triple chocolate fudge cookie, and a Pasteli sesame and almond bar. Not exactly the breakfast I was hoping for, but it was a quick fix.

On the flight to New Zealand, no GF meal option was offered, so I ended up choosing the "fish cake" meal. I gave the fish cake to one of my friends and ate the rice and veggie side dishes. Once again, not exactly a great meal.
On the second leg of my journey I found myself stuck in the Auckland, New Zealand airport for a 13 hour layover. After passing out on a bench for 6 hours I awoke famished. My two options were Burger King and another Coffee Stand. Fortunately the Coffee Stand had slices of GF Orange Cake, so I ordered one with a steaming cup of cappuccino. However, a slice of cake does not a real meal make, so my only choice for something of substance was to order a burger from the King. I ordered a Whopper Jr. with cheese and no bun, and received the usual look of confusion at my request. But I'm used to it now.
On the flight to Los Angeles, California, Air New Zealand offered a GF meal option, for which I was very grateful. The meal came with baked chicken, veggies and potatoes, a GF bun (not so great), and a fruit/nut bar. I enjoyed my meal and passed out feeling full and satisfied.
On the last leg of the journey, from L.A. to JFK Airport in NYC, not only was there no GF meals available, but since it was United Airlines we had to pay for any food we received. Knowing my predicament, my two friends suggested that we all order different "snack packs" and then divide the foodstuffs up so that we could all eat. One of my friends is vegetarian. That arrangement worked out good and we were all able to fill up reasonably well. That "meal" consisted of cheese, potato chips, hummus, raisins, and two almond bars.

I think it will always be a little more difficult for people with food allergies/restrictions to travel via air and eat well, but hopefully U.S. airlines will soon follow the example of many foreign carriers and offer gluten free as well as vegetarian options. But I won't hold my breath.

August 23, 2008

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island has been my favorite place to explore thus far. The island itself is part of the Great Barrier Reef, so snorkeling and diving is amazing! There are also tons of secluded bays and beaches to explore, boulders to climb around, and native wildlife (like Koalas, Parrots and Wallabies) to come into contact with. I saw two wallabies, a sting ray, puffer fish, parrot fish, and a slew of birds including Kookaburras, parakeets and rainbow colored parrots. Snorkeling around the reef, away from all the tourist locations was just the experience I was after. It was just two of my friends and I diving into the depths to swim among schools of fish, swaying anemones, jellyfish and crabs (and probably sharks lurking nearby). All you could hear, besides the crash of waves above, was the crackling of the parrot fish feeding on coral.

The hostel we stayed at doubled as a koala refuge, so the animals in the area were more than friendly. One day, during a feeding frenzy, a group of parrots landed on me and proceeded to scream in my ears. I liked them, we made friends, but boy were they loud!! At night, bush possums would descend from the trees like soldiers rappelling into a drop zone. They were running around, wrestling, and causing mischief throughout the camp. There was one with a missing eye that charged my friend Keegan, giving him a bit of a shock. I thought it was pretty funny!
Everywhere you go in Australia, there are outdoor barbeque grills free for use in public areas. All you have to do is push a button until a green light comes on, and an automatic cooking cycle begins. I would use the grills to heat up leftovers, cook burgers, or anything else I had during my travels. On one particular night I decided to cook some fish on the bar-b. We picked up some fresh perch fillets, gave them a generous coating of garlic powder, cajun seasoning, sea salt and black pepper. I spread a couple pats of butter on top, added thinly sliced lemons, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Then I just wrapped it up on tin foil and let it bake. In less than a half an hour I had baked fish to contribute to our gypsy caravan supper. Those we were with pitched in fruit, drinks, cheese and chocolate, and we all ate together in front of the ocean listening to music out of a 1980s boombox. Classic!
I arrived back in Cairns yesterday morning and found a place called "Eating @ the edge" that served GF French Toast!! I couldn't believe my luck. When the plate came out I was in awe. I was charged $2.50 extra for the GF bread, but it was totally worth it! The heaping stack was covered in fresh berries, spiced yogurt, and topped with just-picked mint leaves. I rounded the meal out with a Cafe Latte. It was a delicious start of a beautiful day:) A day spent swimming and jumping off of cliffs with friends.
I leave Cairns tonight to head back to Philadelphia. I'm a little sad, but happy to go back to my great life. Plus I really miss my partner Mindy. The whole time I was here, I wished that she and my brother were at my side. Oh well, there will always be the opportunity to do this trip again:) The next big trip will be in November when I go to Puerto Rico to present research I conducted in China. I'll be sure to post what gluten free goodies I find to eat there. In the meantime, I'll be happy to have my kitchen again. It's been a while since I've been able to cook a well-rounded GF meal, and I'm particularly looking forward to making some cookies!!!

August 21, 2008

A Few Lazy Days at Mission Beach

Even though, in general, Australians are more keen to the realities of celiac disease, I'm often relegated to the salad menu when dining out. Fortunately for me, the salad menus have been awesome! We were getting close to Mission Beach when we came upon an isolated little gem named the Mint Cafe. It was decorated in light greens, and had catchy beat-laced world trance music pumping out of little hidden speakers. The server was aware of gluten problems and let me know exactly what I had to choose from. I decided on the salmon salad, and I'm glad I did because it tasted amazing! It was huge too. I can't wait to recreate this one for my friends:)

The salad basically breaks down to this:
  • Mixed Greens/Spinach
  • Capers
  • Avacado Slices
  • Smoked Salmon Slices
  • Spanish Onions (thin Sliced and halfed)
  • Tomatoes (wedges)
  • Italian Vinaigrette Dressing
That's it. That's all it is, but it's awesome!!

After we filled our stomachs, we ventured into town, exited the vehicle, and proceeded to sniff out some live music. We ended up wandering through a small maze of mom and pop shops until the echoing music led us to a little pub facing the beach. A lone guitarist/song-writer sat on a little wooden chair, with his amp (aka bear holder) to his right, and the blissfully inebriated owner playing spoons to his left. I'm pretty sure Dennis and I were the only non-Australians in the place, and that everyone there knew each other well. He was a great musician, played a huge variety of songs, and much to our touristy-gleeful delight, he even played Men at Work's "Land Down Under!" And of course, Dennis and I were the only ones clapping afterwards. When we realized it, we tried to fade the clapping out smoothly, but the gig was up. Awkward... Still, it ended up being a great night, and we closed the place down with the locals.

Mission Beach is seriously chill. Everybody seem slightly sedated. I thought about living there, on a little house on the beach, owning a bed and breakfast or a hostel, and just living a relaxed, tropical life. Sigh... Who knows where life will take us.
Next stop, Magnetic Island

August 17, 2008

A Day in Mossman, Australia

There's not much to Mossman, except a few cafes, a skatepark, and a beautiful state park.  I ended up staying in a place called the White Cockatiel for a night, a place known for its transformation into a "nudist" retreat from October to May.  Mossman gorge is beautiful, speckled with unbelievable swimming holes, and lined with boulders worn round by countless flash floods.  I spent a few hours gleefully jumping from rocks and diving into the crystalline water.  It was cold, refreshing, and all around a perfect place to swim.

However, before I ventured into Mossman Gorge National Park, I stopped at a little cafe on the edge of town called "Tobys Estate."  I think Toby's is a chain, but I can't be sure. What I am sure about, is that they have the best Cappuccino and breakfast plates.  I ordered an Omelette with spinach, goats cheese (very soft and creamy), cherry tomatoes and Spanish Onions.  It was perfect!  I've been taking a lot of notes while eating around Australia.  There have been a lot of unique taste combinations that I'm looking forward to bringing back with me.  Next stop, Mission Beach!

August 15, 2008

Living Gluten Free On The Beach

If you look closely, you can see my friend Will clinging to the trunk of the coconut tree.  Using a simple rope and skills he acquired through months of practice, Will cut down a cluster of coconuts for us to eat with our lunch. The coconuts were ripe and full of milk.  Delicious! Coconuts are a bit challenging to get into, but with a sharp hatchet and a little patience, the procedure gets easier and easier.

We met Will and his partner Sheila (who also has celiac disease) at the Cairns Skatepark.  They are both from Arizona and have been traveling around eastern Australia in a mini bus for nearly six months.  They plan on staying another six months before returning to the states.  Although theirs is a no-frills experience, I understand the allure of what they are doing.  

Traveling around and sleeping on beaches is fun, but is also a bit challenging for  us with gluten sensitivities.  
What I've been sustaining on is a mixture of fruit, nuts, protein bars, and whatever we cook over the fire. In addition I carry around rice/corn cakes and 
one jar each of jam, Nutella, and peanut butter.  Will and Sheila made burgers with cheddar cheese and fresh avacado one night.  I used my skateboard and a sheet of aluminum foil as my "skateplate" and sat on the beach under a nearly full moon.  It was pretty amazing! 

Right now I am at the Cape Tribulation Beach House.  We had to cross a river ferry to get here, and I'm not kidding you, it was like going into Jurassic Park!  Just this morning I watched a four foot Goana (Monitor Lizard) ramble by me as I was eating my morning meal of rice porridge and Nutella covered rice cakes.  It moved too quick to get a pic, but it was cool nonetheless!  Last night a few friends and I were treated to a fancy meal at one of the local cafes, and the whole time we were there, we watched "flying foxes" flying overhead, and listened to their loud screeches.  It was pretty wild!  Flying foxes are like dogs with wings, no joking.  They only eat fruit, but are still intimidating to me.  Flying foxes are everywhere up here.  You can find them hanging upside down in the trees during the day, chatting away and bombing unsuspecting tourists with guano:)

August 12, 2008

Roasted Root and Bacon Salad

If you ever get a chance to go to Cairns Australia, I highly suggest going to a little place called FUSION ORGANICS.  It's a stylish little cafe that specializes in serving people with food allergies. Them menu is color coded with little hearts, so that you can easily pick out the foods that are safe for you. When I walked in, I was struck by the wide variety of gluten free baked goods available. It was awesome.  I wanted to order one of everything, but since things tend to be on the expensive side, I settled for two dishes.

The first dish I ordered was called "Roasted Root and Bacon Salad." It was absolutely delicious!  I dissected it and think I know how to recreate it when I get home. 

  • Leafy Greens
  • Roasted Red Peppers
  • Roasted Onions
  • Roasted Sweet Potato Chunks
  • Roasted Zucchini 
  • Crisp Bacon Pieces 
  • Honey mustard dressing

It looked as if all the vegetables had been cooked before hand, and then either roasted or stir
 fried before mixing together with the bacon and fresh leafy greens (Kale and Wild Lettuce), and tossed with honey mustard dressing.  This salad is awesome! You've got to try and make this one:)

For desert I ordered a slice of Pumpkin Pie Cheese Cake.  Even though it was gluten free, the pie crust was amazing. It was moist and crumbly, just the way I like it.  Today I plan on going back and testing more of their fare.  I'll dissect what I eat again so that I can make it back home.

Tonight my friends and I are heading from Cairns to a little beach campground just north of here.  We plan on gathering wood, having a bonfire on the beach, setting up tents and camping on the sand.  Sleeping to the sounds of crashing waves is amazing!  The next morning we'll be heading north to Port Douglass and a place called Mossman to explore the Daintree National Park.  I'll document what GF goodies I find up there!  I'll be back.

August 11, 2008

Australian Bush Tucker

So here I am in Australia.  I arrived four days ago in Cairns, after a grueling triple connection flight.  It took a few days for the jet lag to wear off, and I'm just beginning to feel like myself again.  It is absolutely beautiful here!  As an undergraduate student, studying psychology, I went on exchange to Newcastle University (about 2 1/2 hours drive north of Sydney).  It was the first overseas foreign country that I'd ever gone to, and had been a dream of mine since I could remember.  My life has not been the same since.  I am now a complete travel junky, and get a little depressed if too much time goes by without international exploration.  My partner Mindy was bitten by the same bug, so we end up satiating our travel hunger together.  It's a good arrangement:)

Since I've been here I've had a pretty easy time eating gluten free. Wherever you go in Queensland Australia, you're bound to run into a Woolworths, or a Coles, and they both stock GF goods.  Woolworths and Coles are the Australian equivalents to Wegmans, Price Chopper, Genuardis, Acme, etc.  What's cool about Australia, is that there is a Gluten Free section in all of their major grocery supermarkets.  They pretty much got all you need, like GF flou
rs, bread mixes, pastas, sauces and the like.  To get a loaf of bread, you need to see the bakery people and ask them to fetch you a loaf from the freezer.  Unfortunately, GF bread in Australia is much like what we have at home; small, hard and dense.

You're also likely to come across random stands or shops in outdoor markets that cater to people with food allergies.  The second day I was here I found a place that had Gluten Free Meat Pies. You can get all kinds of pies, from vegan to seafood to kangaroo, and if you opt for a "floater," your pie will be served to you upside do
wn in a bowl of split pea soup.  Meat pie stands are totally an Australian thing, kind of like our hotdog stands.  Although I ate it cold, it wasn't that bad (although it wasn't that good either).   

I had met a bloke in the airport in New Zealand who was also headed to Cairns. We chatted up a bit, and I gave him the book I had just finished reading called "Choke" by Chuck Palahniuk.  It was a book given to me by my good friend Dana.  She's been trying to get me to read stuff from that author for a while now.  It was very twisted and raw, making a great read in my opinion.  But I digress... The New Zealand guy ended up picking me up from my hostel and taking me on a tour of the local swim spots.  There were signs warning of Crocodiles all over the place, but the swimming holes were beautiful.  I was diving off of rock banks into crystal clear water, shaded by rainforest canopy, and surrounded by the calls of parrots and cockatiels.  Being that we were partially shaded, I underestimated the strength of the sun and got a bit burned.  My friend told me th
at in Australia they have a saying that goes, "slop, slip, and slap it on mate." Which means, Slop on some sunblock, Slip on a long sleeve shirt, and Slap on your visor or cap.  The sun here is serious!

After swimming we arrived in a little town that processes sugar cane and got a bite to eat at the local Pie Shop.  They didn't have any gluten free pies, but made a killer sandwich with egg salad, roast beef, beet slices, cheese, onion, cucumbers, and Italian

 dressing.  It was completely healthy and filling.  Queensland is also littered with roadside fruit and produce stands, so being celiac is not really a problem.  

Cairns is nice, and it has a sweet skatepark full of friendly people from all over the world, but we are feeling like it's time to move on. Before we go I'm going to check out a place called Fusion Cafe, that according to the Lonely Planet Travel Guide, is the best cafe in Cairns, and is also the best place for people with food allergies. As soon as I find it, I'll be writing about it.  Well, enough work for the day, I hear the waves calling me. 

August 3, 2008

German Apple Pancakes

My partner's sister and brother-in-law are in town visiting with their two kids, Grace and Mark.  We've been spending a lot of quality time playing tour-guides throughout Philadelphia over the last few days.  We've visited Reading Terminal Market, ran up the Art Museum stairs (complete with hummed "Rocky" theme), wandered around Love Park, cooled off our feet in the city fountains, spent a day on the Jersey shore boogie boarding, and spent a lazy afternoon rafting down the Brandywine.  It's been a lot of fun! On top of all that, we've been eating really well!

The following recipe is featured on the cover of this month's Cooking Light Magazine.  Mindy's sister, Melanie, has an egg-allergy, so this recipe was a perfect fit. I used Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Biscuit and Baking Mix for the pancake batter, but next time I'm going to make it easier for myself and just use an already packaged GF pancake mix.  Being that this was the first time I made this, there are a few things I'll do differently next time.  First, I'll slice the apples thinner. Second, I'll cook the apple mixture less. Third, I'll actually follow the instructions (I never turned down the heat from 425 F. to 375 F.).  Even with all of the mistakes I made, these came out delicious! As I'm writing this, I can still smell the sweet scent of baked apples:).  I highly suggest using a pre-mixed gluten free pancake mix for this recipe, but if you like doing everything from scratch, it doesn't take much time to prepare.



  • 1/2 cup all-purpose GF flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tblsp granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup egg substitute 
  • 2 cups fat-free milk
  • 2 tblsp butter (melted)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Apple Mixture
  • Cooking spray (make sure it's GF)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup thinly sliced Granny Smith apples
  • 1 tblsp powdered sugar

Cooking Instructions 
  1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1 tblsp granulated sugar, salt, and 1/8 tsp nutmeg in a medium bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg substitute, milk, melted butter and vanilla. Let stand for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  3. To prepare the apple mixture, coat the bottom and sides of a 10-inch ovenproof skillet with cooking spray. Mix 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp nutmeg. Sprinkle evenly over bottom and sides of pan. Arrange the apple slices in an even spoke-like patter. Sprinkle the apples with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Cook over medium heat for 8 minutes or until the mixture bubbles.  Make sure to not let it burn.  As soon as the mixture is bubbling, poor batter over the apples.
  4. Throw the pan in the oven and bake at 425 degrees F. for about 15 minutes, ten reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. for an additional 13 minutes or until center is set. Carefully loosen pancake with a spatula. Slide the pancake onto a serving platter, and dust the top with powdered sugar.
  5. Cut into 6 wedges and serve immediately. Enjoy!!


Just So You Know...

The information presented in this blog is intended to educate and entertainment. However, I'm not a medical expert.  I also do not know absolutely everything about Celiac Disease.  What I do know has been learned through trial and error, research, and what has been taught to me by friends who also share my food-related affliction.  Please take the time to do your own research about Celiac Disease and gluten-related issues.  I have a list of links to useful resources along the left-side of this blog. Also, feel free to cross-check my statements. If you find contrary information, please let me know. Thanks so much for visiting Trav's Gone Gluten Free!