A Persnickety Thanksgiving

It’s been a week since we stuffed ourselves silly at Thanksgiving, and I’m only now catching up with real life again! Thanksgiving at my brother’s Manhattan apartment has become a tradition for my family; this might have been the 5th year running! It’s only right though–for a holiday that is almost solely focused on food (and a wee bit of thanks thrown in), you gravitate to the best chef. In my family, the crown goes to my brother, and he certainly wears it with pride.

Dane always prepares a surprisingly traditional menu of dishes (i.e. turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc), but the food is so elaborately, carefully, and lovingly prepared, that it pretty much beats every other meal ever. But before that happens, we eat burgers.

Last year, we ate at 5 Napkin Burger, and this year, it was P.J. Clarke’s that provided our pre-Thanksgiving grease. The burgers are delicious, the gin & tonics perfectly refreshing, and a special artisanal ketchup on the table may have been slathered on every bite. PJ’s was also a fantastic example of a restaurant that trains its staff on a responsible approach to dietary restrictions. Our seasoned waiter knew everything about frying oil used, allergens in the kitchen, and completely quelled my concerns with his comments: “You have nothing to worry about–we have plenty of people come in with allergies, especially peanut allergies.” A great meal to expand our stomachs!

Cornbread Stuffing…wish it just didn’t look so delicious!

And now, for what you’re actually reading this for: the big Thanksgiving meal. I was the only one present with a dietary restriction, but since it was a small group of family and close friends, I was actually shocked to discover my brother’s intention of preparing a cornbread stuffing. It was my almost-daily intake of cornbread muffins at my work cafeteria that led to the development of my intolerance, so I have long had to turn my back on cornbread (and all other corny things – bad jokes not included). I grudgingly accepted Dane’s justification that he would make normal bread stuffing as well, there would be no worry of cross-contamination, and there would be a ridiculously large variety of other foods for me to eat. Yah, yah. Fine. I didn’t push–there was no need to make a scene, although I do feel that it would have been just as easy to have a perfectly allergen-free Thanksgiving. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue!

The preparation began at 9:30am with 2 pies made by my mother and I, and the kitchen was rocking for the rest of the day! Check out the dishes below!

Charcuterie spread for munching.

Our 14lb bird, and our 5lb gremlin.

A gorgeous presentation, as per usual.

The cauliflower and brussels sprout gratin.

The table is groaning at this point.

Quite the full plate. Polished off in record time by yours truly.

Don’t forget the pie! Pumpkin and chocolate-pecan with handwhipped (seriously) whipped cream.

Hope you all had an amazing Thanksgiving!

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.