Joining Urban Jungle Bloggers with June's #plantcolorpop

June 30, 2015

purple orchid for urban jungle bloggers plant color pop

Where plants are concerned, I have no natural aptitude whatsoever. If there was something more inept than having a black thumb, that would be me. I even managed to kill a succulent earlier this year. I didn't even know that was possible! But when reminded of Judith and Igor's project, Urban Jungle Bloggers, from this post from Anna about great planters and getting more greenery in her own home, I decided there's no time like the present to improve my plant situation.

So I'm starting out slow, with my little bargain orchid from Ikea, a flower I'd always admired in other people's windowsills yet always thought they would be too delicate for my clumsiness around plant life. According to the website Beautiful Orchids: "Phalaenopsis... are among the easiest of the orchid family to care for." Praise the plant gods! These relatively low-maintenance flowers might be just what I need to tentatively test my toe into the waters of successful plant ownership - beyond a couple succulents and some half-dead herbs.

I remember a few years back lamenting to my friend's mom about my basil always dying and felt immediately better when she told me of basil's temperamental, needy nature, thriving in lots of sunlight that seemed so rare in Germany. This hurdle of understanding each plant and what to expect is perhaps my biggest. I've always been of the mindset that water plus sunlight means it lives, right..? Clearly my learning curve is going to be pretty steep. My fumbling start may mean I'm a less-than-regular poster for this project, but I intend to take full advantage of the inspiration I know it will provide to learn about and care for each of my green friends appropriately.

Pressing thumbs I can create my own urban jungle before too long...

Celiac and the frustrations of eating out

June 23, 2015

gluten-free card in Jute Bäckerei bakery window

Sigh. Celiac, it seems, is a constant dance with my well-being. I ease up on the reigns of food enjoyment - and I pay the consequences. I mean, we moved to Berlin in large part for the food! We got a taste of all the culinary greatness here, and then - boom! - I'm just supposed to give all that up? Am I just supposed to stay at home every evening with raw veggies, ignoring the sounds of summer - the satisfied slurp of an ice cream cone, the celebratory clink of wine glasses - on the street below us? Granted, with the arrival of summer weather and all the glorious food fests Berlin has to offer, my strict eat-bio-and-grain-free-at-home-only has seen me slip back into less vigilant eating practices. So much so, my body is pulling back on the reins.

Admittedly, I'm a little raw after a recent realization about food I'd eaten that it turned out was not gluten-free. As soon as I read the message from my friend Adam, that his more thorough inquisition turned up soy sauce as an ingredient in the meal I'd had twice in one week, my heart fell. All at once, I understood that my distended belly and foggy brain had not been a result of too much sugar, as I had thought (read: hoped). More importantly, it hit my eating-out confidence hard and I had a mini-breakdown right there in the park. I pouted and realized I'm better off boarding myself up inside and eating only home-cooked meals. What can I say? I still get really emotional about food.

As other celiacs can attest, even when being vigilant, eating out is a minefield. Like my glutenings from the last couple of weekend food fests made clear once again, too many people are unaware of what gluten really is and the serious implications it can have on someone like me. So why eat out at all? I mean, it's my food issue and why should I impart that on folks just trying to provide people with some good food? Believe me, I used to be one of those eye-rollers every time someone began the laundry-list Starbucks order or launched into a soliloquy of why said menu item must be altered to meet their lengthy requirements. No one realizes what a pain in the ass I am, culinarily-speaking, more than me.

But this all begs the question: Is a food allergy sufferer just never supposed to eat out? And more importantly, how is travel possible? It's one thing to inflict one's dietary needs on a well-meaning chef when managing at home is often the better, and safer, answer, but what if that isn't an option? Will people in food service ever truly understand the importance of knowing all their ingredients and their allergy ramifications? Don't even get me started on the emotional fallout around celebrations and time out with friends.

"There are few things more isolating and disheartening than being unable to freely join with loved ones to celebrate significant times in life." 
- Jenni Hulet (The Urban Poser) from My Paleo Patisserie, An Artisan Approach to Grain Free Baking

I don't mean to rant, but I thought that after 10 months of healing from my initial diagnosis and the start of living a gluten-free life, I wouldn't still be dealing with such lows where my health is concerned. All these frustrations have been bouncing around in my foggy brain, yet I never seem to have the clarity to come to terms with it 100%. Speaking with a friend one day about her husband's diabetes and its constant need for surveillance, it hit me that celiac was much the same, at least where recovery is concerned. Not even the middle of an estimated 2-year recovery time, I must still pay close attention to what my body is telling me each time I put food into it. Some days I might feel strong enough for grains or a glass of wine, others might require upping the gelatin and coconut to soothe my ailing gut. It's rather frustrating to feel like there isn't a clear-cut answer for good health and well-being every day, but I've spent much of my life not listening to what my body really needs and now we're playing catch-up from years of miscommunication.

In a very lucky turn of events, the visit this last weekend from my Wiesbaden-based friend Christie, a fellow foodie who's body also takes serious issue with gluten, meant eating out was a necessary indulgence, yet a carefully thought-out affair. After two and a half days of what was essentially a gluten-free food tour of Berlin, I managed to remain free from the clutches of usually inevitable, albeit unintentional glutening. From street food to the Michelin-starred Tim Raue (more on that later, to be sure) to the gluten- and grain-free paradise that is Sauvage, I ended the weekend rather tired, but with my belly in mostly good spirits. For all the times I am glutened and left feeling vulnerable and weak - physically and emotionally - there are shining beacons of light on the Berlin food landscape that give me hope for eating out. This weekend was definitely one of those.

And so I proceed with more caution, but also more optimism as we dive into this currently grey, rainy season that Berlin calls summer. I will stick mostly to places I know are safe, but I will also feed myself healing, nutritious food at home so I am more fortified to go out into the big world of uncertain ingredients. As I refine my diet, I hope to bring you more the successful recipes here soon!

Eating at home: Tom Kha Gai with plantain chips... and a spinach quiche with bacon & cassava flour crust
plantain chips and Tom Kha Gai Thai coconut soup gluten-free grain-free bacon and cassava flour crust spinach quiche with salad

Top 5 Berlin food events to look forward to this June

June 10, 2015

Berlin Food Collage_ Bite Club Jones Ice Cream Laksa Pop-up Spice Spice Baby Jerk Chicken

My relationship with food continues to be a complex one. Thanks to celiac, gluten is verboten. Continuing health issues have lead to me cutting out even more in an attempt to appease my protesting body. But as summer food festival season begins, my love of all things delicious has started to win out. Ever since the first Bite Club of the season, it's become almost impossible to stick to my strict organic, homemade diet. And with so many amazing things to eat, can you really blame me? Add in factors like sunshine, DJs and amazing urban locales, and my kitchen will surely be covered in a film of dust come summer's end.

These are some of the things high on my radar this month. If you're lucky enough to be in town, grab your sunnies, slip on some sandals and get outside!

Berlin Music and Streetfood Open Air Festival June 2015 at Neue Heimat

Berlin Music & Streetfood Open Air Festival

Since Neue Heimat started it's own regular street food events, I've only made it over for the Bazaar last weekend, but was easily won over by the hip, urban spot. A large open industrial space, complete with a concentrated collection of some of Berlin's best street art, leads the way here from the Urban Spree. The first of its kind, this event boasts bands, DJs, art galleries, live acts and "the best of Berlin streetfood booths". No word yet on what food will be there, but my fingers are crossed and thumbs are pressed that there's enough gluten-free options to keep me going for at least a few music sets under the summer sunshine.

When: Friday, June 12 from 18:00, Saturday 13 & Sunday 14 from 12:00
Where: Neue Heimat, Friedrichshain
More info: On Facebook

2015 Berlin Beer Week wall of beers

Berlin Beer Week

OK, I admit, it's really my husband who is looking forward to this (damn my stupid celiac), but I'm sure every other Berlin beer-drinker can relate. A whole week chock-full of events celebrating the most traditional German beverage. The list of events is rather staggering - and many big name tickets, like dinner with Lode & Stijn, have already sold out - but I can't help but pine for the ones like Beer Trivia Night at the lovely Kaschk and "Have Your Cake & Eat It" with cupcakes made with craft ales. There are also classics like craft beer and poker, hosted by none other than my better half at The Castle Pub. For all those who can drink beer, I say go forth and enjoy this momentous week. Have a beer - or three or twelve - for me!

When: June 13-20
Where: All over Berlin. Check the website for the list of events and locations.
More info: On Facebook

Berlin Ice Cream Market by Stil in Berlin This is Jane Wayne mint&berry June 2015

First-Ever Ice Cream Market

Honestly, I'm surprised it took Berlin this long to host a festival celebrating one of the best things about summer: ice cream. Like many other European countries, once the temperatures start to creep up after a long winter or at the first sign of sunshine, Germans are out in droves, lining up for a cone to kick off the season with. This is Jane Wayne and Stil in Berlin partnered up with German brand mint & berry to host an event centered solely around this perfect summer treat at the idyllic new urban pool in the open air former railway building, dubbed as industrial charm of urban Berlin meets Mediterranean '60s charm. Complete with beer garden and lounge, I foresee this afternoon to be a long, lazy one relaxing by the pool, getting up only to visit a new ice cream vendor. I think Berlin just came up with the ideal summer food event scenario.

When: June 13 @ 12:00-20:00
Where: Haubentaucher, Friedrichshain
More info: On Facebook

Schlachtfest The Lamb Edition farm-to-table June 2015

Schlachtfest: The Lamb Edition

Even in a city of the ubiquitous vegan menu, it's hard not respect a celebration around the use of a whole, humanely-raised animal. This edition will be in honor of the Müritzlamm, a native sheep that has been bred with English goats from Mecklenburg. The farm-to-table, nose-to-tail concept has been done previously with a cow and pig, to much accolades. And with courses from the likes of Mr. Susan and Lode & Stijn, duos noted among Berlin's most anticipated restaurant openings of 2015, you know you won't be anything less than blown away.

When: June 13 @ 20:30
Where: Markthalle Neun, Kreuzberg
More info: On Facebook (must buy tickets in advance)

2015 Bite Club Berlin Hoppetosse view over Spree

Bite Club

I had a love-hate relationship with Bite Club last year, considering every time I tried to go to the original spot by the river, I somehow managed to always show up on the wrong day. Well this year, they have finally published a calendar of dates to make sure it's not to be missed. I did manage a couple of last summer's Bite Club at Platoon Kunsthalle and I admit, it had nothing on that picturesque riverside location. Watching the sun set behind the Oberbaumbrücke, reflecting off the Spree, with burgers, ice cream, cocktails and tunes make this the place to be every other Friday night this summer.

Like so many food fests, gluten-free options can few and far between, but last week I tried the only thing safe* for me: caribbean jerk chicken with beans, rice, plantains and pineapple from newcomer Spice Spice Baby and boy, was it delicious. The guys from the super-tasty-looking Born Again Chicken, another newbie on the foodie scene, mentioned they were working on a gluten-free sauce (their current one sadly contains wheat), so I'm eager to see how that materializes. You can't go wrong with Jones Ice Cream's delicious new sundaes, or Zwei Dicke Bären's increasing gluten-free ice cream sandwich options either. Here's hoping more gluten-free offerings show up because I plan to be here every other Friday through the summer!

*UPDATE: Unfortunately, I was misinformed and Spice Spice Baby uses soy sauce [read: gluten] in their marinade. They have been very kind about the misunderstanding, but do know this is not safe for those with celiac or an intolerance. Bite Club regulars Taco Kween and Maria Maria Arepas claim to be gluten-free, but I can't speak to any ingredient- or cross-contamination issues. As always when eating out, proceed with caution.

When: Every other Friday (next one June 19) @ 16:00-midnight
Where: Hoppetosse, Kreuzberg
More info: On Facebook

10 things I love about {this} spring

May 29, 2015

10 Things I Love About {This} Spring

While spring is slowly coming to a close and the last of the cherry blossoms have long since been swept from the streets, the last few weeks have really felt like the best of the season. Food fests have started ramping up for summer, the weather has begun to sneak up to actual sandal-wearing temperatures, and there is a more positive vibe that falls over the city that is downright palpable. Beyond the increase in vitamin D and warm coats that can finally be stored for the relatively short season that is summer in Berlin, these are the things that have me in a spring state of mind...

Hindsight soundtrack | Whether you dig some older jams or were a teen in the '90s like me, listening the Hindsight soundtrack on Spotify will transport you back to the best of this decade. Not to worry, no awkward junior high dances or regrettable makeout sessions necessary. All the movie quoting and besties moments on the show did make me nostalgic for the days when me and my best friend were young and carefree like Lolly and Becca. *sniffle*

Blockshop Textiles new collection | I've been a big fan of these sisters' beautiful, handmade scarves for years, but I've held off on investing in one until I found the one just right for me. Thankfully this season, they introduced the Diamondback pattern and my smitten heart could not resist.

Simple jewelery | With all the shedding of layers spring affords, it seems a shame to layer on too many accessories. I'm all about simple gold things right now and the gorgeous dart necklace from Another Feather would be the perfect addition for necks finally freed from cold-weather scarves.

New sunnies | There's something about the first rays of spring sunshine that have my grey Berlin existence scrambling for my sunglasses - and this year I decided to treat myself to new prescription pair, thanks to the super affordable direct-to-customer brands out there. After much debating, I finally ordered Ace & Tate's Robin frame since every time I tried them on in a store, they made me feel chic and movie-star-esque. After all, isn't that how every pair of sunnies should make you feel?

Bright lipstick | My sister-in-law very kindly picked up a couple Bite Beauty lip products to bring during her stay last week and I have completely fallen in love with the matte crème lip crayon. I'm already plotting more from them when my mom visits later this year. There's nothing like a moisturized, bright lip to celebrate the shedding of winter layers. Plus, they're gluten-free and food-grade too!

Slouchy casual | After months of being stuffed like a sausage into layer upon layer of high socks under long underwear under pants and shirts under sweaters under coats, it's not hard to see the appeal of easy dressing in boyfriend jeans and slouchy shirts. I practically live in my H&M boyfriend jeans, but I wouldn't mind adding this Madewell courier boy shirt to my spring repertoire.

Ping pong | After nearly a year of passing by the ubiquitous ping pong tables at every park and Platz in Berlin, we finally bought a ping pong set and have taken to spending my hubby's lunch hour playing just two blocks from our apartment - as long as the wind and rain cooperate. It's such a great way to get us outdoors on most days and break that long winter hibernation. We're not terribly good, but it sure is fun.

Succulents | As much I dislike all the spring rain and grey here in Berlin, I am so appreciate how green it makes this city. I've always wanted to bring more of this greenery indoors, but my black thumb isn't having it. I have a few Ikea succulents that have miraculously survived my attempts to kill any plant that enters my home, so I'm shooting for some more of those to bring actual life into our flat. That, and those cute Ikea Kardemumma pots to put them in.

Strawberries | Growing up in California, it was always strawberry season. There was no waiting for the month when they finally hit the grocery shelves, they were always there. Now halfway around the world, the season must be patiently waited for, when all the little strawberry-shaped stands appear on every other street corner and the prices for a basket of the local stuff comes down to reasonably affordable. Then, I relish in eating strawberries with thick Greek yogurt or sliced on top of waffles or pancakes. But my favorite way to enjoy them has to be in a spinach salad, sprinkled with slivered almonds, crumbled feta and a glug of balsamic and olive oil. Mmmmm. Tastes like spring.

White sneakers | I've always been terrified of white sneakers. Perhaps the aversion had more to do with bad '80s memories of puffy-painted sweatshirts and leggings worn with ratty, high-top Reeboks or just my absurdly large feet, but I never felt like it was something I could pull off, let alone keep clean. When the Adidas Stan Smiths showed no sign of letting up this season, I figured, what the hell. Much comfier than Chucks, more substantial than Supergas, and at least the leather can be buffed back into decent-looking shape when inclement spring weather arises. I am a definite convert.

What about you? What has you feeling particularly spring-like these days?

Recipe | Matsaman Curry + Cauliflower Rice

April 24, 2015

Matsaman chicken curry with vegetables and cauliflower rice_ gluten-free grain-free

In my previous life, unburdened by poor health and any concern for nutritious eating, white rice could have been a food group. I ate it like crazy. In my poor college days, I would buy Chinese boxes filled with it, adding soy sauce for bargain work lunches, not really thinking of what little it did for my body. I'd eat leftovers for breakfast, with hot milk, butter and sugar for an improved texture experience on the oatmeal I so detested. But on it's own? Well, white rice really doesn't taste like much. So what was I holding onto by not trying an alternative?

I'll admit, I'd heard of cauliflower "rice", but as a staunch hater of the white veg, I never even considered it. Once I opened up to the idea, my newly narrowed food world opened way, way up. As an accompaniment to curries and Asian-inspired meat dishes, it's the perfect sub for rice - and surprisingly delicious, even for those fellow cauliflower-haters out there. Trust me on this one. High in fiber and vitamin C, it offers a lot more nutrition than white rice and at about ten minutes cooking time, this "rice" is ready faster than the real thing.

I feel like I'm still figuring out how to cook and eat the best way for me right now, but realizing I am down with subbing out grains like rice with cauliflower rice to make the foods I used to, the better I feel - both health-wise and that hard-to-please side of me that just wants to eat delicious food. This curry satisfies all those needs, not to mention that like most curries, it's super easy and flexible to all kinds of substitutions. Change up the veggies. Omit the meat if you're vegetarian. Use a different curry flavor (I love the green curry paste for Thai Turkey Meatballs). Make a big batch and you're fed for days. What's not to love?

Matsaman Curry with Cauliflower Rice

For curry:
2 Tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large chicken breasts, cut into cubes
3 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
2 zucchini, chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
1 can coconut milk
2-3 Tbsp Thai Matsaman Curry Paste

For "rice":
1 large head cauliflower
3 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 green onions, light green part, chopped
2 Tbsp coconut oil

For garnish:
toasted sesame seeds
chopped green onion
chopped corriander
lime wedges
salt & pepper

Prep the rice by grating the cauliflower into rice-sized pieces, either by hand or with a food processor. Set aside. Steam the sweet potato for about ten minutes and remove from heat, set aside.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic, sauté until garlic is fragrant and onion is translucent. Salt and pepper the chicken cubes and add to pot, stirring occasionally. Once the chicken has cooked on the outside, push aside and add 2-3 Tbsp Matsaman curry paste and slowing whisk in coconut milk. Add more paste to your flavor and spiciness preferences. Stir curry sauce into chicken and reduce heat.

Meanwhile, heat coconut or olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for the "rice". Add garlic and shallots, stirring constantly to keep from browning too quickly. Once softened and fragrant, add grated cauliflower and green onions. Stir well to combine. Turn down heat to medium and continue to cook for about 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to cook evenly.

Carefully stir the vegetables into the curry. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook for about five minutes, until vegetables are at desired texture (I prefer mine less cooked so as not to have a mushy curry). Add in cooked sweet potato during the last minute or two to bring to the same temperature as curry.

Make sure rice is cooked through, then serve curry over rice in bowls and garnish with preferred toppings.

Serves 4

cauliflower rice ready to cook

It's Complicated: Eating for Nourishment vs. Enjoyment

April 8, 2015

Greens, greens, and more greens: My new eating mantra
fresh spinach salad

In all my life, I've never really examined my eating habits until now. I scoffed at dieters, rolled my eyes at health-food nuts and sent a virtual stink-eye out to everyone who went gluten-free because it was the cool thing to do (seemingly discrediting the strict eating my disease required). Years of anemia didn't mean ingesting more iron-filled foods, it meant popping iron supplements and going on my way. Even after my celiac diagnosis, I was still in it for whatever satisfied my need to not feel deprived - gluten-free pizza, doughnuts, cakes, cookies. Food was about satisfying cravings, yet it's become something too often indulged in more for its enjoyment factor, its Instagramworthiness, than it's nutritional value. Hashtag-donuts, anyone?

All food porn aside, food luxuries are ones we should be able to enjoy. Yes, it's a first-world problem, this abundance of food choice, but one so inherently tied to our psyche and well-being. Your favorite restaurant, holiday cookies made every year with your mom, that weekend brunch spot where you know the menu by heart. Not to mention travel. How can one possibly immerse oneself in a new culture without also enjoying the local food? But the truth is, these things are more than just food - they are warm memories and fulfilment. Time spent with loved ones, or even on our own, relishing in something delicious and creating a new life experience. It's hard to separate that from eating purely as a means to refuel. So what happens when we these sentiments control what we eat more than what our bodies actually need?

This disconnect has been my struggle. I grew up begrudgingly swallowing rubbery green beans from a can solely to get to the dessert, a constant at the finish line that was dinner. Salad was eaten only to be drowned in ranch dressing. I'm hard-pressed to remember anything nutritious or savory that I have strong memories of, aside from weekly steak dinners at Black Angus, complete with fried zucchini (pretty much the only kind of veg I would eat proactively) and the ever-present, sugary Shirley Temple. Sweets were what my world revolved around. Sunny days at Baskin Robbins, that green party punch that I reveled in watching kids turn their noses up at the color only to try a sip and greedily pour themselves more, weekly pilgrimages to 7-11 to spend a disgusting chunk of allowance on all manner of candy bars, sugary popcorn and slurpees for weekend sleepovers spent watching movies and obsessing over our latest crushes. It was always about getting to that sweetness at the end of the meal, that sugar-binge at the end of the week.

Savory foods did join my regular eating-for-enjoyment routine, though this appreciation dawned much later than for most. I enjoyed my foray into adulthood cooking when we moved to Germany, where I had the time to dedicate to preparing delicious meals in the absence of great restaurants and learned fresh, from-scratch recipes where the oft-used American shortcut staples did not exist. I learned fresh green beans are crisp and delicious, not the overly-salted little pieces that used to squeak between my teeth as a child. I enjoyed it, I even got pretty good at it. Sure, I still baked and indulged in sweets regularly, but now I looked forward to Sunday dinners of meat braised for hours and spicy curries chock-full of fresh vegetables. Delicious food finally went beyond ice cream and cake.

These food priorities, government-endorsed food pyramids and hippie naturalists be damned, is why my world came crashing down when gluten became my greatest enemy. No pizza, burgers, pasta, waffles?! How would I survive? Never again, Burgermeister? No more Sunday brunches? Well, I did survive. I re-learned how to cook in a way that was safe for my autoimmune disease-ridden body, and I hardly felt deprived at all, all social situations aside. I thought I had my demons under control. But just as things were starting to get good again, just when I had a way to channel my love of good food and satisfy a frustrating food intolerance into something positive, my body shouted 'no' and raised the white flag. All those pre-diagnosis symptoms were back, this time, enemy unknown. Back to gasping for breath after coming up the stairs to our apartment, waking from 10 hours of sleep still exhausted and regularly struggling to pull basic information caught somewhere in the fogginess of my brain. Perhaps the most upsetting? The gut that would protrude to six-month-pregnant proportions in a matter of hours and the elasticated pants that were increasingly necessary. I realized there must be something more than the now-non-existent gluten that was bringing me down.

I spent countless days falling down the rabbit hole that is medical symptoms on the internet and making very interesting discoveries. The studies that suggest sugar is more addictive than crack. The fact that there's added sugar in my canned tomatoes. The belief many have that the gut controls so much about the body's health, and when it is out of whack, the whole body follows suit. So I decided to make some more drastic changes to the way I ate. First, I cut out all sugar, including most fruit, but also grains and starches as well. I began eating only organic in a quest for simpler, chemical-free food easier on my ravaged gut. I added things in like bone broth, gelatin and lots of coconut (oil, milk, dried) and cinnamon, that are also supposed to heal and help with inflammation. While I've taken a lot of notes from diets like GAPS and Autoimmune Paleo, I've always been cautious of anything described as a 'diet' while using it as a platform to sell something. When these sites hawking cookbooks and supplements gave way to incredible stories, like Dr. Terry Wahls, who essentially reversed her MS symptoms through her diet, I started to really listen. Besides, my journey wasn't about losing weight or jumping on a trendy eating bandwagon, it was about my health, at a basic functioning level.

The more I read about healing through food and how it can help symptoms of autoimmune conditions - from which both my husband and I suffer - it seemed to be a smart path to follow. For the second time in one year, I began a new food journey... In the first week or so, I had some major emotional crashes, sobbing uncontrollably and swearing if I ate roasted chicken and vegetables again, I'd scream. But just like cutting out gluten, cutting out refined sugar, all grains and most dairy (and coffee and alcohol) has been a learning curve, though not as scary and depriving as one might think. There have been some clear losers in the quest for good recipes (I've determined paleo pancakes just taste like a sweet omelette - ugh) and some surprising winners (cauliflower rice?! but I hate cauliflower! *mind blown*), but the good news is I'm finally getting the hang of cooking this way and more importantly, feeling better. The coffee and alcohol though, I miss those terribly. Well, and corn chips, if I'm honest.

I understand these are not great realizations, that most healthy adults eat a well-balanced diet and don't fall to pieces when they can't patronize their local ice cream shop or catch up with friends over a cup of coffee. But I am a product of all my years of unbalanced eating and over-indulgence, convinced decades of choosing enjoyment over nourishment has left me with a body that is finally fighting back and a mind that's trying desperately to catch up to what is good for me. My outlook is still uncertain as I spend all hours of the day either researching, shopping for or preparing all of our from-scratch meals and try not dwell on the prospect that eating out and travel feels even more impossible than it was before. My doctor seems to be searching for a more concrete answer, one with the word 'disease' attached that requires more rounds of invasive tests, but I'm not entirely convinced. I don't know if this 'diet' is the course I will stay on indefinitely or if I will ease up once my body heals, but I'm going with my gut, quite literally. For now, it's nourishment for the win (with enjoyment thrown in every now and then).

Grain-free, dairy-free, no-sugar-added apple cinnamon roll via Grazed and Enthused
no-sugar-added, paleo cinnamon roll

Top 10 US Import Beauty Products

February 27, 2015

Top 10 US Import Beauty Buys

Being an expat is hard enough without also having to settle for crap European deodorant (raise your hand if you feel me on that one?) and lip balm that doesn't do much to un-chap your lips. Home may now be overseas and there may be a slew of great products to discover over here, but sometimes there's nothing quite like the staples you'd come to depend on. Both new and old, these are my favorites that I have come to depend on - and fill my suitcase with anytime I visit!

It's a 10 Miracle Leave In Product| As the name implies, it's a miracle for overly dry, damaged hair. My sad locks, parched from several journeys into various hair colors, soak this stuff up like a sponge. Now I'm wishing I had bought the bigger bottle last time...

Sally Hansen Nailgrowth Miracle| Ever since this product was recommended to me by a former colleague with some of the prettiest nails I'd ever seen (thanks, Ashley!), I have never been without it. Whenever I've tried something else, I've always been disappointed. I was thrilled to see Sally Hansen products show up in German drugstores, only this magic gold bottle is annoyingly absent from the lineup of nail treatments. Don't be fooled by the other offerings, this is the holy grail for strong, glossy nails. I always return home with multiple bottles for my dry, brittle nails.

eos Medicated Tangerine Lip Balm| Let me just be honest: I've always had super-dry lips. I would go through tubes and tubes of lip balm, trying every product on the market, stashing them in every pocket and in every bag. After my celiac diagnosis and realizing that vitamin E (which is often derived from wheat germ - who knew?!) is in pretty much every lip product, I feared I would be stuck with eternally chapped lips. Joy. No matter what products I tried that were safe, nothing gave the moisture I needed - until I found this. At first, it smells a bit medicine-y, but once it's on your lips, the tangerine takes over and all is fruity and yummy and super moisturized. Douglas just started carrying EOS balm, and it's available in the UK, but I've yet to see this particular version over here and frankly, the other flavors (I've tried five of them) just don't pack the same moisture punch. I've already blown through an entire little dome in just over a month - which while super cute, is a bit unwieldy in pockets and such - and have only one more from my last trip, so I'm plotting how to get more in bulk. Gluten-free and it works. Unglaublich.

Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Crème| This stuff is one of my ultimate beauty indulgences. It's not that expensive, but it's enough that even when I lived in the States, I only bought it every once in a while. Like so many of the products I covet, I love it because it works. Even better than that, it smells like a tropical vacation. The super-thick, goopy texture can be a bit off-putting, but one after night of slathering your feet in this stuff, leaving it to soak in under some thick socks and waking up with feet that feel like a baby's bottom, you'll be hooked. Lucky for us in Europe, it is available over here, but for a bit of a markup.

OPI Nail Polish| OPI has reigned supreme in the world of manicures for some time. It's reasonably priced considering the overwhelming color selection and top-notch formula - except in Germany. Here, a bottle of this stuff will set you back an ungodly $20. Even in the Netherlands it goes for much less! At around $8 stateside, I can't help myself from picking up a bottle or two whenever I'm back. Malaga Wine and Berlin There, Done That - surprise, surprise - will remain some of my all-time favorites.

Ion Color Brilliance Brights Semi-permanent Hair Color| For everyone who liked my recent foray into lavender hair, this is where it's at. After enjoying a brief stint with dark blue tips via Manic Panic a few years back, I was anxious to try out the whole pastel craze. I heard Ion has taken over as the semi-permanent color to use, so I bought tubes in both pastel pink and lavender. The results were mixed. The pink was beautifully subtle but definitely required longer developing time for more impact. So when I went for the lavender after the pink was gone in one wash, I was stunned to watch as the bright purple color cream on my head did not fade, no matter how much I rinsed. Almost two months later, it's faded, but still holding on for dear life. All that said, if you're looking for awesome 'temporary' color, this stuff is great. My hair was not damaged and the colors were lovely, with minimal weird tones as they faded, though they are recommended for use on hair that is already bleached so that they show up. The best part? You can find them for $5 a tube in the US, whereas I found only one color on Amazon Germany. And it went for €25.

Herbal Clear Sport Deodorant| Since jumping on the more natural deodorant bandwagon several years ago after discovering that what's in most of them in the US causes cancer and those gross yellow stains on your clothes (yeah, that's not just sweat), I've found that most of the more natural stuff is just not up to the task. Except this stuff. Even in the States, it's hard to find, but I promise you it's worth it. It's not super sticky, the smell is subtle and pleasant, but most of all, it just works. While I still have my pricey La Roche Posay one here to fall back on, I always make sure I've got a few sticks of this stocked up.

Aquaphor Healing Ointment| For serious moisture, this is the cream of the crop. Rough elbows, dry feet, even burns and cuts, this stuff completely heals. Eucerin is huge over here and Aquaphor can be found if you happen into the right Apotheke, but I've never come across the giant tubs like in the States. It's all purpose, can't-beat-it-product.

Burt's Bees Baby Bee Calming Lotion| Finding lotion that calms my irritable dry skin but manages to keep all the nasty parabens and unnecessary chemicals out of the equation can be tough. This Burt's Bees formulated for sensitive baby skin fits the bill nicely. Plus, it soaks in nicely and has a scent as soothing as the name implies.

Burt's Bees Baby Bee Dusting Powder| I am completely obsessed with this stuff. I don't have a baby, but you'd think I do by the stock of this I keep in my bathroom. If I'm not powering baby bottoms, what am I doing? Using this for dry shampoo! This 100% natural, talc-free, cornstarch-based powder has the most lovely soft smell (not really like a baby, so not to worry) and soaks up oil without making me look like I'm trying to bring back the powdered wig look. Not sure why Germany doesn't carry this product, but it needs to add this to it's Baby Bee lineup, stat!

What are your favorite US-based beauty products? Have you found any good substitutions when they are hard to find?

This Valentine's, wear your heart on your sleeve (or your shirt)

February 11, 2015

Wear your heart on your shirt this Valentine's

What better way to wear your heart on your sleeve for that upcoming holiday of love than to wear it right on your shirt? Some sweet, some funny, some just nice, simple design, these love-themed options are understated enough for wear well beyond Valentine's Day and just saccharine enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy without going overboard. Feel the love, people!

My Favorite Spots for Eating Gluten-Free in Portland, Oregon

February 6, 2015

Petunia's Pies and Pastries cupcakes cookies bars_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

Eating gluten-free in Portland is like spinning a fortune wheel and coming up a winner every time. Options are plentiful and far-and-away better than any of the GF options here in Berlin. On one hand, it made it seriously depressing to return home and remember, oh yeah, I can't just stop by fill-in-the-blank restaurant or cafe and grab something safe to eat. On the other hand, it was a great realization that my dietary restriction doesn't mean I'm cursed to settle for 'just OK' with every baked good I try.

While I feel I barely scratched the surface of this food allergy paradise that is Portland, I felt compelled to share the places that were so good, I felt little reason to explore beyond them. Things I figured I'd never be able to enjoy again - biscuits and gravy, beer and desserts just as good as 'the real thing' - can be found here in spades. So if you're heading to Portland and need to be gluten-free, or just want some really great food that doesn't make your gut feel like a ton of bricks, take a look at a few of my favorite spots for dedicated gluten-free eating...

New Cascadia Traditional Bakery

Challah French toast at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

This is one of those spots that based on the understated demeanor and its location in a rather industrial part of town, one might not expect the greatness that lies within. New Cascadia is a bakery in the true sense of the word: they excel in breads, bagels, pizzas, cookies and cakes. What I found most impressive about this place is not only that everything is totally delicious, but the texture is so right on. For everyone who has spat out a disappointing, grainy gluten-free cupcake, this place is for you. The pizza crusts are perfectly doughy and crispy, breads are appropriately fluffy in the middle (though do best when toasted, as do most GF breads) and the cupcakes somehow manage to avoid that can't-put-your-finger-on-it sense of wrongness that is experienced with most cakes masquerading as a gluten-filled treat but just not living up to their gluten-filled cousins. Texture is where New Cascadia shines.

Since I ate here on such a regular basis while I was in town, let me share the things that blew my mind: both the crispy, bubbly thin-crust and the plump cornmeal pizzas, those little cheesy biscuits, the chocolate-espresso-walnut cookie, the caramel-y nut bar, the pink champagne cupcake (January's special flavor). The vegan cupcake of the month - peanut butter and jelly - was also very good, but as a die-hard lover of buttercream, it didn't rate for me with the other option. The Sunday brunch was extraordinary. I ordered the Challah French toast (again, perfect bread texture) and my friend let me sneak a few bites of her biscuits and mushroom gravy, which knocked my socks off. I never thought I could enjoy biscuits that weren't pronounced in their wheat-based crumbliness or gravy that wasn't born from the large jar of bacon grease that stood constant watch over my grandmother's stove, let alone the fact that I don't even like mushrooms. So in short, this place rocks.

cornmeal crust pizza at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon pink champagne cupcake at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

New Cascadia Traditional thin crust pizza_ gluten free Portland Oregon

New Cascadia Traditional
1700 SE 6th Avenue
Tel: 503-546-4901
Open 7 days a week (brunch only on Sundays)
Also at the Portland Farmer's Market and several local groceries

Petunia's Pies and Pastries

Petunia's Pies and Pastries dessert case_ Portland Oregon gluten-free vegan

Petunia's is one of those sweet spots you can't help but want to go in. Classic bakery decor, an ample menu and a long glass case glittering with sugary baked goods... It's really only after you are intrigued by the magic of the place that you realize everything is gluten free and vegan. It only says it as a subheading on one of the signs outside and I'm not sure I even noticed it anywhere else. And that is the point. The food here is the star and stands for itself. The fact that us allergy-addled/dietary-restricted folks can dive in without thinking is the added bonus that makes folks like me stare saucer-eyed at the dessert case, mouth agape, muttering incredulously: 'I can eat any of this?!'.

My favorites here? The Cowgirl cookie, the salted caramel cookie bar (I die...), the chili with sweet molasses cornbread, the spicy blue corn veggie tacos and of course, the salted caramel apple pecan pie. Between the menu and the whole vibe of the place, never once do you feel like you're missing out. That said, as an adamant butter supporter, I think a few of the things I tried really could have benefited, especially texture-wise, from cream or butter. I do understand that gluten and dairy allergies so often go hand-in-hand, and I'm not sure you could find a place in the world that can cater to those needs better than Petunia's. Two thumbs way up. (I wonder if they'd ship internationally for Valentine's Day...?)

veggie chili and molasses cornbread at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon salted caramel apple pecan pie at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

blue corn veggie tacos at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

Petunia's Pies and Pastries
610 SW 12th Avenue
Tel: 503-841-5961
Open 7 days a week
Also at other retailers

Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub

beer sampler with menu at Ground Breaker Brewing_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

After my first experience with 'gluten-free' beer (violently ill), I resigned to the idea that our relationship was over. Then my husband stumbled across a brewery in Portland that was 100% gluten free, as in, the beer was sourced from non-gluten grains. None of this 'distilled out' nonsense, it was gluten-free right from the start. This brewery was in fact one of the reasons I encouraged my parents' move to Portland: so I could come visit. Selfless, I know.

On our first visit, it was burger night. Not that I could complain, since burgers were yet another pre-celiac favorite now relegated to concocting at home with some sort of bread product that could pass as a bun in some alternate universe. While I do admit Ground Breaker's bread left me a little wanting, the rest was very tasty. Such solid, soul-warming pub food that we decided to come again for its next special menu night: Christmas Eve fried chicken and biscuits. Fried chicken was always a staple in my family, with our mid-western roots, so my standards are a bit high. This lived up to the challenge and frankly, if you didn't know it was gluten-free, you would never have guessed.

So the food is pretty good at Ground Breaker, but let's be honest, you come here for one thing: the beer. If you've ever tried gluten-free beer you probably know that it's mostly crap. They've taken something that's all gluten and then distilled the hell out of it until some rancid muck not even resembling the brew you once enjoyed pre-diagnosis: (enter overly exuberant announcer's voice here) so now even you can enjoy beer like the rest of them! Nein, danke. Ground Breaker starts with ingredients like roasted lentils, chestnuts and buckwheat to create beers that while unlike 'regular' beers you might be used to, are something unique and delicious all their own. My favorites included the Corsa Rose Gold Ale (a little like a rosé wine), the IPA No.5 and the seasonal candy cane ale (with the perfect peppermint flavor at the finish).

Beer, it feels great to friends again.

burger night at Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub_ gluten-free Portland Oregon Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub no gluten sign_ Portland Oregon

Ground Breaker Brewing
2030 SE 7th Street
Tel: 503-928-4195
Open Tuesday-Sunday (Tues & Wed evenings only)
Find the beer at other locations

Portland, you truly are a dream come true for those of us with food allergies...

Hello 2015 + Reevaluating

January 23, 2015

Happy new year collage

As anxious as I've been for 2014 to be over - a hospital stint, a celiac diagnosis, cancelled vacations and money stress - see ya! - I'm embarrassed to admit 2015 has gotten off to a slow start for me. Call it perpetual jet lag, the persistent effects of accidental glutenings or just general malaise, but I've felt a bit like a recent university grad, excited yet overwhelmed by everything that lay before her. Don't count me defeated just yet, though.

The new year dawned for me back in the US, where I was basking not only in years-overdue family time and the ease of daily interactions in English, but in some eye-openingly delicious food. Be it the ubiquitous allergy-friendly menus, plethora of 100% gluten-free establishments or just the fact that I could find a safe-for-me version of just about everything in a standard grocery store, but I was in heaven. The Berliner eye-roll/huffy response to requesting special food preparation was replaced with the knowing Portlander smile and nod. The weight that lifted off my shoulders was immense and warmed my food-loving soul more than I ever though possible post-celiac diagnosis. But the easy road isn't what life is really about... is it?

So I returned to Berlin a bit perplexed and conflicted. For the first time in years, I felt a pull from the US again, and I wasn't sure what to make of it. Did I really want to go back to the States? Was I done living the expat life? Was I just letting all this past year's frustrations build up and taking it out on my adopted home? Sure, it would be nice to be able to walk in anywhere without rehearsing conversation possibilities in my head first and not having to plan outings carefully around when I can be home for something safe to eat. But are German's lack of culinary diversity/allergy understanding and my own ineptitude at foreign language enough to make me want to throw in the towel? After this last year, I admit it's tempting.

Portland Rite-Aid's (like CVS) gluten-free section: more options than just about any German grocery
Gluten-free section at Rite-Aid in Portland

When my intense jet lag finally let up enough for my husband and energetic dog to drag me all around the neighborhood, I realized what I had lost sight of. As much I let myself fall a little in love with Portland, my heart still belongs to Berlin. Berlin, with it's crazy-gorgeous old architecture, abundant trees and parks, clean streets, art and creativity everywhere. Even with the oppressive grey and rather gruff people, the latest El Bocho to go up and filling up bags of my favorite sweets are just a few of the things that still brighten my day, no matter how many days we've been without sun. Norwegians are consistently rated some of the happiest people on earth and they live in near-darkness for months. Clearly, their outlook is something worth practicing.

The answer doesn't lie in the crippling paradox of choice offered everywhere in the US, it's about the right things being offered. And right now, Berlin still feels right. The ease of European travel, the ease of walking everywhere, great health care (have I mentioned my €75 week-long hospital stay?), six weeks of vacation. Though I wouldn't complain about more quality gluten-free choices and some Talenti gelato in our grocery...

My morning coffee in Portland with this as my creamer *swoon*
Morning coffee with Talenti eggnog gelato

And so I begin this year as so many others do: with resolutions of improvement. With many of my health issues answered, I am (slowly but surely) regaining my strength and focus, something that had been greatly holding me back before. First and foremost is the language. I know I'll never be one of those linguistics pros I so admire, but I can do better than I have been. I can study more, practice more, try harder. German is hard, but it's not impossible.

It's also time I stopped feeling sorry for my limited eating situation and dove headfirst into the kitchen again. One of the greatest things to come out of my years in Germany was discovering the time and passion for cooking. I went from not knowing how to cook basics like eggs or bacon to making meals my mother demands recipes for, hosting Thanksgiving dinners and baking treats that resulted in wide eyes and marriage proposals. If I can manage that, I know I can get to the same level without any gluten. Portland's amazing gluten-free bakeries and restaurants proved that to me (more on that next week!).

So while my love of the written word still remains strong, I will rebuild that slowly, out from under the foggy haze of a long-starved celiac brain. While I plan to post here a bit less, I hope to do so with more intent. I want to mull over my words more carefully, take the time to think about what I want to put out there and focus on the things that will make me whole again in real, everyday life. Food, which for a time became an uncertain enemy, is something I need to reclaim. And not just any food, great, amazing, mouth-watering soul-nourishing food. This is my challenge for the new year, for myself and hopefully, to share with others.

I was struck by the Martin Luther King Jr. quote making the rounds last week, the one that starts: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk...". The last few years, I was definitely crawling. While I might not be flying, or even running, anytime soon, moving forward is imperative. It might sound overly simplistic, but it's a message I could stand to be reminded of at this time in my life. I know I will still have bad days with this stupid disease, days where I get sick from accidentally ingesting gluten or where I break down in the grocery because I can't even find all the safe ingredients to make dinner, but I'm determined to meet this challenge head-on. As Dr. King also said: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Bring it, 2015.

Two new hair colors down - pink and then purple. This year is already off to an ambitious start!
kate wirth pink and purple hair collage