Santa Barbara Gluten-Free Eats and Treats

I was lucky enough to spend the long weekend in Santa Barbara visiting dear friends and attending a wedding. I always love to travel and try new places, but with Celiac that can be a slightly nerve-wracking experience as there sometimes aren’t a lot of safe, gluten-free options. I went into the weekend really excited but expecting to subside on bars and snack foods (if you need ideas, check out this post) but was so pleasantly surprised to find that Santa Barbara is an incredibly gluten-free city! In fact, I would say that they are even much more accommodating than the Bay Area. Rather than do full Gluten-Free Spotlight posts on each restaurant, I thought I’d round up the restaurants in a handy post for any of you planning to visit!

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

My first meal of the trip was at Mesa Verde, a cool, farm-to-table restaurant that apparently was Santa Barbara’s first vegan restaurant! If vegan restaurant is synonymous in your mind with a hippy, dated restaurant, Mesa Verde couldn’t be farther from that idea. Rather, it has low lighting and clean lines and the plating is all beautiful, with Chef Greg Arnold creating “visually arresting compositions using imaginative vegan ingredients.” For my meal, I went with the Macro Bowl (rainbow chard, quinoa, grilled cabbage, kale, broccolini, shishito peppers, romesco, tahini, chimichurri) and left out the white beans and hummus as I don’t eat beans. This was seriously one of the best meals I have had since going gluten-free and I don’t say that lightly! When cooking I usually think of using one sauce but I’m re-thinking that strategy as the combination of romesco, tahini and chimichurri was seriously unreal. It was a huge portion and I ate every single bite because I loved all the flavors so much. It had the perfect amount of heat and was complex and delicious. If everyone could eat meals like this one, I think that we’d have more gluten-free/vegan believers out there!

Pickles and Swiss

When we stopped for a quick lunch the next day, we went to Pickles and Swiss, a cafe who’s tagline is “fresh bread and produce every day, nothing frozen, nothing deep-fried, gluten-free, no fillers, no nitrates, no artificial flavors or transfat.” Basically, it’s a cafe that actually believes in healthy eating and makes it easy and accessible. Normally at a cafe I would only order a salad due to cross-contamination of bread, but the staff at Pickles and Swiss was amazing. I spoke with the manager and he explained to me that their gluten-free bread was made locally and showed me the ingredient list and I was happy to see that it isn’t made with corn flour or dairy. I did a custom sandwich with Boar’s Head turkey (all Boar’s Head deli meats and cheeses are gluten-free) and they even heated up the bread on a special, gluten-free tray in the oven and were totally aware of cross-contamination. The sandwich was delicious and a rare treat and I would definitely stop in again.

Alchemy Cafe

Alchemy Cafe

Alchemy Cafe is connected to the Alchemy Wellness Center & Spa and is definitely a hidden gem. As you walk into the restaurant it feels a little like leaving the world behind and entering a more zen-like space. The menu is local, organic, healing, seasonal, vegetarian cuisine. One thing that is not mentioned on the menu or website, however, is that the entire menu is gluten-free, with the exception of one roll they offer and they are currently looking for a locally-made, gluten-free bread that is 100% organic. Upon hearing that I could have basically anything on the menu, my eyes lit up, as this pretty much never happens! I debated long and hard between sweet (buckwheat crepes made without any cross-contamination!) and the Thai curry. I ended up going for the latter and it was absolutely delicious and creamy and paired it with a green juice. My best friend went for the Alchemy Rolls (rice paper wraps with fresh carrots, avocado, sunflower sprouts, basil, cilantro, mint and cashews served with creamy Thai dressing) and after tasting them, I can agree that they were fantastic as they were light but packed with yummy, fresh ingredients. I also tried their Vanilla Coconut Macaroon and Almond Butter Goji ball and both were great for when you went a sweet way to finish the meal!

Backyard Bowls

backyard bowls

I’m a huge fan of acai bowls and frequent a few places in the Bay Area, so I was excited to try Santa Barbara’s version, Backyard Bowls. Because I can be slightly high maintenance when ordering an acai bowl (I wish there was a “create your own” option) I modified the Berry Bowl by leaving out the apple juice, bananas, blueberries, granola and honey and added almonds, coconut and cacoa nibs, the latter of which are my latest obsession! It was delicious and although I missed the greens which are in the ones I get normally, it was like a treat for breakfast and perfect for an on-the-go kind of morning.

Question:

-What’s your favorite foodie city?

-Any other gluten-free friendly cities I should know about?

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Gluten-Free On-the-Go

When you have food restrictions or allergies, you often lose the option to pop into any restaurant or store for a snack when you are out and about. After finding myself starving on numerous occasions, I finally wised up to the importance of snacks. There are tons of gluten-free snacks on the market now, but since I avoid processed foods, I went on the hunt for items that were relatively shelf-stable and had very few ingredients. These are some of my favorites that have saved me from getting hangry when too many hours have passed in a situation where I’m unable to eat. I’m always looking for new snacks to add to my rotation though, so what are some of your favorite snacks when you are on the go?

GF on the go

1. Sprouts Organic Kale Chips: I’ve written about my kale chip love before, but these are my current favorite. The ingredient list is super clean and they run about $5.99 so a little less than many on the market. I really love the sea salt variety too but for a fun change, I’m in love with these spicy, crunchy chips.

2. Larabar & Kit’s Organic Bars: I’ll admit that bars are a saving grace for me, as they fill me up and give me some nutrition when I don’t have time for real food. I’m really discriminating when it comes to bars on the market as so many have tons of added sugar and questionable ingredient lists, but I love these two because they contain only nuts and fruit. Although Larabars are more well-known, I do prefer the texture of the Kit’s one a little more as it is slightly drier and this dark chocolate flavor is perfect for when I’m craving something sweet.

3. So Delicious Coconut Yogurt: I used to be a big fan of yogurt before going dairy-free and was so excited when I discovered this yogurt because it’s the perfect snack that actually will hold you over. I love this particular unsweetened one because it only contains 1g of sugar and has a clean ingredient list. Lately I’ve become obsessed with cacao nibs and I usually add some, as well as almonds and if I have time, strawberries, for a great snack or meal.

4. Bare Organic Apple Chips: When I’m at home, one of my frequent snacks is a sliced granny smith apple, but I only like them cold and sliced, so when I’m out, these Bare ones are my favorite. What I love about these particular ones, is that they only have one ingredient: apples. They also have an addicting thin, crispy texture and are perfect when I need a snack that is going to last me for more than a few bites.

How to Eat Gluten-Free at Chipotle

When you have food allergies, dining out can be extremely difficult which is why I created my Gluten-Free Spotlight series. It’s a way that I can share with all of you great gluten-free destinations in the Bay Area and beyond. Usually the places I highlight are specialty restaurants and bakeries that only have one location. Today, however, I wanted to share with you a great gluten-free option that has locations all across the country, and abroad! Due to the many locations, Chipotle is perfect for when you are traveling and might not have access to many safe gluten-free restaurants. If you have never been to a Chipotle, it is fast Mexican food that is delicious! You order at the counter and are able to pick and choose everything that goes into your burrito bowl or tacos. This is a gluten-free guy or gal’s dream because you don’t have to worry about what is happening back in the kitchen, but can actually see it for yourself. It has taken me a little while to figure out how to order safely and avoid cross-contamination at Chipotle and I wanted to share with you my tips.

Chipotle GGGF2

5 Tips for Eating Gluten-Free at Chipotle

1. Tell the person making your meal that you have a severe gluten allergy and ask them to please wash their hands and change their gloves. Most Chipotle employees are familiar with this and are happy to do it. (Word to the wise: After they change their gloves, watch that they don’t put their hands back on the tortillas… It seems like this wouldn’t happen but sometimes it does.)

2. Request that the person who has recently changed their gloves be the only one who makes your meal.

3. If you like to put lettuce or cheese on your burrito bowl or tacos, request that they use a fresh container of lettuce or cheese. (If they use an existing one, then their gloves continuously touch the tortillas and then the lettuce/cheese, therefore, contaminating it.)

4. If you are concerned about the utensils that touch the flour tortillas touching your meal, they are often happy to change those out as well.

5. Watch the process carefully to ensure that all safe practices are followed and thank the person making your meal for enabling you to eat at Chipotle safely!

Chipotle GGGF1

And then enjoy your delicious Chipotle meal! If you can eat corn, then you can also have the crispy corn tacos or add-on some corn chips to round out your meal! (I can no longer have them, but Chipotle chips are absolutely delicious!) If you have other food allergies, check out this link to the Chipotle site where there is a great chart. Also, if you are Paleo, you can still eat at Chipotle too! I order a large bed of the shredded lettuce with chicken and topped with medium salsa! You could also go for a variety of their other meat options and add the fajita veggies too, simply skipping the rice and beans!

Question:

-What’s your favorite Chipotle (or other Mexican restaurant) order?

Valentine’s Day Treats for the Gluten-Free Guy or Gal

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you can’t go to a Walgreens without being surrounded by an aisle of chocolates and sweets. For the gluten-free guy or gal though, this can be difficult as it means an endless sea of nutritional information to read to see what is safe to consume. This Valentine’s Day, I wanted to do the work for you and share some great gluten-free options that will make your significant other, friend, family or even yourself, very happy.

V-Day Collage

  • See’s Candies: I’m excited to report that all See’s products do not contain gluten so you can enjoy all of your favorite chocolates safely. For Valentine’s Day, they offer a variety of chocolates in their red hearts, in various sizes. Before going dairy-free, I loved See’s chocolates and highly recommend the Nuts and Chews heart! If you have other food allergies, check out this list to see which chocolates are safe for you.
  • Necco SweetheartsFor a classic treat, you can’t go wrong with a box of Sweethearts! These have been around since 1866 and billions are made every year. With their cute sayings and fruity flavors, they are the perfect little gift.
  • Hershey’s KissesFor another classic treat, Hershey’s kisses are always great for Valentine’s day and you’ll likely see these laying around the office or in your kid’s valentines. Feel free to treat yourself to Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolate, all Hershey’s Kisses Filled Chocolates and Hershey’s Kisses Special Dark, Mildly Sweet Chocolate, which are all gluten-free. It’s important to note, however, that the other Hershey’s Kisses not listed are not gluten-free.
  • Taza Chocolate Bars: I first had the opportunity to try Taza Chocolate this summer and instantly fell in love with every flavor I tried! They are rich and delicious and are dairy-free, soy-free, vegan and organic. This cute bundle in the Mi Corazon pack contains the Coco Besos Coconut bar, Raspberry Nib Crunch and Sea Salt & Almond which are sure to be the way to your valentine’s heart.
  • Vosges Exotic Truffle Collection: For your foodie valentine, opt for this truffle box full of flavors from around the world. All of the truffles sound unique and amazing, just like your valentine! These also come in several sizes too to fit any budget. (Important to note: only the square box, not the heart box is listed as gluten-free, despite containing the same truffles.)

Valentine Treats to AVOID:

  • Godiva Chocolates: According to their website, Godiva states that all of their products may contain gluten and they do not recommend any person with a gluten allergy consume their products. The same also goes for dairy and nut allergies.
  • Brach’s Conversation Hearts: Although gluten is not on the ingredients list, Brach’s states that it is packaged on shared equipment that contains gluten, so this might be an option depending on how sensitive you are.
  • Lindt Truffles and Gift Boxes: Definitely avoid these as many of their truffles and chocolates contain barley malt powder and in some cases, wheat flour. They also state that many of their chocolates may come in contact with products containing gluten.
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts: Like all Reese’s seasonal items, the Hearts are not gluten-free, nor are the Unwrapped Minis. However, the regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are gluten-free so you can still get your chocolate peanut butter fix!

Please note that I complied this list from my own research and by reading nutrition labels and allergy information. Before you consume, I always recommend reading the label as ingredients are subject to change.

Questions:

-What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day treat?

-Any other treats you would like me to investigate if they are gluten-free?