Violet Crown Cinema

Posted: June 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Violet Crown Cinema, in downtown Austin, is a place I would call another local gem. My wife and I don’t go downtown that often anymore, which is the only reason I can imagine it took us so long to discover it. (Violet Crown has been open for a bit more than a year now.) The cinema shows independent films in four small theaters with very comfortable seats. They are also built so there really are no bad seats in the house and are stadium style so you don’t have to worry about tall people in front of you. We saw Bernie to celebrate her birthday and had a fantastic time.

The cinema has a snack bar which includes an espresso bar, hummus, and vegetable snacks in addition to the traditional popcorn and soda. The theater also has a cafe, lounge, and bar. Arrive early, enjoy food and drinks. And take anything you want into the theater where the seats have small fold-out tables. I understand if you don’t have time to get your food before the movie starts, they will give you a pager so you can go get it when it’s ready. Unlike places like the Alamo, there is no food and drink service in the theater, but the way their theater is arranged, that’s not really an issue.

The menu is not large, but it clearly marks the gluten free options. There aren’t many options, but it’s a small menu anyway. Moreover, since nothing else is fried, the sweet potato chips and hand cut fries are gluten free! No cross-contamination concerns. I had the sweet potato chips and they were delicious.

My wife and I will definitely be returning in the future. If you live in the area and like independent films, then give Violet Crown Cinema a try. I highly recommend it.


Joe’s Crab Shack

Posted: May 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Joe’s Crab Shack

Joe's Crab ShackPeace, love, and crabs, baby!

My wife loves crab legs (though she usually buys and steams them herself) and BC (before celiac) we used to head over to Joe’s Crab Shack at least a few times a year. It’s pretty good for a big chain and the atmosphere is always a lot of fun. I don’t believe we had been back since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, though. It just never came up on my radar as I was learning how to eat (and eat out) gluten free.

Recently, however, a friend of my wife wanted to meet her there for lunch along with the daughters. They’ve been friends since both were pregnant, so the two girls have known each other their whole lives. In fact, the girls used to play together in the sandy play area at Joe’s while the Moms hung out and talked. (Obviously, that was before they were teens.)

As my daughter also has celiac disease, I naturally checked the restaurant beforehand and yes, Joe’s has a gluten free menu. My wife and daughter enjoyed their visit, so a few weeks later, we decided to make it a family outing. Many of their buckets and steampots are gluten free. I decided to try the Orleans, since it’s been a long time since my last crawfish boil. (I was born in Louisiana after all. And yes, I do suck the heads.) So, what was my verdict?

The crawfish were well-spiced, but under the spicing the tail meat seemed pretty bland to me. I’m not sure why, exactly, but they weren’t bad — just not great. The sausage, potatoes, and corn were all quite yummy. The shrimp were horrible — probably overcooked as they typically take much less time to cook than everything else in the pot. (And my wife confirmed my opinion on the shrimp, so it wasn’t just my tastebuds.) But I didn’t order the dish for the shrimp, so I didn’t really miss them at all.

My wife and daughter had snow crab buckets. I tasted a bit of the crab and it was quite good. They both certainly enjoyed their meal.

Joe’s definitely has some good gluten free options. It helps, I suppose, that their signature dishes are composed of food that’s naturally gluten free and tends to be best prepared in a gluten free manner anyway. Joe’s gets a definite thumbs up from us. It’s true they are a chain restaurant, but they are one of the decent ones.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 38

Posted: May 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 38

77.  A man endures suffering either for the love of God, or for hope of reward, or for fear of punishment, or for fear of men, or because of his nature, or for pleasure, or for gain, or out of self-esteem, or from necessity.

The mere fact that we suffer means little. It’s important to know why we endure suffering and it’s rarely from our love of God. St. Maximos the Confessor suffered a great deal for his faithfulness and love of God. He was banished and imprisoned. He had his tongue removed so he could not speak against the ruling heresy. He had his right hand cut off so he could not write against it. And he died without ever seeing the fruit of his faithfulness through suffering.

I’ve endured the suffering of poverty and hard, manual labor for little pay — but that was from necessity. I’ve endured the suffering of a childhood that was not always the easiest, again from necessity. I endured the suffering of Army basic training, but that was for gain, out of self-esteem, and perhaps from some fear of men (drill instructors cultivate a fearsome image). For my own self-esteem, I’ve endured at different points in my life the suffering of strenuous exercise and training. When I am injured, it tends to be my nature to endure that suffering stoically and fight through it. (That last frustrates my wife no end.)

But have I endured suffering for the love of God? Not that I can recall. Would I even be willing to endure suffering for the love of God? I find I don’t know the answer to that question.


Maudie’s Tex-Mex

Posted: April 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Maudie’s Tex-Mex

For my birthday, we finally tried Maudie’s Tex-Mex. I’ve heard about Maudie’s for years, of course, but with all the excellent Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants across Austin, had never actually been. Now that my younger kids and I are diagnosed with celiac disease, our options for Mexican food are somewhat more constrained. Some places, like Chuy’s, use beer to marinade all their meat. Other places make flour and corn tortillas on the same surfaces at pretty much the same time. And some use flour to thicken their sauces. As with most other sorts of restaurants, it’s become a minefield.

Maudie’s, though, stands out from the crowd with its gluten free options. It started as soon as we walked in and my daughter and I said we needed a gluten free menu. The waitress immediately told us the tortilla chips weren’t safe as they were fried in the same oil as gluten containing dishes. She brought us gluten free tortilla chips (still in a sealed plastic bag) and our own salsa so there would be no cross-contamination from dipping in the same dish. I was impressed that she did all that without any questions or requests from us. That’s a level of knowledge and care we don’t often encounter.

Their gluten free menu is also a pleasant change. Often, the gluten free menu at a restaurant is really a cross-reference to their main menu listing the dishes (often with modifications) from the main menu that are safe to eat. In order to get a full description of the dish and the price, you have to jump back and forth between the regular menu and the gluten free menu. At Maudie’s, the gluten free menu is self-contained. It describes the dishes and gives the price. It’s a complete menu and you don’t have to refer back to the regular menu at all. That may seem like a small thing, but it really means a lot.

The food was outstanding. My daughter got her usual cheese enchiladas. My wife got some taco plate with gluten-filled flour tortilla tacos. It was my birthday, so I got the grilled chipotle shrimp. They were served fajita style with corn tortillas and were absolutely delicious! I loved the sliced serrano peppers sauteed along with the onions and bell peppers. That was a nice touch.

Maudie’s goes on our relatively short list of safe and fun places to eat — places where you don’t have to think too much about having celiac disease or worry about the food.


Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Personal | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

This isn’t a recipe site and I don’t plan to turn it into one. But as I was cooking this past weekend, it occurred to me that this would make a good dish through which I could explore the way I approach meals and cooking in general and some of the specific ways we’ve adapted dishes to be gluten free. So I’m not going to write this up as a recipe, but there will be a couple of pretty decent recipes embedded in this post if you care to extract them from the text and write them down on recipes cards yourself. If not, I hope you’ll enjoy the post anyway.

Chili, of course, is everywhere in Texas and everyone has their own recipe. It’s also a dish that’s easy to make gluten free. Many chili recipes are gluten free without any adaptation. Many others only require slight adaptation.

I started developing my own chili recipe in my early twenties. I used a fusion of techniques and spicing, primarily Southwestern and Indian, I had learned from my Dad growing up. And I developed a few wrinkles of my own through trial and error. I never had a recipe for it or exact measurements, so it was a little different every time I made it. My father and some of my friends at the time loved it, but many others found it too hot. (The chili had both an up-front heat and a cumulative, developing heat that snuck up on you.) In particular, my kids wouldn’t eat it, so I gradually quit making chili much at all.

My wife, however, loved a good Texas red with a bite, but not overpoweringly hot, so she kept looking for a good recipe. One day, she stumbled across one in our local supermarket that looked easy to adapt into a chili like the ones she preferred. She gave it a whirl and it turned out pretty delicious. She tweaked it a bit until it was pitch perfect. And the kids liked it too (especially with a lot of cheese)! I pretty much follow her recipe, though I do tweak it just a bit. It’s a fun and simple recipe that produces a reliably yummy chili.

Start by browning a couple of pounds of ground beef. These days, with our increased awareness about what we eat, we prefer lean, organic, grass-fed ground beef, but any ground beef will work. When the ground beef is browned, drain it and set it aside for later. (If you have Yorkies you tend to spoil, set aside a little of the ground beef for them.)

While the ground beef is cooking in a large skillet, add a pound and a half to two pounds of diced beef cubes (about 3/8 inch or so) to a large pot. (We generally use one of our ceramic coated, cast iron dutch ovens.) Finely diced stew meat will work. Or you can pick your preferred cut of beef and dice it yourself.

Chop a medium to large onion. I’ll use different onions according to my mood. A white onion will give the chili a slightly sharper bite. A lot of the time I’ll use a yellow onion because I like them. When they are in season a Texas 1015 onion can provide a delicious change of pace. Add the onion to the pot.

Then seed and finely dice your fresh chiles. What chiles should you use? Well, that’s according to the flavor you want. Definitely include a larger chile. Most of the time I use a poblano, but a large ancho or, in season, a roasted hatch green chile or two are good alternatives. You always need 1-2 jalapenos for their distinctive flavor. Beyond that, use whatever chiles you like. I’ll sometimes dice up a serrano or two. We almost never have fresh cayenne peppers here, but I would love to try one or two in this chili some day. Some chile pequins could be nice. Really, just use the chiles you like. The ones you pick will shape the flavor of the end result. Toss the finely diced chiles into the pot.

Crush or mince at least six large cloves of garlic and add them to the pot. Really, you can put in just about as much garlic as you like. We like garlic, so we never go easy on it.

Cook the beef cubes, onion, chiles, and garlic mixture on medium-high heat until the beef is no longer pink. You’ll know when it’s ready for the next step.

Add the ground beef to the pot and add the spices. The spices include 2-4 teaspoons each of salt, black pepper, and cumin. Throw in half a teaspoon or so of ground cayenne pepper (assuming you didn’t have any fresh ones available for the step above). Cayenne’s a moderately hot pepper, so adjust according to your tolerance. And then add 3-5 tablespoons of chili powder. I suppose in some parts of the country, you pretty much only have the generic chili powder blend in a bottle. Here, though, we rarely have fewer than two chili powder blends in the bulk spices at any of our grocery stores. The chili in the picture above was made with a San Antonio fiesta chili powder. The chili powder used will, of course, influence the final flavor of the chili. Stir to combine without removing the pot from the heat.

Stir in tomatoes. Personally, I like to use a large can (30 oz. or so) of organic crushed tomatoes and a medium can (15 oz. or so) of organic tomato sauce. I also like chunks of tomato in my chili, so I usually add a can of organic diced tomatoes. (You can chop up fresh tomatoes as long as you recognize that will extend the cooking time.) If you want your chili without those chunks of tomatoes, it’s perfectly okay to skip them.

Purists will insist that a Texas red has no beans. Beans, if provided, are to be served on the side. My wife and I both like beans in our chili, so we thumb our noses at the purists and make our chili the way we like it. We both tend to like black beans, so we’ll normally throw in a can of drained black beans. (Or add some fresh cooked ones, but we don’t make beans from scratch all that often.)

Finally, add enough liquid to reach the desired consistency. Usually that’s going to be about 1-3 cups. (This is a part I always just eyeball rather than measure.) It will be a little thin at first, but as it simmers, and especially as the tomatoes cook, it will thicken. A lot of the time we’ll use a gluten free organic beef broth for the liquid. (We like the Central Market Organics beef broth.) But a gluten free beer works too. Red wine adds a certain richness. In a pinch you could even just use water, though obviously that won’t add any flavor of its own.

Heat the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it’s done. That’s usually going to take at least an hour and the longer it cooks, the better it will be. Save the leftovers, of course. Chili is always better the second day.

We always make cornbread to go with our chili. My wife adapted one of our recipes to be gluten free, but didn’t tell me about the changes she made to it. I made it a couple of times just substituting all-purpose gluten free flour for the regular all-purpose flour on a one-for-one basis and, while edible, the result was not very good at all and had a strange consistency. Finally, she told me she had modified the cornbread recipe and wrote it down for me. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not much of a baker, so I don’t play with the recipe.

Add 1 1/4 cups of gluten free (most should be gluten free, but always check) corn meal and 3/4 cup Jules gluten free all-purpose flour (or some other all-purpose gluten free flour, though I don’t promise the same result with any other) to a mixing bowl.  Add four teaspoons of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and some cayenne (to taste). Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly.

Add two eggs, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and one cup of water to the dry mixture. Stir, just until combined. (Don’t use an electric mixer or stir past the point that everything is combined.)

Transfer to a greased pan and cook at 425 degrees until done. It’s going to take about 20 minutes, but I’m sure most people know the drill. When it’s pulling away from the sides and a toothpick or butter knife inserted into the center comes out clean, it’s done.

My kids like cheese in their chili and honey on their cornbread. I can’t eat cheese anymore and I just like butter on my cornbread. Gluten free tamales go well with it too.

And that’s pretty much what things look like when I cook. Hope you enjoyed my narrative description of the process!


Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Posted: April 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Brownie MixI wanted to prepare a dessert for our Easter dinner, but spent most of my attention and time on the meal itself. While I can follow a dessert recipe, I’ve never been a major dessert chef. It’s just not an area of cooking I enjoy as much as I do other foods. So I decided to stick to something simple — a brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. (Or, in my case, just the brownie topped with hot fudge.)

Unlike me, my wife loves making desserts and brownies are one of her specialties. It only took her a few tries after the kids and I were diagnosed with celiac disease to adapt her brownies to be gluten free. She’s never really recorded her recipe though, and wouldn’t have been able to write it down accurately from memory while recovering. So I decided it wasn’t the time for me to try to make gluten free brownies from scratch.

I saw the Bob’s Red Mill GF Brownie Mix at our neighborhood HEB and decided to give it a whirl. Bob’s Red Mill has always been reliably safe and we’ve tried some of their other products with good results over the years. If you haven’t read about the company and their founder’s philosophy of people before profit, I recommend visiting their site and checking it out.

I followed the directions on the package without varying from them. (My wife tends to experiment and change mixes — usually successfully, but again I’m not the baker she is.) The directions were straightforward and pretty simple.

The results?

The brownies came out chocolatey and delicious! Everyone enjoyed them and they vanished fairly quickly. They weren’t as good as my wife’s, of course, but they were still good brownies. And very importantly, they were chewy. As my son and I joked, there’s a name for “cake-like” brownies. And that word is … cake!

So, if you need a quick and easy pan of gluten free brownies, this is a great mix to use. It gets a definite thumbs up!


Gluten Free Easter

Posted: April 9th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Gluten Free Easter

With my wife’s surgery, we knew she would be mostly out of commission on Easter, so she did her shopping in advance for the “kids.” Since Hershey has officially published their list of gluten free candy, that task was made easier. She also mailed a box of Easter goodies to our granddaughter well in advance. That left our Easter dinner up to me.

I discussed it with our daughter and we decided to go with an Irish theme this year — roast leg of lamb with mint sauce, chive champ, and buttered cabbage. I handled to leg of lamb, mint sauce, and buttered cabbage while my daughter cooked the champ. (Champ is mashed potatoes made with milk boiled with scallions and, in this case, chives and lots of Irish butter.) It all turned out wonderfully. My father-in-law joined us and he ate a full plate and took a tupperware container of food home with him.

Gluten free cooking leaves many menu options available without alteration. Everything above is naturally gluten free. I don’t think my kids often feel deprived.


Three Years Gluten Free

Posted: April 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Three Years Gluten Free

This month marks the third year since I was diagnosed with celiac disease and almost two years since both my younger children were diagnosed. Our gluten free life has become so deeply engrained and automatic that it almost feels sometimes like we’ve lived this way forever. Our refrigerator, pantry, and freezer have almost nothing in them containing gluten. My wife sometimes likes bread or frozen flax seed waffles, and sometimes a breakfast cereal (hot or cold) with gluten. She will also sometimes have some nuts or chocolates in the house that are not guaranteed to be gluten free. But other than that, she pretty much eats what we eat at home.

We’ve essentially converted our lives to be gluten free. Everything we cook is gluten free. And though we tended to cook a lot before, once a food-related diagnosis enters the picture, cooking for yourself becomes a lot more important. My son has been living in an apartment at college this year and cooking all his own meals. My daughter has been learning how to cook more for herself — so much so that the morning after a recent sleepover she made breakfast for herself and her friend.

My kids are both careful and assertive about what they can or can’t eat, especially my daughter. My son, like me, sometimes prefers to avoid going out in order to skip the hassle of explaining yet again that he has celiac disease.

Family gatherings are actually the hardest social setting. At work, school, and with friends you can simply decline to eat anything you didn’t prepare or bring yourself. My kids and I often employ that approach. We can, for instance, eat before or after a gathering and just have something to drink while others eat. It’s a way of participating socially without having to worry about the food. But at family gatherings, as they’ve started to learn more about celiac disease, they want to try to prepare something we can eat. It’s an understandable motivation. In their shoes with a family member on a restricted diet, I would probably have the same urge. And it’s hard to say no in the face of intended kindness.

But there are so many hidden ‘gotchas’ when cooking for someone with celiac disease. Their kitchens and appliances are not a gluten free environment. Were they careful about cross contamination? And there are the things that are so automatic for me now that it’s hard for me to remember them all when I tell them the foods to watch for. It’s hard to say no, but at the same time it’s hard to trust that they really managed to cook a truly gluten free dish, especially since it’s not something they regularly do.

Another difficult situation these days is when my wife has been sick and people from our church have wanted to bring us a meal. (Honestly, a decade or more ago nobody ever really offered. Not sure why. Ironically, now that we can’t really accept somebody seems to ask almost every time.) It feels rude to decline, but at the same time nobody in our house but my wife could eat it anyway. And since I’m cooking, I can easily cook enough for all of us.

Adapting to this disease hasn’t been fun for any of us and I still feel bad that my children inherited it from me. But we have a good handle on it. Since we discovered my kids had celiac before they had a significant amount of damage, they will never have the chronic, severe symptoms I developed and which I’m still working to overcome. I’m thankful for that much at least. And we remind ourselves that if you are going to have a chronic, incurable disease, celiac is a pretty good one to have. You can control it completely simply by managing what you eat.

Now if we could just get the blood tests for celiac disease added to routine screenings, nobody would have to wait for a diagnosis and suffer the symptoms a lengthy delay in that diagnosis can create. Given that 1% of the population has celiac disease and most of them don’t know they have it, screening for it as part of normal physicals seems like a wise step for the medical community to take. And you can’t just screen once and forget about it. If you have the genes for celiac disease, they could activate at any time.

I hope life is treating those who read this blog well. Peace.


Valentine’s Day 2012

Posted: February 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Valentine’s Day 2012

It’s that time of year once more. Love is in the air!

This is one of the days on which my wife and I have a long-standing tradition. The first Valentine’s Day after we were married, we had no money at all and couldn’t afford a babysitter (even if we had known one) and a night out. So I decided to cook a romantic dinner in. I got a frozen dinner designed for kids for my older son who was six at the time. It’s not something we did very often, so it was a treat for him.

Then after he went to bed, I started cooking while my wife took a relaxing bath. That first year I found some pretty cheap steaks, seasoned them, broiled them with butter, and topped them with swiss cheese. I pan fried new potatoes in butter and garlic. And finally I cooked fresh asparagus with homemade hollandaise sauce. (The sauce wasn’t quite perfect, but still tasted good.) French bread on the side completed the dinner. I don’t remember dessert very well. I think I may have bought a little something that year rather than making one.

I then created a candlelit place setting on the coffee table, opened an inexpensive bottle of wine, and we watched some sort of romantic movie (on VHS) as we ate.

Ever since, that’s been our tradition on Valentine’s Day. It’s actually been pretty nice. I enjoy cooking, especially when I can try new things without worrying about whether or not the kids will like it. (Of course, we only have one teenager still living full-time at home now, so those days are largely over.) And it means we’ve never had to fight the Valentine’s Day crowds at restaurants. (Neither of us are big on crowds.)

Over the years, as our budget has become less tightly constrained, I’ve also been able to try my hand at more elaborate dishes. Of course, now that I can’t eat gluten or dairy, my options are somewhat more limited, but there are still more recipes than I could attempt even if I cooked a new one every night, so it’s really not as bad as some people think.

This year I’m planning a lump crab salad, baked sea scallops, filets with madeira sauce, and asparagus with artichoke hearts. My wife found a new gluten free red velvet cupcake option she wants to try, so she may make those for Valentine’s Day, in which case I won’t make an additional dessert. (And honestly, she enjoys making desserts more than I do anyway.)

And we’ll watch something that fits the holiday as always. Perhaps we can watch Titanic again. It’s been a while since we last watched it together.

This year will mark the 24th Valentine’s Day my wife and I have celebrated and the 22nd since we were married. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. They’ve flown by.

If you’re reading this, I hope you have a good Valentine’s Day planned as well!


Mary 7 – Matthew 1:25

Posted: January 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 7 – Matthew 1:25

The other common modern scriptural objection to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary is found in Matthew 1:24-25.

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

This is actually a pretty weak objection. With ’till’ or ‘until’, sometimes the condition leading up to the event changes after the event and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s easy to illustrate with just a couple of examples, but there many examples of both usages in the New Testament.

And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. (Acts 23:12)

The above is an illustration of a usage where the condition (not eating or drinking) is expected to change after the event (killing Paul). That’s pretty obvious from the context.

For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. (1 Cor. 15:25)

I think most Christians would agree that Christ will continue to reign after all enemies are under his feet, but that’s incidental to the point being made. In this case the condition (Christ reigning) continues after the event (putting all enemies under his feet).

The whole point being made in Matthew is that Mary conceived as a virgin and gave birth to a son who was conceived by the Spirit and then immediately moves to his name, which is an important one, Jesus. Matthew is saying nothing about what happened between Mary and Joseph after the birth of Christ. All that can really be said from the context is that there is not information to conclude whether or not the condition (Joseph not knowing Mary) changed after the event (the birth of Jesus). There’s certainly nothing in the text that refutes the long-standing and ancient tradition of the Church.

And once again, it’s not as though some modern Protestants suddenly discovered a new text in Scripture that the ancient Church knew nothing about. They were certainly familiar with Matthew and were more closely connected than us to the language, culture, and customs that formed the context for the text. Why would we assume we understand the text better than they did? That attitude puzzles me.