Gluten free and Paleo in Spain

Seafood paella near the waterfront in Barceloneta

On the last leg of our whirlwind trip through four countries, England, Italy, Greece and Spain, we landed in Spain with high expectations.  Our daughter, Nicole, lived in Barcelona for a few months almost a decade ago, while doing a work study program.  She had raved about the food, so we were ready, or so we thought.  Alan speaks enough Spanish for us to get by well in Mexico and Latin America, but for some reason it just didn't work as well in Spain.  Part of the problem was identifying the foods on the menu.  For many items, we were not familiar with the English translations.  Frequently, even if the menu was available in English, the waiter did not understand English, so the ability to ask questions was limited to our knowledge of Spanish.  I had my Gluten free Spanish Passport, and used it as appropriate, and made it through the country without being glutenized, which was my primary goal.

Grilled seafood and meats, and salads are widely available.  Gluten free foods, as such, are not.  Tapas are outrageously popular in Spain, and options like olives, cheese, shrimp, and Iberian or Serrano ham were available for these snacks, but many of the tapas are served on bread, or are fried, dredged in flour or a breading. I had proudly orderly a variety of tapas one afternoon, in Spanish, to find they all came delivered to the table on small rolls.  The menu, I thought, was clear, and I had asked if they had gluten free bread available (they did not) and I proceeded to order a variety of bocadillas, turns out that in English that means sandwich.  I hadn't learned that word yet, but now I have.

Paella is a widely available menu item, and we enjoyed a tasty version in Barceloneta along the waterfront.  Everywhere I inquired, the paella was made gluten free.  Surprisingly, Gazpacho, a cold  tomato vegetable soup, always had bread in it.  Spanish tortillas, which is an egg and potato dish served hot or cold, is widely available, and most were gluten free, but some were not.  I found an incredible gluten free pistachio cake from a bakery in Barcelona, but failed to get the name of the business or another piece of cake the following day.

Our funniest experience happened in Sagunto, a beach side town south of Barcelona.  A Catalan dialect known as Valencian is the language spoken in this region.  The menus were not available in Spanish or English, and after deciding on a restaurant, none of the waiters could communicate with us either.  I was able to order dorado (mahi-mahi), since the word is the same in Spanish, but Alan was actually making animal noises to determine the type of meat he ordered.  He wound up with pork chops.

In Arcos de la Frontera,  I ordered dorado a la plancha (grilled mahi mahi), the waiter explained, in Spanish (his only language), that they didn't have any available that evening and recommended his favorite, fresh from the sea, sepia.  Once we discussed the way it was prepared, I ordered.  What arrived about 30 minutes later was a bit of a surprise.  Looking something like a clear/whitish jellyfish with tenacles, tasting it, we both decided to forgo this entree.  Yes, we've eaten octopus, calamari and squid, but somehow we just couldn't get around the looks of this fellow.  Turns out it was cuttlefish, and we had enjoyed it before, cut up and disguised in recipes, but this blob on the plate just didn't work.  Guess it's just one of the hazards of ordering food with minimal language skills.

Our final evening in Madrid, we found a restaurant advertising gluten free items on their menu.  They offered four items, one was flatbread with tomato and cheese, which I ordered and enjoyed with a glass of sangria.  We experienced a lot of tasty foods while visiting in Spain, different, and for us unusual combinations.  Yes, the gluten free was not widely available, and a bit of a challenge, but that is what the experience and fun of travel is all about.  But, it's nice to be home, and in my kitchen so I can start cooking again!

Gluten free and Paleo in Greece

Grilled octopus and salad lunch on Santorini.

Before traveling in Greece, we had a lot of misconceptions tied to our expectations.  Firstly, we assumed that because their language is so different from English that we would have a difficult time moving around the country, much less to safely order a gluten free meal.  It turns out the English is widely spoken, especially by folks in the hotel and restaurant industry.  I never needed to pull out my Greek version of the Gluten free Passport.  Also, as I mentioned in the Traveling Manatees blog, we found the Greek people to be very helpful and friendly.  

The problem comes when trying to order many of the traditional Greek dishes.  We never found a gluten free moussaka or pasticio or bread.  I used to love baklava and spinach pie, and was almost willing to get sick just to taste it again, but to lose 3 or 4 days of our trip for a piece of baklava didn't seem like a good trade off.  I did find rice cakes in one grocery store, and perhaps bigger stores in Athens may have had a larger selection.  Visiting pharmacies to find gluten free products, every pharmacist I spoke with offered to special order gluten free items for me, but since we were moving around a lot that didn't make sense.  They each told me there was no demand for the products, so they didn't carry them.  Just wondering, is there less celiac disease and gluten intolerance, or just a lack of awareness?

Eating paleo was easy because of the wide availability of meats and seafood, and the prevalance of fresh fruits and vegetables.  But, if you want to have gluten free bread, cookies, crackers, etc., there is definitely an absence of these products.  None of the restaurants, we visited or checked the menu for, offered any gluten free items.  Breakfast was probably the most difficult meal.  I ate plain Greek yogurt sweetened with Greek honey, a hard boiled egg and a piece of fruit.  Lunch and dinner consisted of grilled meat or seafood, and a salad.  Without exception, we enjoyed every meal we ordered.  I clarified how the foods were prepared, and moved through Greece without getting glutenized.

Next, we are on to Spain.
Lunch of smoked trout and mixed veggie salad on Hydra, also enjoyed grilled sardines for this lunch but didn't get a picture of them.

Spaghetti with fresh anchovies, capers, olive oil and oregano

While traveling through England we found gluten free and paleo options relatively easy to find.  Gluten free scones were a little bit of a challenge but with a diligent search I was finally able to find them at a little bakery called Cupcakes during our visit to Port Isaac.  Another popular traditional English food, the Cornish Pasty, we located in the tiny village of Mousehole, along the Cornwall coast near Penzance.  Having heard through the years about the boring, and generally bad English food, we were prepared for limited options.  That may be the case in some areas, but we had a delicious variety of well prepared foods everywhere we ate.  The typical English breakfast served at many hotels consisted of fruit, eggs, very lean bacon (more like ham), sausage, grilled tomato, and beans.  Toast is usually served with this, none of the places we stayed offered gluten free bread.  You could pick which part of the breakfast you wanted to indulge in, and it kept you full until lunchtime.

Moving to Italy, I had read online that gluten free options were widely available, and an understanding of gluten intolerance and/or celiac disease was widespread.  This was not my experience.  Perhaps, if visiting a larger city, this might be the case but in our visits to Pisa, Lucca and Cinque Terra the options were limited.  Some pharmacies did carry a limited selection of gluten free foods, but most did not.  Most restaurants do not have gluten free pasta, pizza or bread, but there are restaurants offering a limited gluten free menu.  It just takes a little patience to find them, at least in my experience here.  Many restaurants do offer salads.  Of course there are meat, fish and vegetable options, you just need to clarify how they are prepped and if the chef is willing to make some alterations.  At a restaurant in the Piazza Anfiteatro in Lucca, the chef prepared a gluten free pasta with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil that was not on their menu.  I found meringues to be available at many bakeries, even a chocolate meringue with hazelnuts, which was wonderful.  

 Prior to traveling, I utilized the website, Gluten Free Passports, and printed wallet sized cards in Italian,Greek and Spanish, so I was prepared for everywhere we are traveling this trip.  The cards explain the dietary restrictions, and the reason why it is important.  In Italy, I quickly learned to order foods, senza glutine (without gluten), but it is nice to have the cards on hand.  

The meal pictured above was enjoyed in the village of Riomaggiore, in the Cinque Terre region.  I even enjoyed it with a gluten free beer, so I was way off of Paleo for this meal, but it was delicious!  A paleo version using zucchini spaghetti would be perfect.  

 We're moving on to Greece soon, so that may be a bit more of a challenge from a linguistic point of view, but I have my little cards ready!

Coconut Flax Seed Breakfast Bread

The following is an adaptation of a savory bread recipe from Laura Scaviola's blog, Mangia Paleo, Focaccia Bread.  Though we generally don't have a bread with dinner, we recently had guests from out of town, so our menu got kicked up a notch.  Laura's recipe makes a very tasty  focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives and fresh rosemary.  We've enjoyed it a few times now, and it's always wonderful. (I did reduce the salt to 1/2 tsp. for her savory version.)

 As we ate dinner that  evening and wolfed down the bread, we  began to wonder out loud how this would work as a breakfast bread.  So with a few alteration and the addition of a sweet topping, we had a healthy new breakfast item. 

1/4 cup coconut flour
2 Tbsp. flax seed meal
2 Tbsp. tapioca flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 pastured organic eggs
1/4 cup almond or coconut milk (not canned)
Tbsp. coconut oil (melted)
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (delete for nut free)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup coconut sugar
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Place wet ingredients in a second bowl and mix well.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix well. Line 8X8 inch pan with parchment paper, coat sides of pan with coconut oil.  Spoon batter into pan.  In a third bowl combine the topping ingredients, and then sprinkle it over the top of the bread.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.  

Chocolate Chip Almond Cookie

As we packed our suitcases and completed other last minutes chores before departing from home recently,  I whipped up a batch of cookies to take on the plane with us.  Even though, there are four other chocolate chip cookie recipes on this blog, I can't look at a recipe without wanting to experiment and change it.

The following was the resulting product, and we were happy to have them with us for our first day of travel, from Florida to Chicago to New York.  There were even a few left for the flight the following day to London.  I never leave home without some appropriate snacks, and these are just so easy to make.

2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips (dairy free, soy free)
2 eggs
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp  coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in a second bowl.  Mix the 2 together until well combined.  Use small scoop (1-inch) to transfer cookies to a bake sheet lined with parchment paper.  Press slightly on the cookie to flatten a little.  Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes, or until golden brown and set. Makes 24 cookies.   

Paleo Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

Yeah, I know the post says muffins and the picture is of bread.  The thing is this recipe worked for both the bread and the muffins but the muffins were definitely lighter and tastier than the bread.  BUT, I didn't get a picture of the muffins.  So just imagine this is a giant rectangular muffin!  I also experimented with a coconut flour version of this recipe, which needs a bit a of tweaking, so maybe when we get back home in a few weeks I can play with that again.  We are currently traveling, and I am doing very little cooking.  We are moving around a lot, with minimal, if any, cooking facilities.  For anyone interested in what we are doing you can follow our trip at Traveling Manatees

1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. powdered ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 cup canned pumpkin
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.  In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients and stir well.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until all ingredients are well blended.

Spoon batter into cupcake pan with liners.  Fill about 2/3 full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until sharp knife or toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.  Makes about 18 muffins.

Basil Mushroom Spaghetti

We enjoyed the following recipe a couple of times just before we left home for our current  trip.  Before we leave for any length of time, our refrigerator always gets emptied, especially as we head into hurricane season.

 Our basil and other herbs were moved downstairs to what will hopefully be the perfect spot for water and sun.  Neighbors have been told to help themselves, so I'm sure they will be thriving when we return home.  Anyone curious about our travels can follow us at Traveling Manatees.   We are currently in Italy and the food has been wonderful!  Hope to bring home a few ideas.  Tonight we enjoyed pork spare ribs with a spicey tomato and black olive sauce. 

1-pound grass fed ground beef
1/2 pound bella mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil (if needed)
28 oz. organic canned crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. fennel seed
Sea salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil

Brown ground beef in large fry pan, then add mushrooms, onion and garlic.  Once the veggies are tender, add tomatoes, oregano and fennel seed.  Just before serving add fresh basil and salt to taste.  Serve over your favorite paleo spaghetti.  Serves 4.