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A blog about all things allergen-free and delicious

Entries in Grand Rapids (8)


6th Annual Gluten Free Food Fair: May 19, 2012; Grand Rapids, MI


It's Spring and it's time to mark your calendars for the 2012 Gluten-free Food Fair in Grand Rapids, MI.  I attended last year and it was a GREAT event.  Read about some of my favorite products from last year and an interview with event coordinator Nancy Spears, as well.  She comes to this event with a great deal of personal experience, and The Anchor Baptist Church does a fantastic job getting great vendors to the event.  It will be interesting to see how the vendor's knowledge of "gluten-free" and "cross-contamination" has evolved as well.  It's a learning curve for everyone.  I was struck by Nancy's statement about the beginning of her own learning curve:


"I have spent years unknowingly poisoning my husband, my three daughters, and one of my sons with homemade pancakes, waffles, cookies, and cakes . . . I understand the feelings that many of you go through as your children are diagnosed celiac. Twelve years ago, I cried in the pasta isle at a local Meijer store and read labels until I could hardly see."  ~Nancy Spears


About This Year's Event


When:  Saturday, May 19 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Where:  the DeltaPlex Arena and Conference Center located at 2500 Turner NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Anchor Baptist Church presents the 2012 Gluten Free Food Fair, on Saturday, May 19th at the DeltaPlex Arena and Conference Center located at 2500 Turner NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The purpose of this free event is to increase awareness of Celiac Disease while learning about and sampling gluten free products. A large variety of products will be available for purchase.

Many special opportunities are available at this free event: speak with vendors and restaurant representatives; attend a variety of conferences: Gluten Free 101 and Celiac & Diabetes led by Anne Lee, Schar’s dietitian; Gluten Free and Healthy by Shari Steinbach, Meijer’s dietician; and Healthy Living –Gluten Free by Allison Reed, Spartan’s dietician; and meet Miss Grand Valley, Alexa Allor, whose platform is celiac awareness.



A Few Stats on Celiac Disease

Current statistics are that 1 in 133 people have celiac disease. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center on their website states that “97% of celiac disease sufferers are undiagnosed”. It continues with: “The number of Americans with celiac disease would fill 936 cruise ships. Passengers on 908 of the ships won’t know they have it.”


About Anchor Baptist Church

Anchor Baptist Church has a passion for bringing people out of the darkness and into the light, spiritually and physically. To assist the growing gluten free community with the complexities of life, Anchor will be launching “Bread 4 Life Ministry”, which will begin with a nine week support group giving tools for restoring health, hope, and relationships.
More information about Anchor Baptist Church and its ministries can be found at


The Tender Foodie in Women's Lifestyle Magazine

"Me" in The Leonard at Logan House chef's kitchen - an historic Bed and Breakfast in Grand Rapids, MII was very honored to be interviewed and profiled in Women's LifeStyle Magazine for their October Issue.  The issue is all about "home", a timely topic as we draw in, bundle up and find sanctuary from the business of life. 

Click to read the full article, "Making Tasteful Choices" and to visit Women's LifeStyle Magazine's e-edition.


“Food is the center of social gatherings. At first, I would try to hide my food allergies,” explains Veltman, who would call ahead to order meals when meeting clients or attending parties at restaurants. “In doing so, I realized I was not alone.”
Food allergies are not just a health issue – it becomes a social issue.



Review: Bistro Bella Vita serves up a "Foodgasm" when dishing for patrons with allergies

Boeuf Bourguinonne. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hage, Green Frog Photo.


Some Background

I’ve dined at Bistro Bella Vita upon several occasions, twice, specifically for this review.  I have always been treated with respect and generosity by the Bistro Staff, even when I push my list of allergies and their accompanying strict instructions at my server; and even before I started writing reviews.

In my experience, Bistro Bella Vita has done their food allergy homework and they make it clear that they welcome special diets of any kind.  I know this because they told me as much, and they have gluten-free, lactose-free and vegan menus.  But it is also evident in the presentation of each meal, the tastes and textures on each plate, and the consistent care in the service I’ve received each time.  

The knowledge of the chefs, kitchen and servers are a fundamental, dining-out requirement for anyone with food allergies.  Personally, I also want my food to be made with whole, quality ingredients.  I want it to taste delicious, even if those ingredients are restricted.  There are several dishes on the menu that bring me back to Bistro.  In the case of one particular dish they serve, and according to my dining companion, it is “foodgasmic”.


The Food

That dish is the bœuf bourguignonne, a dish that I love, but one that I didn’t think a restaurant would serve to someone with dairy allergies.  French dishes are sometimes attached to their butter, and the balance of slow cooked flavors is what makes a this French stew so good.  Its advanced preparation can prohibit on-the-spot customization.  Unexpectedly Bistro said, “no problem” when I first ordered it, and I’ve ordered it several times since.

I was lucky to have Jeff Hage, a professional food photographer, with me during my most recent meal there.  I decided to “let” Jeff have the Boeuf Bourguignonne while I tried the sautéed duck breast for a second time.  As I scrutinized and enjoyed my duck, Jeff would make a few wordless utterances as he experienced his beef.  I asked him what inspired each reverent hum and he, a super foodie, started describing some tastes and flavors to me.  Here are two such verbalized hums:

“The mushrooms are roasted just perfectly.  Absolutely perfectly.”

“Oh, I just had a foodgasm.  A little piece of chard found its way in with a bite of the beef.  Oh.  So good.”


An Aside

ASIDE:  I looked up “foodgasm” – I thought it might have made it into the dictionary by now, but it hasn’t.  I did find a fun looking culinary web site, though (currently under construction).  Its called “  The Cherry Popping Experience.”   I thought that was hilarious.  And apropos.


 More Food

Duck with Steamed Summer Vegetables. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hage, Green Frog Photo.
My duck was also very good.  It came on a bed of perfectly steamed yellow and green haricot verts and summer squashes.  The balsamic reduction mingled with the duck juices that were seeping onto the plate and under the vegetables.  After watching Jeff photograph my dish, I then proceeded to enjoy that mingling.  The meat was nicely cooked to medium/medium-rare, though a bit chewy both times I had ordered it.  Jeff has more experience with duck than I, so I asked him why this might be.  He said that it usually has to do with the duck itself.  If you put two ducks side by side, one might cook into perfect tenderness, while another might be a little rubbery.  This didn’t stop me from enjoying the dish.  It almost didn’t stop me from literally licking my plate.  But alas, we do live in a civilized world with reputations to protect.

The Staff

I would be remiss if I did not mention Erica, our server.  Erica remembered that I tend to drink sparkling water with lime, made sure to get my food allergy card to the kitchen and then back to my wallet, and made my guests (and me) feel comfortable as we discussed my specialized menu.  Kyle, the special events coordinator worked with the Chef to get a recipe for the duck, including a cassoulet, which will be posted in a few days so you can try the duck for yourself.  He also worked with the manager, Brad, and the Chefs to answer questions about their food allergy practices.  I appreciate the time that each of them offered to help Tender Foodies take a comfortable and delicious space at their table.

Many, many thanks to Jeff Hage of Green Frog Photo for his delish pics.  

Bistro Bella Vita’s Food Allergy Practices

Food Allergy Training:  Developed our own internal process.

Menu Options:  Gluten-free, Lactose-free and Vegan Menus available.  

Gluten-free Options?   Currently no gluten-free pasta or pizza crusts but might develop one in the future.

Comfortable with Nut-allergic Patrons?
Yes, our staff is very well trained and very passionate about accommodating all guests and their allergies.

Dedicated Fryer?
  No, we only have one fryer therefore suggest against fried foods that must be gluten free.

Dedicated allergen-free prep area?  
All prep areas are washed with health department approved cleaners.
We use freshly washed equipment prior to cooking dishes with specific allergies. We change cutting boards, knives, pans and other dishes.  We make sure that all food is prepped on clean surfaces and is not within distance of foods that contain common allergens.  Staff members change gloves prior to preparing an allergen-free meal.  Our kitchen staff is always aware if there is gluten present in spices, and we don’t use tenderizers, caking agents, or roux’s. We do everything in our power to assure that there are no trace of allergens in dishes that require special attention.

Staff Training?

All employees are well trained and informed of the ingredients of all our products and our food allergy practices.  Our wait staff and management understand the potential for a severe reaction and know what to do if something happens.  If an allergen is mistakenly put on a plate, for example, our staff knows that a clean plate must be used and new dish must be made.  Regular refresher training is given to regular staff and new staff is trained.

How many allergen-free patrons do you see each month?

It would be impossible to give an exact number, but there are easily hundreds of people a month who dine with us who have allergies.

Local Sources?  Yes

Organic Sources?  Absolutely.

GMO Products?   We use non-GMO sources whenever possible.


44 Grandville Ave. SW • Grand Rapids, MI 49503 - CLICK HERE FOR OUR GOOGLE MAP

616.222.4600 (voice)
616.222.4601 (fax)




Amore Trattoria Italiana. A Taste of Eden for People With Food Allergies.


 Cured Beef & Arugula Salad

And There Was Light (At the End of the Salad)

In the fall of 2010, I had a Lunch and Learn at a charming little restaurant called Amore Trattoria Italiana.  I had never been there before nor did I know where its location at Alpine and 6 mile was, so of course, I got lost.  Go figure.  I snuck in, red-faced and after everyone was seated, comfortable and with a salad in front of them.  The speaker had just begun.  My RSVP for the event was, “yes, but please don’t include me in the lunch.” 


When I informed the waitress that I would not be eating, she let me know that this was nonsense.  Of course I would be eating.  She insisted that the chef would love to serve me, no matter what food allergies I had.  Gluten?  No problem, the chef makes her own gluten-free pasta and gluten-free pizza crusts.  Dairy?  She’ll wash the utensils and cutting boards and clean the grill before she makes my lunch.  Yeast?  Pizza won’t work, but how about a nice salad?  Black walnuts and parsley?  No problem.  I was so pleased.  The salad was big, nutritious and had artichokes and prosciutto on it.  I used to devour this sophisticated "ham" in the Italian restaurants of New York City when that was my home.  I was very satisfied, and happy that I could save those Tanka Bars stashed in my purse for the next emergency.


After lunch, I met the chef, Jenna Arcidiacono.  She struck me as down-to-earth, knowledgeable and simply charming.  I just had to come back.  It took a year, but return I did with my family and camera in tow.  (And yes, I need a new camera and a better way to light the food!)


What is a Trattoria?

The name itself, Amore Trattoria Italiana, gives the impression of Italian authenticity.  A "Trattoria" is usually one step below a “Ristorante” and one step above a “Hosteria” in formality, but not necessarily in quality.  In Italy, Trattoria are often family run and down-to-earth little eateries.  The external façade of Amore Trattoria belies the warmth within, where the chef and her husband are front and center.  Truly fond memories of Italy popped into my head as I entered the restaurant and as I ate.   It was the spirit of the place.  “Stay!  Eat!  Drink!  Enjoy!”  I love that.


The Tempation

 A partially consumed and delicious strawberry soup

I had emailed Chef Jenna a couple of days ahead to let her know that she might have a challenge on her hands.  Her response was warm, inviting and made me quite excited for dinner.  After we arrived, she came out to our table, showered us with attention and then visited each and every table in the restaurant before returning to prepare the next round of plates.  My sister and I shared the strawberry soup as an appetizer.  It was sweet and delicious.  I don’t eat a lot of sugar, so my mind would ask, “is it too sweet?”  Then I answered myself, “No.  Eat more.” 

For my insalata (salad), Chef Jenna suggested that I try the cured beef with arugula, but minus the parmigiano-reggiano cheese.    It was salty and just as delicious with the arugula alone. 

Both of my brother-in-laws had the meatballs.  When I asked them if they liked their dish, they simply looked up at me from their licked-clean plates and grunted.   I took this as approval.  My father’s beef was a bit dry, as was my Pollo alla Saltimbocca, which is chicken, wrapped in sage and “spek”, then seared in white wine (and usually butter, which was replaced in my dish).  Speck is a version of prosciutto that is cured, bone-in before it is sliced.  

As I roam the earth banning black and white pepper from my plate, I also find that chefs are afraid to use salt to season my meals as well.  Note to self:  tell all chefs that for me, salt is a good guy, please use it.  My mother’s Saltimbocca on the other hand was moist and delicious.  The asparagus was super fresh and cooked to perfection, as were the potatoes.  And my sister, who normally has an extensive vocabulary, simply grunted with a happily glazed look on her face when asked about her pizza.  The piece de resistance, the tirimisu that she and her husband shared, evoked only rolled eyes, moans and groans.  I told them both to go get a room. 

 The apparently, orgasmic tirimisu

The Limoncello

Because of an unpredictable yeast allergy, however, I have been hesitant to drink wine, something I really love with Italian food.  Some wines are fine.  Others are not.  So I choose very carefully and rarely these days, tending toward giant bottles of sparkling water.  Chef Jenna popped back out and noticed that I was without something from her list of purely Italian grape.  So she brought out her homemade Limoncello.  It is made with lemon zest and Everclear.  From what I understand from my research, Everclear is made from corn, however, I have a note into the company that makes Everclear with some specific questions and confirmation.  For several reasons, distilled grain alcohols do not mean that they are gluten-free, as some places on the internet claim.  More on that later.   I'll also post a follow up when I hear back from Luxco, the company that makes Everclear (and yes its legal in Michigan).  I did have a shot of this lovely forbidden drink (without reaction).  I don’t know if it takes her 6 days to make it or not, but it was created in a place that must be called Eden; and it was very, very good. 

 Watch her make Strawberry Tirimisu & Limoncello on WZZM13 - and Get the Recipes.

 Chef Jenna Arcidiacono (right) & my sister

I greatly appreciate Chef Jenna Arcidiacono’s genuine attention, care and excitement.  I was able to enjoy some truly delicious dishes.   Bravissimo!


Food Allergy Practices

Chef Jenna answered a list of questions via email about her food allergy practices.  Here is how they work it in the kitchen and with the staff.

Just let people know that we want every person who comes into our restaurant whether they have allergies or not - to feel like they ate something amazing!  _Chef Jenna Arcidiacono


Food Allergy Training:  I took a Servesafe and Sodexho test both of which involved allergens and allergies.  There is always someone on site at the restaurant who has completed this training, usually myself or my husband.   


Menu:  We have stars and other symbols on our menu to let people know what it gluten free or vegan. I am always available to speak to and work with the customer to make sure they are getting a meal that they enjoy! 


Gluten-free Options?   Gluten-& Dairy-free pizza crust, and gluten & dairy-free foccacia bread.  And chickpea and chestnut flours for breading.


Dedicated Fryer?  We do not have a separate fryer, but we can offer to pan fry items in new oil.  Nut-free and gluten-free oils.


Dedicated allergen-free prep area? 

  • We are very aware that any trace of the items can cause severe reactions. 
  • We wash and sanitize eveything before we use it. 
  • We prepare the gluten free items in a non-gluten space in our kitchen. 
  • Every staff member changes gloves before handling an allergen-free meal 


Staff Training?

  • All staff is trained and if they don't know the answers I ask them to refer to me and I speak to each person with food allergies personally.
  • Each staff member knows that if there is a rare mistake made to a dish that the entire dish must be remade and a clean plate used.
  • Some of my staff has food allergy issues, so we talk openly about any of their issues and concerns.
  • I check orders personally to make sure they are done right.
  • We refresh their training once a week.


Local Sources? 

We use local sources as much as possible and all year long with some who are hydroponic! 

Organic Sources? 

We love to use Earthkeeper farm in Kent City and organic free range eggs from a farmer in Kent City as well.

GMO Products? 

I don't use any GMO products.


Visit Amore Trattoria

on the web:

To Dine Out:

5080 Alpine Ave NW

Comstock Park, MI 49321





Gluten-Free Fair Success in G-Rap.

Many Attended

This past Saturday, I walked into the Delta Plex after hearing that 1565 people registered to attend the Gluten-Free Food Fair that day. 

If someone had told me 5 years ago, that this many peops would be attending a gluten-free anything, I would have been shocked.  But because the number of folks struggling to implement an allergen-free diets has exploded in the last few years,  the crowds were more of a bittersweet confirmation. The potential whys and wherefores of this explosion are just starting to be truly studied and discussed.  More on that in another post.

King Arthur Flour's Brownie Mix and a Couple of Nice Peops.


Multiple Food Allergies Need More Know-How

At the fair I witnessed that the market is also attempting to serve the millions who have multiple food allergies, yours truly included.  There is a long way to go in shared knowledge about multiple and more complex food allergies, which I predict, sadly, will also rise in the near future.  Many of the vendors at the booths were also the brains behind the product, the owners of the company, the big Kahunas.  They were the most knowledgeable about the factories, their partners and the ingredients.  There were a handful at the booths, however, that would confidently say things like, "All ingredients were processed in a factory free of the "Big 8" allergens (free of corn, wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, treenuts, shellfish/seafood & fish)," even though the labeling on the products themselves said differently.  Also, one or two other vendors couldn't break down a few mystery ingredients listed their products.  Most everyone was just fantastically knowledgeable, however, and brought their own experience to the table.   I hope that all vendors will continue to be and learn ahead of this growing market, and also train their staff with an emphasis on ingredient and factory knowledge.  There is a great deal to learn for all of us.


Cool Products

I did find some interesting new products, some of which I'm going to try.  I'll tell you about them over the next few weeks as I do.  If you would like to try them as well, let me know what you think!  In the meantime, here is a quick list.


Allerbling: I love this product.  It is hard enough for adults to communicate about their food allergies.  Imagine what it is like for a kid?  I can't.  But this product could really help.  Just stick out your wrist, kiddo and let your teachers, your friends' parents have an immediate list of what you can't eat.  It's a cute little bracelet with interchangeable parts that represent even some of the more uncommon allergies as well as the Big 8.


Somewhat Organic Soap:  I have to say that their slogan, "Any more organic and we'd be lying to you,' caught my attention.  From what I understood, lye is the only non-organic ingredient in the soap.  What I liked about them is that they have a Simple Soap that they said has zero fragrance.  It does contain coconut and rosemary extract, however, so it isn't quite as simple as super senstive people might need, but the vendors did say that super sensitive kids really liked it.  Your call.  Their other soaps with essential oil fragrance were lovely and felt great.


1-2-3 Gluten-FreeAlong with gluten and dairy, I am also allergic to baker's yeast.  So I simply don't eat sandwiches or biscuits any more.  I picked up a package of the 1-2-3 biscuit mix because it is free of all of the Big-8 allergens, and it is also yeast-free.   I'm excited to try this.


Keeki Pure & Simple:  A gluten-free nail polish developed first for celiac kids who might chew their nails, it is also "suitable for vegans" and for adults.  Fun colors. 


Organic Bistro Entrees & Bowls:  These conscientious folks were offering a taste of different products throughout the day.  Most of the ingredients in the Thai Style Yellow Curry with Chicken that I tried were, indeed, organic.  It was delicious.  A great quick meal alternative when you don't have the time to put together a lunch.


Mrs. Glee's Noodles:  A quick cook noodle made from navy beans and non-GMO corn.  It is also fortified with some of the vitamins and minerals that Tender Foodies tend to lack, like B Vitamins, Folic Acid, and Iron; as well as natural protein from the "ungassed" beans. 

The brains behind Mrs. Glee's 

Restaurants Serving Gluten-Free

I was excited to find out that The Blue Water Grill has a dedicated gluten-free fryer, so you can get your french fries without cross contamination.  Brann's also was there serving sweet potato fries from their dedicated gluten-free fryer.  I was pleasantly surprised to find Vitale's serving up gluten-free pizza, with pizza crusts from Coco Charlotte, a local-to-Grand Rapids gluten-free baker.  Willy O's, however, was serving up a gluten-free, yeast-free and dairy-free veggie pizza.  It was thin and crispy and pretty good.  It set off a few pleasure bells in my head since I haven't had any kind of pizza in years  I will have to try it again when its fresh from the oven and without broccoli (not a big broccoli fan).

Saffron's Marketplace was also there and they have a great little exclusively gluten-free shop.  I stopped by there after the fair to check out the rice cheese and daiya cheese which was whispered about throughout the fair-goers as great dairy alternatives.  But alas, this favorite will remain a mystery to me as it contains inactive yeast.   

Your server rep from Vitales and a few gluten-free options including beer and pasta



Vitale's gluten-free pizza went like hotcakes and got rave reviews


Nutritional Learning Curves


I was disappointed that I couldnt' get there in time to see Marie Catrib's demonstration of gluten-free bread making.  But I was able to catch Heather Leets, RD Dietician with Spartan Stores.  Heather discussed that rice, potatos and corn are the most common replacements for wheat, however, their starch content is high, as is the potential for weight gain if you turn to these exclusively.  

Heather then reviewed some of her favorite protein-rich, low-starch, high-nutrition flours.  These flours are my favorites as well and include teff flour, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth and a new flour to me - sorghum. I experienced sorghum flour for the first time last week as I took the plunge and had a beer after 10 long years.  Gluten-free of course.  One interesting point Heather made, was that people with celiac disease (and I'd like to add any food allergy to that) can have a tougher time absorbing nutrition.   Whole grains like these are rich in protein, soluble and insoluble fiber, B Vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium and selenium.  Amaranth, for instance has 3 times the fiber of wheat!  Personally, I feel a remarkable difference when these grains are part of my daily diet. 

I am also happy to have learned a little more about each of these vendors at a great event.

Thanks to the Celiac Ministries of Anchor Baptist Church for putting on this very successful fair!  Stay tuned for a Q&A with Nancy Spears, the mastermind behind the event.