Travel Tips: Quebec City

Quebec City is great; like a smaller Paris.  Husband and I really enjoyed our brief sojourn.  Quebec is very walkable and compact with a surprising amount of attractions and distractions.  The noticeable lack of chain shops and restaurants was refreshing.

Before we headed up North, I found a very informative posting on Quebec City on Gluten-Free Globe.  Sadly, somewhere along the way on the trip, I lost the print out.  This left me wandering around Quebec City rather hungry and annoyed with myself.

I do not have a smart phone.  So googling again on the fly was not really an option.  Based on the foregoing paragraph, you may have deduced that I do not speak French.  I had forgotten my gluten-free traveler cards and was wondering what to do.

Luckily, we found ourselves near an information center.  I did indeed receive the blank stare I was expecting when I asked about gluten-free options. However, the desk clerk told me to hold on a minute. After several minutes and a very animated conversation with someone in the back, she returned with a list of restaurants some of which had gluten-free menus and/or will accommodate gluten allergies.

Here is a copy of the list:

Commensal (Vegetarian / Vegan as well, so bummed we didn’t get to try it)

L’Entrecôte Saint Jean

Le 47ième Parrallèle

Le Cosmos Café

Le Lapin Sauté

Le Saint-Amour

Leche Babine

Voodoo Grill

Since it was Alan’s birthday and there is nothing he likes more than steak and profiteroles, we headed to L’Entrecôte Saint Jean, which is famous for both.  We sat at the bar, which was not very romantic, but still pleasant.  The restaurant had the ambiance of a bistro in Paris.  It was really busy and loud, but not annoyingly so.

Our meals started with a salad. The salad was straightforward: Boston lettuce, toasted walnuts and Dijon vinaigrette. It was flavorful and light.

Husband had steak and fries.  He said it was great.  I snuck a few of his fries.  They were crispy and perfectly seasoned.  I had a mustard crusted salmon with steamed veggies and rice: a simple, well-seasoned dish.

We could see into the kitchen, which was captivating.  Everything was done with mechanical precision and speed.  There was one chef just tending the steaks and another just cutting and frying potatoes

There were several gluten-free desserts, including chocolate mousse and crème caramel.  I went for crème caramel, which was good, but found the caramel pooled at the edges to be a little watery. Alan enjoyed the profiteroles, but obviously those are not gluten-free.  He said he was surprised that they were filled with ice cream instead of cream, which made the pastry a little gummy.

The next morning, before embarking on a walk through the Plains of Abraham (so beautiful), we went to Château Frontenac, which happily was able to accommodate us. The waitress was really nice and completely shocked by my allergy. She was genuinely very concerned; asking what I could eat if I couldn’t eat bread.

I had eggs benedict (over potatoes instead of English muffins) served with asparagus and fresh tomatoes.  Husband had bacon and eggs, which came with a basket of little Danishes, which looked, and by Husband’s account, tasted amazing.

I did sample the jams along side and did not miss the bread much at all.  They were clearly fresh and changed my mind about marmalade.  Normally, I dislike the overwhelming bitterness of the orange rind, but this marmalade balanced the bitterness with honey.  I wanted to eat it all day.

It was expensive for breakfast, but it kept us full until dinner.

As a random side note: one of the things I find really intriguing about Canadian cuisine is that un-pasteurized diary products are legal.  I hunted down some un-pasteurized cheese and snuck it across the border.  Ironically, just as I was sitting down to enjoy it, I turned on the DVR and saw this Colbert Report on the Rawsome Foods raid.   Sadly, my little crime did not pay.  The cheese was really sharp and bitter.

Restaurant Review: Chili Duck

I was really spoiled on my birthday and taken out to lunch by some work friends.  We headed over to one of my favorite lunch sports, Chilli Duck, which is located in a brownstone basement, a stone’s throw from the Apple Store on Boylston.

The first time I went in, I was really expecting it to be dark, but it’s very casual and clean with lots of pastel colors throughout.

The menu is huge.  Chilli Duck is mostly Thai food, but they also serve some Vietnamese dishes.   I have eaten there at least six times and always found them willing to accommodate gluten allergies.  The staff are great: they listen, take notes and talk to the kitchen.  I would recommend that you make it clear that soy sauce is included in the list of no-go ingredients.

Chilli Duck seems to have a fair selection of dishes sans gluten.  I cannot remember all the items they pointed to when I explained my allergy, but I do remember the Thai curries are safe.  I have personally tried their mango fried rice with chicken (a huge portion for eight dollars) and their fo (pho if you want to use the standard transliteration).

The pho has a really nice broth with strong lime flavors and lots of fresh veggies.

The mango fried rice is a little on the oily side, but that does not stop it from being addictively tasty.  There are big chunks of chicken and mango throughout, as well as veggies and cashews.  The mango and veggies are a nice balance to the slightly greasy rice and keep the dish from feeling too heavy.  It is a very mild dish, so I was looking around the table for rooster sauce…

rooster sauce a/k/a sriracha sauce

Chilli Duck also has a big cocktails menu.  I wanted to try a couple of their speciality drinks, but it was lunchtime.  So I stuck with the Thai iced tea (great) and will just have to head back there after work one day to try their adult beverage selection.  Anyone up for a drink next week?

Heart hands and thanks to my friends for a great lunch!

G/F friendly: 3 of 5

Ambiance in one word: pastel

Food Taste and Quality: 4 of 5

Bakery Review: Kick*ss Cupcakes

Yesterday, for my birthday, one of my wonderful co-workers got me a g/f Kick*ss Cupcake.  Chocolate with vanilla icing.

It was really tasty.  The cake was light and not overwhelmingly sweet, which was ended up being the perfect balance to the frosting, which was very rich and sweet.

Kick *ss sells g/f cupcakes every day of the week, so head over to Davis Square any time for a delicious treat.  Call ahead if you are looking for a particular flavor to see if they have it on  hand.  They have four gluten-free flavors (chocolate, vanilla, lucky and mojito), but only bake one or two on a given day.

Restaurant Review: Kelly’s Roast Beef

Sometimes you just need something fried.   When you have Celiac, suitable fried foods are difficult to come by, which is why I am so glad that Kelly’s Roast Beef in Saugus does their best to accommodate allergies.  This local chain has a few locations around metro Boston.

The first time I went in after my diagnosis, I expected that they would not be able to accommodate me.  However, Kelly’s does seem to have solid procedures in place for people with allergies.  A manager takes orders for those with food allergies.  There are a number of items that are pre-prepared that cannot be made specially to suit a gluten allergy (i.e. – chicken tenders and onion rings).

The good news is that their fries have no gluten products on them and they are fried in a separate fryer.   Their cheese fries with bacon are mighty tasty.  I have checked the cheese sauce (they actually brought out the jar for me to see because they weren’t sure if it s was g/f) and it does have a stabilizer listed in the ingredients.  I risked it the first time, fully expecting to get sick and didn’t.  I have had them several times since and never had an issue.  I don’t know if the stabilizer listed is a barley derivative or not, so if you are hypersensitive, I would probably not risk the cheese fries…

The first few times I went, the manager had some cornmeal in the back and was able to batter up some fish and fry fresh for me.  He even went into the back and did it himself.  So nice!

However, on my most recent visits, I have been told that they don’t keep generally keep cornmeal in the back (I am not sure why the other manager did have cornmeal hanging around out back, but don’t expect them to have it on hand).  Happily, the manager did say that if I brought my own gluten-free flour, he would batter up the fish and fry it specially.  I don’t know if the managers at the other locations would agree to the same.

I haven’t had any salads at Kelly’s, but they do have them.  But who goes to a place like Kelly’s and orders salad?  That just seems wrong…

Keep in mind that I am only writing about my experiences in the Saugus location, the other locations may have different policies in place for accommodating food allergies.

G/F friendly: 3 of 5

Ambiance: gourmet fast-food

Food Taste and Quality: 3 of 5

Recipe: Apple Almond Crisp

On the way home from a great weekend in Quebec City, Alan and I stopped at an orchard on the Ile d’Orleans to pick some fresh apples.  We got a giant bag full of what I think are empire apples.  Whatever they are, they are delicious.  It’s amazing how fresh and tasty apples are when you pick them yourself.  We got such a giant bag of them and there are only two of us!  I am making a lot of recipes with apple in them this week… I decided to make an apple crisp to go with our anniversary dinner.

Apple crisp is a really easy baked good to do g/f.  There is no need to worry about which types of flour will rise and what ratios to use.  It’s really straight forward.

¾ cup brown sugar (any sugar will work, I just like the taste of brown)

½ cup almond meal (if you don’t have it, just grind almonds in a food processor)

2 Tbs. sorghum flour*

2 Tbs. coconut flour*

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp clove

1/8 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp nutmeg

½ cup unsalted butter, cold

8 medium / large apples

handful of dried cherries

* If you don’t have sorghum or coconut flours, just use a ¼ cup of any g/f flour.  If you don’t have gluten free flours in the pantry, cornstarch also works fine in a pinch.

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F / 180˚C.  Butter a large baking dish.

2. In the food processor, combine: the sugar, almond meal, flours, salt, cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg.  Pulse until combined.

Left: Cutting the butter, Middle: adding the butter to the food processor, Right: the correct topping consistency

3. Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into the food processor a few pieces at a time.  Pulse between additions.  When the flour starts to turn into moist looking crumbs, the topping is ready.  Set aside.

4. If you would like to; peel some or all of the apples.  Quarter, remove the core by slicing as shown.  Slice the apples and place in the baking dish.

Left: Slicing the apples, Middle: Coring the Apple, Right: Peeling the apple. Read this like a Hebrew text, right to left!

5. Dice the dried cherries and add to the apples.  Top the apple slices with the flour mixture.

6. Place on the center rack in the oven.  Bake 1 hour or until bubbling and the crust is lightly browned.

Left: chopping the cherries, Middle: topping the crisp, Right: the finished product

For a lower fat alternative to ice cream on top, try a little non-fat Greek yogurt.

Restaurant Review: Mr. Bartley’s

Recently, we took a friend from out of town to Mr. Bartley’s, a Harvard Square institution.  Since our friend hates Massachusetts, we wanted to take him somewhere iconic and delicious to show him Massachusetts is not all bad news!

Mr. Bartley’s is a real utilitarian place, complete with plastic chairs and sticky tables.  The walls are covered with signs and posters.  The din is perfect, noisy, but still easy to have a good conversation.  It’s very homey.

Before I forget, their motto is real food, real money.  They don’t accept plastic.  They do have an ATM in the restaurant but it will have a fee.  The nearest bank ATMs are by the Holyoke Center, so be sure to grab cash on your way before you enter.

I have been a few times and encountered different levels of understanding. The staff’s knowledge seems a little uneven: I have received different advice on different visits, so do try to stay away from their sauces, etc, as the wait staff tries their best, but may not always be able to find the correct answer.

The staff is very nice and very willing to work with the kitchen staff to get more information.  On my most recent visit, the waitress was not immediately certain what a gluten allergy was, but she was willing to listen.

Things to remember for gluten-free diners at this restaurant: the regular fries are not suitable for those with gluten allergies.  However, their sweet potatoes fries are just fine!

Their salad dressings are not gluten-free.

Their burgers and turkey burgers are gluten-free: just order them without the bun!

I ordered a turkey burger with cheddar, bacon and onions and sweet potato fries.  The burger was perfectly cooked, nice and tender and still juicy.  The bacon was crispy and the onions were nicely caramelized.  The sweet potato fries are great, salty and sweet.

This is a great place to grab a quick bite.  They are really willing to try to accommodate gluten allergies, just try to order basic to avoid any possible confusion.

G/F friendly: 3 of 5

Ambiance in one word: casual

Food Taste and Quality: 4 of 5

Review: Taj Boston

My friend invited me to a Mary Poppins preview at the Taj last night.  It was a great event: one of the original film song writers (Richard Sherman of the Sherman Brothers) sang some of the songs.  He also talked a little about how he and his brother came up with the plot and score for the original film.  Some of the actors were there and sang a few songs.  They sang one of the new songs developed for the stage, which nicely matches the tone of the original songs.

The new songs were written by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles.  My friend and I had actually worked with them on their first US production of Just So, which is a musical based on the Rudyard Kipling stories.  These gents are not only really talented, but also really nice.  It was great to hear their music again: they create really fun and witty songs / productions.   I would highly recommend seeing any of their shows!

It opens in February, so if you are contemplating a special night on the town, I think the production is going to be fantastic.  At least now I know what to get my mother for Christmas.

Before the little presentation, they had a cocktail hour with some passed hor d’oeuvres.  One of the waiters was kind enough to actually go back and confirm which items were gluten-free.  As soon as my friend said gluten allergy, he knew exactly what we were talking about and went back to ensure that he got a complete list of the gluten-free items.  It turned out I could have 3 of the 6 items being passed: the polenta with tomatoes, the bacon wrapped scallops and a feta and olive bite.

I am not a big olive fan, so I did not try the feta and olive bite.  I know, I should be more adventurous, but I just can’t get past the texture…  I did try the polenta, which was delicious, really soft and creamy: nicely balanced against the tomatoes on top.  The bacon wrapped scallop was fantastic.  They had some kind of honey glaze on bacon or the scallop which just made me want to follow the gentleman with the scallop tray around the room.    My husband could not stop eating the egg rolls and the chicken dumplings.

The wine was also good.  I tried their cabernet, which was good.  I do not know much about wine.  All I can say is that I like it; the wine was fruiter than most reds I have consumed, very nice.  I also liked that it didn’t leave me with that weird wine aftertaste.

I have never eaten in the Taj dining room or the café that they have.   I am guessing, given the events staffs’ understanding, their other dining rooms will be equally accommodating and knowledgeable about food allergies.   My experience with their events staff does make me want to return to the Taj and try out their dining rooms.  Of course I will have to wait for a special occasion given the cost…

Rating System:

G/F friendly: 4 of 5

Ambiance in one word: classy

Food Taste and Quality: 5 of 5

Recipe: Marshmallows

I am very excited about the impending arrival of the first niece/nephew.  Recently, we threw a shower for my sister-in-law and I decided to make some green and yellows marshmallows for the occasion.  I started making fresh marshmallows last year, after seeing this recipe on (you can even sort recipes by allergy).

I searched high and low for super fine colored sugar.  While I found a lot of large grained sugars, I couldn’t find something superfine.  So I decided to try dying superfine sugar.  Surprisingly easy.

To dye the sugar you will need:

Latex glove

Dying the sugar. Left: applying the food coloring to the glove. Right: rubbing it on the sugar.

Food coloring (I used green and then yellow, you can use whatever strikes your fancy)

1 ½ cups super fine sugar

Small ceramic or glass bowl

1. Place the sugar in the bowl.

2. Put on the latex glove and drip a few drops of food coloring on the glove fingers.

3. Massage the sugar with your gloved hand.  You should start to see the color spreading.  Keep going, about 1 minute or until the sugar is evenly dyed.

My marshmallow recipe is almost the same as the epicurious recipe.  However, I am going to try to make the instructions more detailed and include some pictures.  Marshmallows are easy to make, but the recipe is really vague.  I think the pictures help!


small saucepan

mixer with whisk attachment

basting or pastry brush

candy thermometer

9-inch square pan


3 envelopes unflavored gelatin (total ¾ oz)

1 cup water, divided into two ½ cups + plus another ½ cup of cold water by the stove

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup corn syrup (or corn sugar for those of you associated with the corn lobby)

¼  tsp salt

2 tsps vanilla extract

PAM or canola oil for the pan

Superfine sugar (see above)

1. Start by setting up your mixer with the whisk attachment.  Add ½ cup water to the bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the water.

2. Set the candy thermometer on the side of the saucepan.  Next to the pan, set a pastry or basting brush and a bowl of cold water, about ½ cup.

3. Set your burner to low.  Add the corn syrup, salt, sugar and ½ cup water to the saucepan.  Stir to combine.  The sugar will start to dissolve and go from sludge to syrup.  Stop stirring.  Turn the heat to medium.

  • If you are using a stovetop with settings from 1-10, do not go over 8 for this recipe.  You will burn the sugar and end up with a hot, sticky mess.  I start with 6 and add heat towards the end.

4. The mixture needs to reach the soft ball stage (240˚F / 115˚C).  It will take a few minutes for things to happen. Resist the temptation to up the heat or stir it, just keep an eye on it.  Start really paying attention to the mixture when you see small, clear bubbles.

Left & middle: washing the crystals down the side of the pan. Right: This is what the syrup looks like when ready.

5. Dip the brush in the cold water and start washing the crystals off the side of the pan as they bubble up.  Again, do not stir the mixture; it is not necessary.  You may see a film form on top of the syrup.  Normal.  Keep going.

6. Keep brushing the sides of the pan with the cold water and watching the thermometer.  The bubbles will become more vigorous and turn a cloudy brown.  That is normal; just keep at it. After 1-2 minutes, the cloudy residue starts to dissipate and the bubbles become clear.

  • Make sure you haven’t turned your heat up too high: leave it around 6 or 7.  Otherwise, the bubbles may flow over the edge of the pan and create a sticky mess on the stove.

7. Once you start to see clear bubbles again (temp should be around 220˚F / 105˚C), turn the heat up a little, to 7 and eventually, if needed, 8.  Once it hits the right temperature (240˚F / 115˚C), remove from the heat.

8. Meanwhile (cut to the mixer), the gelatin should look rather chunky and unappetizing, like aspic.  Turn the mixer to a low setting.  Check that the syrup has stopped bubbling.  When it has, start slowly pouring the syrup down the side of the mixer bowl.

Left: the bubbles subsiding. Right: streaming into the mixer.

  • After you have poured the syrup, immediately dump the thermometer, saucepan and brush into some hot, soapy water.  Hardened sugar is a beast to scrub off once it sets.  If you clean as you go with this recipe, clean up is a snap.  If you wait until the marshmallows are set, you will be cursing profusely.

    Left: the mixture a minute or two into the whipping. Right: Ready to pour into the bowl, note the soft peaks.

9. Let the mixture come together on a medium-low setting (increasing the speed right away, guarantees a hot syrup splashing on the counter).  You will start to see the mixture coagulate, become lighter and more opaque after about 1-2 minutes.  Hit it up to high speed for about 10-15 minutes, until soft peaks form, like whipped cream.  Turn the mixer to low and add the vanilla.

10. While the marshmallow is becoming marshmallow-y, grab the

Left: greasing the pan. Middle: dusting the pan with sugar. Right: adding the marshmallow batter.

9-inch square pan and pour in a tiny bit of canola oil (if you use pan spray, just spray the pan).  Spread around with a pastry brush to lightly coat the bottom and sides.  Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of the colored, superfine sugar on the bottom of the pan and spread around: like lining a cake pan with flour.

11. When the marshmallow batter is ready, pour into the pan and top with more sugar.  Set at room temperature for 2 hours.

12. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn over so the marshmallows slide onto the counter.  If you are worried about a mess, line the counter with a little wax paper.

Left: sugaring the tops of the marshmallows. Right: coming out of the pan.

Cutting up the marshmallows

13. Cut into squares.

14. Roll in sugar.

Left: Rolling in sugar. Right: square peeps!

15. Eat.

Restaurant Review: Charley’s Saloon

A lesson in not judging a book by its cover…

When I first walked up to Charley’s Saloon, I was dubious that they would have anything suitable for a gluten allergy.  I saw the quirky gaslight replica light fixtures and wood-paneled dining room and assumed their menu would be as old school as their décor.  Frankly, I was just hoping that they knew enough about a gluten allergy to order a salad or some soup.   However, I was completely incorrect.  I guess the adage “to assume is to make an ass of u and me” is correct.

Charley’s offers a whole range of gluten-free products including pizzas and pasta.  In addition, they also have very well-trained staff.  The staff is more than willing to check with the chef and confirm which items are or can be made gluten-free.  In addition, the manager comes over to confirm your order is safe and answer any further questions.

The first time I went, I had the chili, which was unbelievable.  Apparently, Charley’s makes its own chili every day, which is probably why it tastes so good.  The goodness is super-sized by the cheddar cheese melted over the top of the bowl.  Whoa.  I like food really spicy, so I was a little disappointed by its mildness, but a few dashes of Tabasco and boom! Problem solved.

Recently, I went back with some family and had another great experience.  They were able to do special orders of gluten-free buffalo wings.  The manager was very attentive, coming by to check that the buffalo wings did come out gluten-free.  The wings were  just plain, boneless, skinless, chicken tenders basted with buffalo sauce and grilled.  It was very light; no where near as greasy and heavy as run-of-the-mill buffalo wings.  More than the taste, it was nice to be able to share an appetizer.  I have missed that.  Most of the time, if I can have appetizer, it is a salad or steamed edamame, which is fine, but when I eat out, I like to have food I don’t make at home.

I followed the wings with a gluten-free cheese pizza.  It was a nice size, perfect for one person with enough left over for lunch.  The crust was nice and thin and well-cooked.  The sauce was nice and had lots of oregano.  I wished for more cheese, so next time I will have to request that or maybe some parmesan on the side….

Anyway, Charley’s is a great place for gluten-free diners.  They are very attentive to allergens and very willing to make accommodations.  I have only been to their Chestnut Hill location, but their Boston location seems to have the same menu.

G/F friendly: 5 of 5

Ambiance in one word: old school

Food Taste and Quality: 4 of 5