Gluten free with bonus wheat

I was tragically disappointed tonight to find that the only place anywhere near us that does gluten free fish and chips appears to have closed down. In desperation I googled “gluten free fish and chips near me” and found that Mt Waverley fish and chips was listed. They didn’t say anything about gluten free on their menu, which always makes me nervous, but I have been pleasantly surprised before. My favourite restaurant of all time, The Smokehouse at Sorrento (now, sadly, also closed :( ), had a whole slew of gluten free desserts that it never listed on its menu.

So I called up Mt Waverley Fish and Chips and asked if they did anything gf. “Oh yes,” they said. “Burgers, souvlakis, and of course fish and chips.” I was really excited. I carefully checked that the chips were cooked in their own oil, to avoid cross contamination (which can make a coeliac surprisingly unwell). “Yes, we can do that,” they assured me. So I shelved my misgivings and ordered a really yummy dinner. I asked for a gluten free burger, having carefully checked that there was no onion in the burger (I am also fructose sensitive, which is true for many coeliacs). My daughter got a vegetarian burger. We got a bunch of other stuff as well, and I repeated that the chips and my burger needed to be gluten free. They cheerily agreed.

When we got there I asked them to be sure that the chips were gluten free. They pointed to the chips, languishing under a pile of – wheat flour battered – potato cakes and said “Those are gluten free.” I pointed out that they weren’t, as they were sitting with things containing gluten (it really does make me unpleasantly unwell), and they apologised and made us some fresh chips.

Feeling quite uneasy now, I checked on the burger. “The burger really is gluten free, right?” “Oh yes, one of them is definitely gluten free.” They were very emphatic.

So we took our food and headed home, where we found it rather difficult to work out which burger was gluten free, and indeed which one was vegetarian. One burger had no meat, just a fried egg, cheese, and some salad. One burger looked very much like a veggie burger, but it had bacon. There was a third burger, which looked relatively normal. All of them seemed to have the same kind of buns, and gluten free bread is usually quite distinctive.

So I called them and asked which one was gluten free. They checked the ingredients and said it was the one without tomato sauce. I pointed out that the buns all looked the same, and they said yes, but the burger was gluten free. The one without tomato sauce was definitely gluten free. By this point I was incredulous (and also feeling slightly queasy, having foolishly eaten some of the chips). I asked again if the burger was gluten free, and again they said yes. And then I asked explicitly about the bread. “Let me check with the manager,” the guy said.

And then he came back. “No,” he said, sounding a little sheepish now, “We can’t do gluten free bread. It’s normal bread.”

By this time I just didn’t know what to say. “I ordered a gluten free burger. You said you could do gluten free.”

“Yes,” he insisted. “The patty is gluten free. But not the bread.”

“I’m coeliac. You could have made me really ill.”

“Sorry about that. You can have a refund if you’re not satisfied.”

“IF? IF I’m not satisfied? You nearly made me really ill. Yes. I do want a refund.”

“You can come to the store.”

“You can’t refund me over the phone?”

“No, only cash.” (I paid with a credit card. Taking my money was easy, it appears. As was trying to poison me.)

At this point I gave up and went to brush my teeth, in the vain hope that I could avoid ingesting too much of the gluten that was almost certainly contaminating the chips. And now I am cooking a fresh dinner, while hoping that I am well enough to eat it by the time it’s done.


If that was a nut issue, I have friends who could have died. As it is, coeliacs who inadvertently eat gluten can be unwell for days (as I very likely will be now), and it actually damages the lining of the gut. This is serious stuff. People can get sick. People can die. How can you sell food and not have the first idea about the consequences of getting it wrong?

So next time someone tells you that being gluten free is easy now, you might want to point them at this blog. It is true that a lot of places are very good at it. But the world is still a glutenous minefield for the unwary, and I was not wary enough tonight.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go throw up. Maybe I should go back to Mt Waverley Fish and Chips to do it. Bastards. No, not bastards. Fools. Culpably ignorant fools.


Fructose Friendly Christmas Pudding

I have concocted REAL Christmas pudding. Gluten free, fructose friendly and super easy. I haven’t had Christmas pudding since diagnosis 5 years ago, so this was an emotional moment for me. We tried cooking one today, to be sure it would be good for Christmas day, and I now have that true Christmas “ate so much I can hardly move” feeling. Which wasn’t quite the aim, but I couldn’t resist this pudding.

For kids you could avoid the alcohol soaking step, Miss 10 wasn’t keen on the cherries as I used too much cointreau ( but I loved them, *hic*) If you do that you might want to soak the citrus peel overnight in hot water or something to soften it a bit and add some moisture to the mix. The other option is to still use the alcohol but keep the cherries aside and not soak them.

It’s not fructose-free, so depending how sensitive you are you might need to have smallish serves, or swap all the brown sugar for glucose. I used half and half glucose/dark brown sugar.

fructose friendly christmas pudding
1 tsp  mixed spice, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger
125 g mixed peel (candied citrus peel)
1/2 packet (around 125g) glace cherries, roughly chopped. (I used Coles brand which is refreshingly free of dayglo pink colouring.)
1 cup mix of glucose & dark brown sugar
250g butter
4 eggs
1 medium grated carrot
1/2 brandy and cointreau (optional)
1 1/2 cups fresh gf breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cups gf sr flour

First check that your pudding basin fits in your slow cooker!

soak carrot, citrus peel & glace cherries and spices in around 1/2 cup of brandy & cointreau overnight (for small people don’t soak cherries, as they taste quite strong even after cooking).

Beat butter & sugar together until pale and creamy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well. Stir in flour and breadcrumbs, and then carrot & fruit mixture until well combined.

Put mixture into a 2 litre pudding basin with the lid on, cook in a slow cooker with hot water 4/5ths up the side of the basin on high for 6-8 hours.

You can serve it straight away, or reheat it when you are ready. Don’t forget that it is fructose-friendly, but not fructose free. If you are super sensitive you might want to reduce the cherries, and/or switch all of the brown sugar for glucose.

Happy over-indulging!

Life as a difficult customer

It has occurred to me that my last post, about The Smokehouse at Sorrento, could be accused of being just a smidge on the gushing side. And, of course, the Smokehouse deserves gushing praise. But perhaps those of you who are not terminally difficult customers might not quite understand what all the fuss is about. So this is my attempt to describe our typical restaurant experiences.

For background, and the benefit of those who are not regular readers (shame on you, I say!), I will summarise my family’s food situation: ghastly.  Perhaps a little fine detail might help: I have coeliac disease and fructose malabsorption, and need to eat gluten free and fructose friendly. One of my daughters also needs fructose friendly. The other has silent reflux, which in her case goes hand in hand with severe intolerance to dairy, citrus, tomato, pineapple, and a range of other things. On the bright side, none of it is likely to kill us.

For both the gluten and the reflux, cross contamination is an issue – meaning there can be not so much as a trace of the problem food stuffs in our meal, or we will suffer for it. It means not using the same utensils, same cooking surface, or letting so much as a crumb or drop of our problem foods anywhere near our meal. Feeding us is, to put it mildly, a little tricky.

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Anthelme Brillat Savarin, 1825

“Difficult.” Me, 2010.

We are painfully aware of the burden this places on the shoulders of any chef bold enough to try to cater for us. Gluten free food is, fortunately, becoming easier to find, but the rest of the set is very poorly understood. For the fructose part, it is usually enough to say “Gluten free, no onion, no garlic”, because the rest we can eat around. But even that is hard for some restaurants to do, where almost every dish has onion or garlic integral to its sauce or marinade.

Before we go to a new restaurant, I always call them to make sure they can cater for us. If they don’t understand gluten free already we generally won’t go, because every time I have tried to explain gluten free to a restaurant I have been poisoned by cross contamination.

Having found a place that can cater for us, I am always careful to restate our needs when we order, to make sure there is no confusion. It’s difficult, because I am well aware that we are asking an awful lot – we usually need several meals created from scratch, quite different to anything on the menu. Many restaurants refuse, point-blank, to even try.

“Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.”    Epictetus, ~100AD

Once we have located a restaurant that thinks it can feed us, we have to be ever vigilant. I have, in the past, found croutons (made from regular bread) in my “gluten free” meal. I have found cream glueing my daughter’s dairy-free pavlova to the plate. Her citrus free fish has been served with a wedge of lemon sitting right on top. My gluten free omelet has arrived on a piece of toast.

But these are the easy ones. The worst are the ones you can’t see, and don’t know about until it’s too late. The soy hot chocolate made in a jug that had cows’ milk in it before, and has not been washed. Or just steamed using a steaming wand that still has milk on it. The gluten free steak cooked on the same surface as something with flour. The chips fried in the same oil as something battered. These ones we find out about when the symptoms strike.

Recently we went on holiday to Brampton Island, in Queensland. I was very nervous about going to an island with only one restaurant, and no self-catering facilities, so before we booked I called several times to make sure they were going to be able to handle it. “No problem!” they assured me. “Just call us a week or so before to make sure we order in the right foods, and it will be fine. When you get here you can meet with the chef and plan a menu.”

Call them I did. And I emailed them the details, together with a list of safe foods. And I repeatedly tried to speak directly to the chef, but the phones were apparently playing up, so that didn’t happen. But they assured me it would be fine. I had a bag full of safe snacks, just in case, but I was confident that I had done everything possible to make it ok.

When we got there I went straight to talk to the chef, to make sure that he understood and could help us out. He was quite agreeable, pointed out all the things on the menu that were gluten free, and assured me that he could alter things to suit our needs. There was no question of providing a dairy free dessert for our 3 year old, though. That was apparently too hard. Fortunately I had come prepared with plenty of lollies and chocolate, so that was manageable.

Then came the actual meals. I wrote out lists of safe foods, and to make it easier on the chef, I ordered the same things for all three of us, so that he didn’t have to create 3 different special meals. Nonetheless, I was poisoned twice by foods that were allegedly safe – and another time I spotted the bread in the dish just in time.

When we asked for a dish of steamed veggies, they came out on a plate with mashed potato steeped in butter, with garlic and onion as well.  My 3 year old was so badly poisoned that she wound up throwing up (something that doesn’t usually happen with silent reflux, unless she eats a very large amount of the wrong food). I won’t disturb you with my symptoms.

Other than food, the resort was great, and to be fair, the front of house staff were fantastic. They tried their best to mitigate the chef’s appalling carelessness. Still, eating there was a nightmare. Holidays are clearly going to be tricky for us from now on.

This is the complexity we face whenever we try to eat somewhere new. This is why The Smokehouse was such a find for us.  There, we are not made to feel like the incredibly difficult customers that we clearly are. There is no sense that we are a burden, a problem, or a pest that they would really love to see scuttle out (under) the door. Under the circumstances, a little gushing seems appropriate.


You might want to stand a safe distance away today – there’s a chance I might explode. I am suffering from a surfeit of chocolate mousse and smugness. This is always a problem after I have visited The Smokehouse of Sorrento. I need gluten free and fructose friendly food, and my daughter needs dairy, citrus and tomato free, which together make dining out a challenging option, if it’s possible at all. We recently went on holiday to a resort in Queensland, and despite many preparatory phone calls, emails, and assurances that it would all be fine, the food part of the trip was a nightmare, with repeated poisonings and an utterly recalcitrant chef.

The Smokehouse, by contrast, is proof that there is a heaven on earth for those of us with complicated diets. Owner and chef David Stringer clearly loves food, and loves to share his delight. Many of his dishes are gluten free by default, and the famous smokehouse pizzas come in a gluten free option which, to be honest, I wasn’t sure was gluten free the first time I had it – it tasted far too good!

Many things I can order straight off the menu, but if I need an alteration, nothing is too much trouble. Last night I wanted to try the rabbit (please don’t tell my kids, who would be horrified at the thought. “Rabbits are friends. Not food.”), but it comes on a bed of lentils – a strict no-no in fructose friendly land.  In many restaurants I won’t order something that doesn’t come fructose friendly by default, because it’s too complicated trying to explain and find an alternative – but not at the Smokehouse. David gives it careful thought and always tries to offer an alternative which is not only safe, but delicious. In the end I had the rabbit on a bed of roasted vegies (which usually come with another dish), without the beetroot. It was heavenly.

We go to The Smokehouse whenever we are in Sorrento, but that’s only a handful of times a year. Nonetheless, David knows my name, remembers that I am gluten free, and my penchant for chocolate mousse. The menu currently contains a chocolate mousse cake which includes a pastry base (and is not gluten free), so whenever I make a booking David puts aside some of the chocolate mousse for me, without the pastry, in my own special gluten free dessert. I don’t even have to ask. There is a range of desserts, several of which are gluten free, so he really doesn’t have to go to the extra trouble, but he does it automatically. You get the sense that David wouldn’t be happy if a customer left The Smokehouse in anything other than a state of blissful contentment.

It’s not just David who makes the Smokehouse such a delight – every member of staff gives the impression that they are thrilled to see you, and dedicated to making you smile – even if you bring a horde of ravening children with you. Show up at the door with small people and the staff immediately grab the textas and colouring sheets – and they carefully select the right pictures, conferring in very serious tones with each small person to make sure that they have picked the best possible picture. They make them feel so special and welcome that our girls adore the place, and always clamor to go there.

Of course, the food is magnificent.  I am always encouraged to branch out of my conservative dining habits and try something new, and the results are invariably delectable. I must admit, though, I rarely have anything other than the mousse for dessert.

The only problem with the Smokehouse is its popularity – it’s always wise to book ahead. Once when we went there on the spur of the moment the only seats left were at a bar around the edge. I was heavily pregnant, and although I sat there quite happily, David was not content with the arrangement. Within about 5 minutes a table was magically arranged for us.

The Smokehouse is a wakeup call to other restaurants – it is possible to cater for strange dietary requirements cheerfully and well. It is so hard for us to find a restaurant we can all eat at, and so often it’s a huge drama to get things that we can eat safely. We wind up leaving many places feeling frustrated and unwelcome, as though we have asked the world, wrapped in a solid gold ribbon. Yet despite being the world’s most difficult customers, we always leave the Smokehouse feeling cosseted, smug, and full of chocolate mousse. It’s sheer, unadulterated, chocolate flavoured bliss. We’ll be back!

Feed me, Seymour! But make it gluten free.

Feeding someone with a severe gluten intolerance such as coeliac disease is a lot harder than most people think. Before I was diagnosed, I thought it was simply a matter of avoiding wheat, rye, oats and barley. Sure, those things are in a lot of foods, but once you take those off the ingredients list the rest is easy, yes? Er, no, as it happens. Not at all. Not even close. So this is my attempt to explain how to cook gluten free. It covers all of the traps I have encountered so far, and I hope it will be a good guide for those who wish to boldly invite somebody with coeliac disease over for dinner. Take heart! It’s tricky, but not impossible.

The biggest problem with trying to be gluten free is cross contamination. People with coeliac disease react to a single crumb of gluten, and can be poisoned by as little as a drift of flour dust in the air, or a spoon that was put down on a crumby surface and then used for stirring. Being poisoned with gluten is a little like getting gastro. For some coeliacs it doesn’t have obvious symptoms (but nonetheless damages the intestine), but for others it can lead to full gastro symptoms, which I won’t disturb you with. Suffice to say that there is a reason that “Crumbs!” is now my worst swearword.

There are many traps with cross contamination, especially if you don’t regularly cook gluten free, because if you have ever used a spoon for flour and then put it into your sugar jar, your sugar is no longer gluten free. Your butter, margarine, jam or honey is not gluten free if you ever put the knife from the toast back into the spread. If you are cooking gluten-free pasta and use a spoon that you just stirred wheat-based pasta with, your gluten-free pasta isn’t. See? Nasty, isn’t it?

Another surprise trap is that cooking surfaces like BBQs that have ever been used to cook anything with gluten are contaminated unless they have been very thoroughly cleaned. You can’t deep fry gluten free and glutenous* food in the same oil, as the crumbs will cause cross contamination, so hot chips and the like are usually not gluten free, unless they are cooked in their own special oil. You can’t use the same tongs, or the same spatula. People with coeliac even need a separate, gluten-free toaster that has never been sullied by ordinary bread. One slice of glutenous bread in that toaster renders it unusable for us.

I have lost count of the number of cafes I have seen that sell “gluten free” cakes and slices, but keep them on the same plate as the ordinary cakes, and use the same tongs.

The safest way to be gluten free is to use fresh packets of everything, have all your surfaces thoroughly clean and crumb free, and not cook anything glutenous at the same time (to avoid mixing up your utensils).

Then there’s the hidden gluten in processed foods. Fortunately these days labeling in Australia is very good – if it is derived from wheat, barley, rye or oats, it must be listed on the label. It is usually safest to avoid products labeled “may contain traces of gluten”, although some coeliac sufferers choose to eat those, so it is worth checking with your friends what they prefer.

Products that contain wheat glucose syrup as their only glutenous ingredient are actually safe, as the glucose syrup has been so highly processed that there is no gluten left. Wheat starch is not ok, however, so if you’re not sure, best to avoid it. Most sauces, especially soy sauce, are not gluten free, so either read the label very carefully or avoid them. Sausages and many cold meats like ham and processed meats often contain gluten, so its best to seek out alternatives that are labeled gluten free.

There is gluten in the weirdest places – some cornflour is made from wheat (go figure). And the flavourings in many chips, nuts and other snacky sorts of foods often contains wheat. Obsessive label reading is your friend, or play it safe and only buy things labeled gluten free.

There are gluten free alternatives available in many supermarkets (often in a separate gluten-free section), and some excellent specialty shops about the place – check out your local coeliac society website for details. Anything labeled “gluten free” is safe. For many recipes you can directly substitute gluten free flour for ordinary flour with good results, although it takes a bit of practice to refine the proportions. In general, gluten free flour tends to leave things dry and crumbly, so make your mixtures wetter, and use xanthan gum to help them stick together. (You can often buy Xanthan gum in the health food section (or, as I like to call it, the freaks and weirdos aisle) at the supermarket.)

So that’s gluten free in a rather large nutshell. But wait! There’s more! Stay tuned for my next exciting installment – how to be fructose friendly!

(Please add a comment if you know of any traps I have missed – it would be great for this article to be a continuously evolving, up-to-date resource!)

*Note “glutenous” means containing gluten, as opposed to “glutinous”, which means sticky.

You might also be interested in my “fructose friendly” post.