Posted in Baltimore Recommendations

I Love You, Baltimore

Baltimore. It is a place now known and discussed nationwide…and certainly not for good reason. It is also the place I’ve called home for almost 5 years now. It is hard for me to believe that 5 years have already gone by and, I suppose like any long relationship, sometimes it is also hard for me to remember life before it. Once upon a time, I ate french fries without covering them in Old Bay; I had rarely seen Utz potato chips on a store shelf; I had no idea what a Berger cookie was…let alone how to spell that correctly; a sno-ball was nothing more to me than a spherical object tossed at someone after a January blizzard. Yes, in the almost 5 years since I arrived in Charm City, I have fallen in love with it. Someone actually warned me during my first year here to be careful about that. He insisted that you come here with a plan to simply attend school, finish an internship, etc., and then somehow, when you’re not paying attention, you fall in love with Baltimore and you never leave. Well, I’m not sure about the “never leaving” part…but the rest is certainly true.

Me with Baltimore’s unofficial mascot 🙂

Baltimore has become home to me, so much so that I moved back within the city limits just 6 weeks ago, after a 2-year stay in the suburbs. Contrary to what you’ve seen on the news this week,  Baltimore is a beautiful city. It is a place where people take great pride in their neighborhoods, their local businesses, and of course their beloved sports teams. The Inner Harbor is breathtaking; there are world-renowned hospitals and universities nestled within our little corner of the world; there is certainly no shortage of beautiful parks and there is nothing quite like a morning run along the waterfront downtown. However, Baltimore is also as dichotomous as it is beautiful. Just a few miles from that gorgeous Inner Harbor which shows up in every travel magazine are desolate neighborhoods. Empty storefronts and abandoned buildings are the norm. School buildings which long ago lost proper heating systems, ventilation, and even structural integrity still serve as home for students 6 hours a day…for the students who can get there, that is. Students ride multiple trains and buses just to get to magnet schools outside their district in an attempt to get a decent education…or simply to stay safe. This is the part of Baltimore no one wants to talk about, and the one that rarely gets attention. There is beauty in this piece of Baltimore too…you just might have to look a little harder to find it. 

I recently went for a run in my new neighborhood, which is less than 2 miles from the now-infamous Mondawmin Mall. As I ran, it stuck me how quickly everything changes. On one side of the (Light Rail) tracks, the neighborhood is gorgeous and flourishing; on the other side, empty buildings, even a once-beautiful church building sits empty. And yet as I ran, I passed residents in both neighborhoods. I tend to smile as I run past others and in the other neighborhood, I was often greeted by a smile, a wave, even a brief conversation with one friendly wandering gentleman who wished me a blessed day. When I got back to my own neighborhood, every person I passed was so engrossed in his or her own world (headphones in, eyes down) that I rarely got a response from anyone. These are not meant to be judgments/generalizations about anyone in either place, just an observation that struck me as interesting.

So what happened this week? I don’t quite know the answer to that question. I drove home from school on Monday feeling slightly concerned. Students in my class had told me hours earlier about things they had seen on social media regarding a gathering after dismissal. The typical Monday afternoon traffic was nonexistent, as I realized I was one of the few people driving south on 83 while there was a steady stream moving north. When I turned the corner to my apartment complex, I saw what made my heart sink: the basketball court at the end of the block, usually packed with 30-40 local students playing pick-up games after school, was completely deserted. I knew in that moment that something was wrong. Sure enough I noticed the helicopters flying overhead and went inside to sit in front of my television with tear-filled eyes as I watched teenagers, no older than my students, engaged in such destructive behavior.

The thing is my initial reaction was not the anger which many people seemed to feel right away. I mean, I’m not suggesting that what they did was in any way acceptable. It’s not. Such acts of violence are inexcusable. However, I couldn’t help but think of my former students back in DC as I watched what was unfolding on the screen. I thought about how they are now just a little younger than these students on the screen. I thought about the fact that no one is raised to hate or mistrust anyone; regardless of where or how you grow up, these are learned behaviors. I thought about how these teenagers must feel like they have literally nothing to lose. And I was heartbroken. I thought about the construction men from my math class this semester who told me about the feeling of hopelessness they had after serving their time in prison, about their failed attempts to build a new life for themselves when they were released; how they summed up the reality of life after incarceration in one succinct phrase: God forgives, but society? Not so much. This past week, “the other Baltimore” became the news story…but really, there is no such thing. We are all Baltimore. And just like a relationship in which two vastly different people attempt to coexist in a confined space for a long period of time, this week the relationship between vastly different worlds in Baltimore reached a breaking point. And, just like in any such relationship, it will likely remain that way until both sides are willing to communicate peacefully. Will that day ever come? I don’t know that either, but I won’t stop praying in earnest that it does.

I love Baltimore. I loved Baltimore last week, I love Baltimore today, and I will continue to love Baltimore tomorrow. That doesn’t mean I will ignore her faults, or pretend that she is something she’s not. Baltimore is not a perfect city, but she is a beautiful one. And just like every other person I love, I want her to become the best version of herself that she can be. I will continue to do my part to make sure that can happen. I don’t know exactly what that entails right now, but I’ll keep trying to figure it out. Peacefully.

In the meantime, to shed some positive light on Baltimore in the darkness of the week, I’d like to highlight some Katie-safe reasons why Baltimore is the perfect home, or even weekend destination, for a person with food allergies.

1) Sweet Sin: This bakery is ENTIRELY gluten-free. They make cakes, pies, cupcakes, bread, cookies, etc. If you’re simply gluten-free, this place is a dream come true. Even if you’re gluten-free/dairy-free, this place is still your dream (not everything is dairy-free, but there are LOTS of options). This is my go-to location for cupcakes en route to any event that might involve everyone else indulging in celebratory treats. It’s also just a really cute place with charming employees!

Delicious Sweet Sin cupcakes!

2) Meet 27: This is the bar/restaurant attached to Sweet Sin…so also ENTIRELY gluten-free. They also now have a carry-out option. The food is some of the best I’ve ever tasted…and I’m not exaggerating when I say that their sweet potato fries (battered in chickpea flour) are the most amazing dish I’ve tasted in my life, with or without allergies.

Just look at that plate of food. Need I say more…

3) Charmington’s: My favorite coffeeshop in the city by far. This is partially because coffee is delicious, partially because they make lattes with almond milk and homemade syrups in which they can tell you every ingredient, and partially because it’s around the corner from Sweet Sin so makes for a perfect Katie-safe coffee/cupcake afternoon. Granted, this is also the coffeeshop where the physicist and I reconnected on a rainy Friday night. So regardless of all those other reasons, it will always hold a very cherished place in my heart.

Beautiful beverages at Charmington’s.
The top one belonged to the Physicist and the bottom one was mine.
We were celebrating our “Coffee-versary”…doesn’t it only seem fitting that I would have such a thing?? 🙂

4) Joe Squared: This is place is usually known for its pizza, but it offers so much more. Just click here to see the amazing variety of gluten-free/vegan options. All risotto is gluten-free…AND can be vegan (yay, coconut milk!!). So are the wings. Let’s just say the options are nearly endless. At least as far as food-allergen menus are concerned 🙂

There are so many other places I could highlight, but for today I’ll stick to my favorites. Please, don’t be convinced by what is shown on television that Baltimore is simply chaos and destruction. We are not. Right now our harbor is lined with National Guard troops, the Ravens parking lot has become a command station of armored trucks, and we are understandably a city on edge. We are no doubt flawed, and right now you might even say broken. However, we are also beautiful, we are resilient, and we are hopeful; hopeful that someday soon, both peace and justice will reign in our beautiful city. Until then, I’ll continue my prayer: May God protect ALL people of this city; and may Christ’s love pervade every street corner, every citizen, and every heart in Baltimore this night and always. Amen.

Posted in Baltimore Recommendations

Love Shout-Out #4: Glory Days Grill

Upon glancing at the calendar this week, I realized that 2014 is now more than half over. I also realized I’ve written an unacceptably small number of love shout-outs; hence, I made a list of topics I need to address before the year is through. (Of course, I’m also optimistic enough to believe there will be additional items added to the list before the 2014 calendar is removed from its place of honor in my kitchen on December 31st) And here is the next item on the list: Glory Days Grill.

Now to be completely honest, my love affair with Glory Days dates back to before my food allergy days when I could blindly consume any item on the menu; due to that fact, I can also personally attest that every dish is beyond scrumptious! Furthermore, the delicious dishes and wide array of choices were just the beginning. The true reason I fell in love with this little sports bar/grill is because of the people who populated my time there in the early days. As you may remember, I moved to Baltimore 4 years ago after my time in ACE DC came to an end. You may also remember that I knew only one person in the Baltimore metropolitan area when I arrived. So one week into my tenure at my brand new school, I received a message from the Saint in a Bow Tie that there would be a group of other new teachers from his school gathering at a place called Glory Days to celebrate the fact that we all survived our first week as part of our new school communities- not always an easy task I can assure you.

The early days: I can’t believe how young we look!

Little did we know that day was the start of something truly beautiful. Every Friday afternoon for an entire year, our little crew gathered to share laughter, smiles, hugs, the occasional rant, life advice, etc. And of course our group evolved as other colleagues, spouses, friends, and roommates were added to the mix.

It’s now 4 years later and though our group rarely gathers at those same high-top tables anymore, it is still those same individuals (and the other amazing people I’ve met because of them) who have become my Baltimore family. There have been new jobs, new spouses, new babies (and of course new food restrictions!) and some haved moved on to new adventures away from Baltimore as the years have passed; but I can say without hesitation that I am forever grateful for the fellowship and friendships formed over those delicious Glory Days burgers.

Making days glorious since 2010 🙂

Now the sentimental attachment I’ve formed with this place is just the beginning. If you have food restrictions and live in the Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia or Florida area: do yourself a favor and find your nearest Glory Days. And because I believe in efficiency, I’ll provide you with an enumerated of reasons.

  1. They have a gluten-free menu. And it’s an extensive one at that! Burgers, wings, salads, even desserts(!!): so much to choose from! AND they just recently added certified gluten-free buns to their burgers. I can’t say I’ve tried one because of the soy and corn issues, but a lettuce wrap is a delicious alternative too!
    That’s right: I’m such a frequent guest, they gave me my own gluten-free menu to keep!!
    It now hangs proudly in my kitchen for quick reference.
  2. They have a dedicated fryer!! Yes, that means french fries are back!! As you may know, french fries themselves are gluten-free; however, there are very few places where I (and my gluten-free friends) can actually order fries because they’re usually cooked in the same oil as the chicken tenders, fried shrimp, etc. so it’s off the table.
  3. Burger Monday! I am not exaggerating when I say these are the best burgers I’ve ever had. And every Monday you can get any burger for $5.99! (Though if you want a specialty burger, it’s $7.99) I know that may sound like a lot…but keep in mind that include fries and a pickle. I can guarantee Five Guys will cost you more than that (though don’t get me wrong, I LOVE them too!!)
  4. Taco Tuesday! Now the regular tacos are not on the gluten-free menu, but it’s a good way to entice your gluten-eating friends to join you on a Tuesday. Plus, they have fish tacos during certain months and they were gracious enough to serve them to me on a Tuesday wrapped in lettuce and it was totally safe for me! Tacos are also $5.99 all day every Tuesday.
  5. My personal favorite: Wing Wednesday!! Bone-in wings are 80 cents each and boneless wings are 60 (though bone-in are the only option for gluten-free friends!) I highly recommend the Old Bay Wings. They’re good enough to warrant a visit to Baltimore. Plus you get to see me too of course 🙂
  6. Happy Hour! It runs every day from 4-7 PM. Each location has different specials but take it from me, they’re great. AND they now have Angry Orchard on tap!! (Though you will have to check at your location to make sure it’s on a new line, not a tap that used to have glutenous beer coursing through it) I finally get to enjoy cider from a glass at a discounted price. Dreams do come true.
  7. Curbside-to-Go! Yep, even when I don’t have a friend to join me for an evening at Glory Days, I can enjoy it in the comfort of my own home with just a quick call ahead. Life-altering to say the least…
Last but not least, this is a timely post in the sense that this Tuesday is NATIONAL CHICKEN WING DAY!!! I know, I know, it seems everything has a national day these days. However, regardless of whether this is a real thing or simply a keen invention of the Glory Days marketing department, it means this Tuesday is $5 Chicken Wing Day! $5 for an order of 6 bone-in or 8 boneless wings: all. day. long.

3 more days!!
That ends my rambling review of Glory Days Grill. For those of you fortunate enough to live in close proximity to one, please make time for a visit. You won’t regret it. And those of you who aren’t so lucky, I’m sure there are other great you-safe restaurants near you too. But if you make your way to the Baltimore area, let me know. I now live within walking distance from the Towson location…so I’ll meet you there anytime 🙂
Posted in Baltimore Recommendations, Tips and Tricks

Summer Adventures, Part 1

I know I tend to go off the grid somewhat frequently with these posts and I leave you wondering if I’ve abandoned you in your food allergy/intolerance quest. However, it is summer and thus you would think the posts should be coming more frequently again.  Unfortunately for you, that won’t be the case for a few weeks. I’m off on some more adventures! I’m headed to a weeklong service camp with my parish youth group and then I’m headed straight for the airport to reunite with my ACE DC family to celebrate the first of the roommate weddings!! Then it’s off to the Poconos for a few days for some quality time with my mom and sister. So in short, there won’t be much time for writing until around the 4th of July.

So excited to reunite with these guys in 6 days!!
(Side note…how was this 6 years ago??)
…and to celebrate our favorite science-loving roommate 🙂

So in the meantime, I want to leave you with 2 amazing tips to make your allergy-free summer just a little bit better.

1) Keep cool/Avoid the Stove!: I know last summer when I first learned about my newest intolerances, I was using the stove everyday…or sometimes multiple times a day. Believe it or not, there are many things you CAN still eat that won’t require much stove usage. No, take-out is not as much an option as it used to be but there are cooler/”Why turn on the stove when it’s already 90-degrees+” choices.

  • Salads are your best friend. Stock up on veggies, buy some olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and get creative!
  • Buy pre-cooked chicken. Now this is a tricky option because many pre-cooked chicken options have soy or corn in them. However, Applegate Farms makes great gluten-free, casein-free grilled chicken and certain stores (Fresh Market for one) sells those great rotisserie chickens that are safe…but BE CAREFUL. Most traditional chains’ (Weis and Giant I know for sure) rotisserie chickens contain unsafe additives, namely soy and wheat.
  • Use the microwave. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both have great gluten-free, casein-free chicken sausage options that are pre-cooked and thus need a little warming in the microwave. Now I know there is a raging debate about the safety of microwave radiation…but this isn’t the time or place for that debate. If you can find bacon or sausage that just needs a little microwave energy, it can make your summer much more manageable. 
A little lettuce, bacon, red pepper, and avocado can go a long way…
2) Eat Snow Domes!!: Now I apologize in advance to those of you who don’t reside in the greater Baltimore area because this is kind of a tease; but when I’m this excited about something, I just have to share. When I was younger, I knew what snow cones were. They were offered at most church carnivals and school field days. That delicious array of syrups squirted onto ice in various combinations. Then they had the gross version in a plastic wrapper on the ice cream truck that frequented our pool. (The real question is why I kept getting them, thinking each time that somehow it would magically be better than the time before) Well, here in Baltimore, I’ve learned two things: 1) they’re not snow cones, they’re sno-balls (or snowballs…it seems the crowd is split) and 2) every other snow cone in your life will pale in comparison to these delicacies. Seriously, there’s a map and everything: Baltimore LOVES Snoballs. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a few during my second summer in Baltimore thanks to the kids I babysat for, but for all its perks, those icy cups of deliciousness contain a million crazy ingredients, corn being a major one. Thus last summer I had reluctantly accepted that my days of refreshing icy treats were behind me. And then one magical night, everything changed…
I found Fresh Bites Snow Domes. I was enjoying a Thursday night concert/picnic dinner at a local vineyard with some dear friends when one of them returned from the farmers’ market stands with the news that she found a woman selling snoballs that were made with all-natural, homemade syrups. I don’t think I’ve moved so fast toward a vendor in my life. After a brief conversation, I learned that the woman (whom I now affectionately refer to as “my snowcone lady”…I know, I know a little selfish; I’m well aware that she actually cares equally about all her customers) started working on these syrups when her son was young because she didn’t like the idea of feeding him all the artificial ingredients in a sno-ball. Now he’s grown and she’s taken her syrups on the road. Literally. She operates out of a little truck. Her flavors are unique and I can personally attest I have yet to try one I didn’t like. And if you are allowed dairy, say yes to her offer of sweet cream, whipped cream, and/or caramel on top. Especially if you get the apple pie one 🙂
My cherry-lime delicacy 🙂
Baltimore friends, she’s at the Kenilworth Farmers’ market every Tuesday throughout the summer and she also visits various events. She’ll be at the Towson 4th of July parade! (as if you needed another reason to attend) Also, here is her website so you can stay updated on her travels.
Non-Baltimore friends, add this to your “Reasons I Really Need to Go Visit Katie in Baltimore” list.
All right, now it’s time to pack up the car and begin leg 1 of Katie’s Summer Adventures! Until next time: stay cool, stay relaxed, and most importantly, have fun!! 
And on a serious note, those of you who are in the early stages of dealing with your food issues and aren’t feeling so great these days, don’t despair. I was there too, watching/listening in envy to pictures and stories of your friends’ summer adventures while you feel resigned to the couch. I promise, keep up the diligent work, be patient, and you’ll get there too 🙂
All my food for the week in 2 bags…I’m getting better at this 🙂
Posted in Baltimore Recommendations

Love Shoutout #1: P.F. Chang’s

In line with my theme for the year, I’ve decided to reserve some posts in the upcoming year for shoutouts of love to some people, places, and things that make the food-allergy-ridden world just a little bit brighter. So here we go with shout-out #1…today I’m sending a little love to P.F. Chang’s.

Now as with most things on the internet, if you google PF Chang’s and gluten, you will get an array of responses. Some people will praise the restaurant chain as if they’re somehow responsible for the salvation of the universe…others tear it apart and swear death upon the place that made them sicker than a dog. Of course you’ll find a variety of middle-ground responses too but those are the two ends of the spectrum. And honestly I can understand. Once I get sickened by a restaurant, I tend to swear it off too; though my brain knows that it’s unreasonable to allow the actions or mistakes of one person to impact all future visits, my beaten and abused digestive tract is not so quick to forget. I, however, must say I personally have had nothing but the absolute BEST experiences at P.F. Chang’s.

It’s funny when I think about it because the very first time I ever walked into a P.F. Chang’s was because of a gluten condition…but oddly enough, it wasn’t my own. See I moved to Baltimore in 2010, a year before my official diagnosis, and though a horrible bout with the presumed stomach flu in August of that year was undoubtedly a red flag of my newfound condition, I was blissfully unaware. Another thing you should know is that when I moved to Baltimore that year, I knew exactly one person. Literally. In the entire city/surrounding metropolitan area. My school in DC had closed and despite the fact that I came dangerously close to not even showing up for my interview at the school I now proudly call my home (seriously, I paced outside giving myself a vacillating pep talk…”They’re just middle schoolers, walk through that door” {remember, I was a 2nd grade teacher so they sounded downright terrifying} countered with “Get back in the car now and you’ll just be that crazy name on a resume who never showed up for her interview”), it was only a few minutes into my model lesson that I felt it: I knew in my heart that this was the place God had in store for me next. So I packed my life into my Focus and headed up 295 to Baltimore on a total whim and a prayer…and of course the friendship of that one solitary individual I could call a friend in my new city.

Just another little reminder that I made the right decision in choosing not to run away and to walk through the door to my interview that day in 2010. Middle Schoolers are pretty special 🙂

Those first few weeks and months were a challenge to say the least…but somehow I made it to December. My solitary friend had grown into a small group and one evening we planned an outing of dinner and a show. However, that friend came to me with an issue: the girl he was dating at the time was gluten-free (yes, for health reasons). Oddly enough I remember vividly the day I sat down at my computer and googled what that meant. I searched gluten-free restaurants in our area and I made reservations at the one everyone seemed to praise: P.F. Chang’s. Being the overzealous group “mom” that I tend to be, I printed out a copy of the gluten-free menu to give her in the car on the way there and I still distinctly remember her excitedly grateful reaction and thinking “Poor girl, it must be so hard to never be able to eat out.” I think back on that now…and on the various conversations that friend and I had about the challenges he faced dating someone who was gluten-free…and I just laugh. If I had only known what the future had in store for me. Anyway, the night was a success: she had a safe and enjoyable evening out and so did everyone else. Victory #1 for P.F. Chang’s.

Long story short, over my past 3 years as the one printing out the allergen menus, P.F. Chang’s has become a beacon of light in the tumultuous sea that is dining out with food allergies/intolerances. They have an extensive gluten-free menu, specially marked plates AND dipping sauces. The wait staff is trained to ask about food issues as soon as they introduce themselves. Not to mention, the food is amazing!! Granted my selection is now limited to 2 choices but the waiter was gracious enough to merge the dairy and gluten-free menus for me to provide a printout of the Katie-safe options. Take it from me: that kind of service is rare. Their lettuce wraps are worth their weight in gold…and the lemon chicken is making me hungry just thinking about it. On top of all that, you get a fortune cookie!! I mean I can’t eat them, but that doesn’t keep me from cracking them open with the plastic wrap as my glove and tearing into my fortune.

And last week when I visited for my own birthday dinner, I was surprised to find out that they give a FREE dessert on your birthday. AND they have a gluten-free option!!! (But sadly, not one that is also dairy-free) Since they knew about my allergies, they allowed me to “gift” my free dessert to the other people at my table…and they didn’t even mind when I asked to dive into my own supply of gluten-free/dairy-free cupcakes I was surprised with earlier in the day. (Spoiler alert…that bakery will be getting a little love shoutout sometime this year too!)

Yes, I have to say without hesitation: go to P.F. Chang’s. Whether you have food issues or not, go there, enjoy it, and share in the love. You won’t regret it. And don’t forget about your fortune cookie! In my experience, P.F. Chang’s cookies have always contained actual fortunes…not those “You’re compassionate and analytical” ones. Those always make me want to call the fortune writers and say “Why, yes I am, thank you…but that is not a fortune”. My birthday one was actually pretty fantastic. It has even earned a place of honor on my fridge as a daily reminder to embrace life, not fear:

28 is apparently the year of no fear 🙂

Finally, because I do believe in total honesty even in shoutouts of love, I will tell you the one gripe I have with my local P.F. Chang’s: it’s the door. I know, I know it sounds crazy but the main door is a revolving one and my semi-claustrophobic self just can’t handle those. However, I also don’t want to be that person without a wheelchair or stroller who requests they open the other door. I look at it as my little challenge to get into the proverbial promised land of safe cuisine. And honestly, if that’s the one gripe you have with an establishment, I’d say that’s pretty fantastic.

So thank you P.F. Chang’s for sending a little love my way these past 3 years. Here is my shoutout of love in return. Until next time, keep serving those delicious lettuce wraps and I promise I’ll be back to grace your revolving doorway soon 🙂