The trees are looking a little naked

View from my rooftop before the storm. I don’t have an “after” because, well, it’s kind of a dreary day today.

Afternoon! My neighborhood has borne the wake of Hurricane Sandy quite marvelously, and I’m happy to report that I suffered from nary a flicker during the storm, although it seems like there are more leaves on the ground now than there are on the trees! It’s been a nice break having 2 “rain days” from work, but I expect that the city is eager to get back to its usual pace. I hope that everyone is doing okay; good luck to anyone out there that is recovering or rebuilding from the storm.

As you might expect, being holed up during one of the worst storm/hurricane/crazy weather events of the century didn’t really allow me to go out to eat. Alas, I really have nothing to report on the dining out front except to say that I had another marvelous meal at Oyamel (they did that awesome menu thing again!), and I had an unfortunate run-in with cornmeal on the bottom of a pizza at District of Pi. I soldiered on through the pizza (who was I to abandon the sweet prosciutto, tangy arugula and creamy goat cheese that adorned that pie?), but my stomach was obnoxiously cranky the next day.

But, fall is here, and that always makes me smile. I love the change in season, and all the good changes that come with it–crisp days, crunchy leaves, slow-cooked soups, and an unending array of baked goods that involve pumpkin. Here’s a few things I’ve been making myself lately…

Lemon-massaged kale salad with red onions, slivered almonds, honey crisp apple slices, dried cherries and pecorino romano cheese.

Red quinoa croquettes made with grated carrot and zucchini, onion and garlic. Inspired by this recipe.

Gingersnaps! I made these for a friend’s birthday party, and they turned out fabulously! Find the recipe here.

Once this week dies down, I’m planning on making some pumpkin curry soup, bake some pumpkin cookies, and perhaps prepare some pumpkin spice overnight oats for my breakfasts. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

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Stick with what you know?

I like to eat out. Obviously. If I didn’t, this blog would’ve been a very ill-planned venture. But, perhaps more importantly, I like to eat out at new places. I get stuck in ruts like everyone else, depending on what’s cheap, easy, convenient, safe, etc etc…but I still make a concerted effort to try out new restaurants, venture into unexplored neighborhoods, and sample different cuisines (on that last one – only if I’m feeling brave). That’s why it saddens me to know that many individuals with dietary restrictions rarely eat out, or only dine at their “comfort zone” establishments.

For many people, especially those with complex or multiple restrictions, finding a restaurant that can accommodate their needs is tough, especially if you don’t have the luxury of living in a city with a myriad of dining options. When you do find one, you hold on tight. It becomes a safe haven, where the stress and worry dissipate, and you can simply sit down at a table and enjoy a meal. I get that. But I also want more places to become safe havens for people with dietary restrictions, and that can only happen if individuals continue to try new venues and demand that their needs be met.

I’ve come to embrace my never-ending spiel, “I’m allergic to peanuts, and I am intolerant of soy and corn. Oh, and I don’t really eat legumes. Okay?” I say a variation of it again and again – it’s the leitmotif of my dining experience. It does take effort to ensure that my food is safe, and that the staff truly understand the seriousness of the issue. I could settle for places where I know that everything will be fine. I could order every Persnickety-friendly dish on the menu. That would be far less risky. But I hate the thought that I would be missing out on two things: 1) experiencing new cuisines, dishes and concoctions, and 2) promoting the message that restaurants can and should provide a safe and accommodating environment for patrons with dietary restrictions.

So I’ll keep repeating myself everywhere I go. And I’ll talk to staff and chefs. I’ll get disappointed when my questions result in “maybe you just shouldn’t come here” (this actually happened!), but I’ll also be elated when presented with a personalized menu that caters to my particular restrictions. I hope you all have found some safe havens. I’ll do my best to find more of them.

A Mini Rant on Catered Events

On Wednesday night, I performed at an awards ceremony for a great social service organization. The event organizers were generous enough to invite us to the pre-ceremony reception, and encouraged us to eat, drink, and be merry. Yes, please! Yet, when I started traversing the reception floor–nearly knocking 12 things over, mind you–I was baffled and disappointed to find that absolutely none of the food had any labels. Now, this might be fine and dandy for most people in the room. They don’t need to know every ingredient in a dish, and are perfectly safe filling their plate. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury.

In such circumstances, I usually can find some safe dishes, but always bypass the dessert table. Yet, at this event, the dishes were so obviously complex that even taking a piece of chicken seemed risky. At every turn, I worried that something had a peanut glaze, the fried foods were fried in peanut oil, that nuts could be lurking in the salad. And you know what, I was right to be worried. A friend (without allergies) starting eating some fancy cole-slaw dish (served in martini glass, mind you), and immediately said “Oh yah – there are totally nuts in this!”

Now, I know that I can’t expect a full list of ingredients written on a card next to the food, nor can I expect that the servers will be able to accurately tell me if a dish has a certain allergen (they really don’t have the time or knowledge base to do that). However, it would be easy enough to identify dishes that do have common allergens, and simply put up a little placard next to the dish that says, “contains nuts” or “has dairy ingredients.”  I know I’ll never be able to feel completely comfortable at catered events like these (unless I’m the one that’s planning the menu and ordering the food, which I do quite frequently), but really, catering companies should really jump on this dietary-restrictions-are-a-big-deal bandwagon. A little more thought and planning might lead to safer and more enjoyable experiences for guests with dietary restrictions. As it was, I filled up on pineapple chunks, grapes and some crackers. Sigh.