Free At Last
I TRAVELED TO the Department of Transportation office building in Shoreline early one morning on a multi-tasking mission. I didn't go to discover the cure for gridlock. Too hard. I went for breakfast.
At the urging of Bellevue nutritionist Heather Nakamura, I've been trying to eat before noon each day, but mainly I was there to find answers for a reader who suffers from celiac disease (gluten intolerance also known as celiac sprue).
Gluten is found in much of what we eat wheat, barley, rye and perhaps some oats. It's used in flavorings and food thickeners and less obvious places in a diet. Gluten intolerance marks an autoimmune-system response that damages the small intestine. Nutrients shoot through the small intestine rather than being absorbed.
It is estimated that one in 130 to 200 people have celiac, and Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group (www.gluten.net), calls it a vastly underdiagnosed disease. Symptoms often mimic other problems, from irritable bowels to chronic fatigue.
Anyway, the reader was having a problem safely dining out, so we asked other readers for answers.
They deluged us with responses. Some suggested that people be more assertive with chefs and waiters about getting gluten-free orders. Most mentioned a little restaurant at 15700 Dayton Ave. N. called Kaili's Kitchen & Catering.
I had to eat anyway, or so I've been repeatedly told, so I headed out to give it a try.
Kaili's Kitchen is a large cafeteria within the DOT complex. Kaili McIntyre suffers from celiac and maintains a Web site called wheatlessinseattle.com. She serves all kinds of food to meet workers' tastes, but wasted no time in sticking a gluten-free peanut-butter cookie in my hand. Within minutes, I was chowing down on a gluten-free ham-and-egg sandwich and a plate-sized pancake made from amaranth, which I learned is an 8,000-year-old crop prized by the Aztecs.
McIntyre sat across from me as I ate, telling me about her disease, the early misdiagnoses, symptoms and frustration over being a baker who couldn't eat baked goods. It didn't take her long to get proactive, though.
She told me a story about a small woman who came to the cafeteria and ordered a gluten-free hamburger and fries.
"She was a little bitty thing, but she was going to finish the food no matter what because it had been so long since she had been able to enjoy a meal like that. She was near tears."
Her restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch weekdays, but she also has a catering business and hopes to start her own restaurant some day.
Readers offer a number of other local eateries where gluten-free food is served: Cafe Flora in Madison Park and Tulio Ristorante and Wild Ginger downtown, P.F. Chang's China Bistro at Bellevue Square. Outback Steakhouse restaurants have gluten-free menus. Cafe Ambrosia on Lake Union, Sunlight Cafe on Roosevelt Way and the Flying Apron Bakery in the University District were often mentioned. As a rule, vegetarian, Mexican and Asian restaurants are promising for celiacs, although many soy sauces contain wheat.
Those who want to cook at home can check out several cookbooks, including "Cooking Gluten-Free!" "The Gluten-Free Gourmet" and "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Fast and Healthy." Readers said Manna Mills Natural Foods in Mountlake Terrace is a good place to shop.
Several readers also suggested joining the Gluten Intolerance Group, a support system and clearinghouse for information. More information on dining out on a gluten-free diet can be found at another Web site: glutenfreerestaurants.org.
Lola O'Rourke, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said you can dine gluten-free at most restaurants if you plan to.
"If possible, call ahead and explain that the only grains you can eat are corn and rice and that you need to avoid even the smallest traces of other grains," she said. "Find out what options are on the menu, and if possible talk to the chef about modifying menu items to meet your needs. Often only a small change is required, such as substituting cornstarch for flour in thickening a sauce."
I have a food problem, too: I just don't find food that interesting. But it wasn't hard for me to imagine the frustration and dangers of not knowing how your body will react to the next thing you ingest.
I felt a certain pressure sampling a chef's food while she sat across from me asking, between my bites, how I liked it. I felt a little sheepish because I knew there was no way I could finish more than half of it. It went down well, though, because I realized it was cooking with purpose.
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff reporter. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.
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