La Mere Catherine, Paris

sacre coeur at night

Sacre-Coeur by night

Since I haven’t had time to bake anything lately thanks to a full course load this semester, multiple home improvement projects and my job nannying the worlds cutest children, I thought I would finally write a post from… Paris! I visited the city of coffee, pastries and macarons way back in November over Thanksgiving weekend (which, of course, Europeans do not acknowledge). Since my friends and I had missed possibly the best food-centered holiday back home (1. I know its supposed to be about giving thanks and we totally did… but come one, turkey! and 2. I say “possibly” because we all know Valentine’s Day is made for chocolate and who doesn’t like a good 4th of July cookout?) we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal in Montmartre after an incredible tour of the district with Sandemans which I would highly recommend.

On a dark cold night we learned all about the Montmartre neighborhood, saw van Gogh’s apartment, the Moulin Rouge, and Sacre-Coeur by night before ending at the highest point in Paris which was also home to the first ever bistro that coincidentally shared the name of one of my friends and I – La Mere Catherine. If the history and name alone hadn’t already convinced us to go in, the nice waiter at the front door informing us there was live music inside would have done the trick.

We sat down to red wine and a beautiful piano accompaniment (the instrument played by a beautiful French man, no less) and I promptly pulled out my gluten-free dining card in French – and may I just say thank LAWD for that piece of paper. (Which you can print out for free here!) Our waitress was the most helpful and sweetest person I could have possibly been met with. I wanted to order the combined meal that was both an appetizer and entree and she took it upon herself to personally quiz the chef each time I asked about a dish. A lot of sauce and soup bases in France use flour so this was particularly comforting. After several trips to an from the kitchen, our waitress helped me choose a pumpkin soup, snails in garlic butter (aka escargot) and a entree of steak and potatoes and salad, sans dressing/gravy that had originally been intended for the steak.

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a horribly dark “mood-lit” picture of my steak at La Mere Catherine

The steak was a little dry (I imagine because it was lacking that damned gluten sauce) but everything else I ate that night was heavenly and I felt so well-taken care of that I wasn’t the least bit worried about getting sick. The restaurant does nothing to advertise as gluten-free or celiac-friendly, but I found people all over Paris willing to help me and answer my questions about food. And when all else failed, I got macarons and coffee!

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the absolute best soup I’ve ever had – pumpkin creme soup

If you find yourself in Paris anytime soon and can or cannot eat gluten – I would definitely recommend La Mere Catherine. It’s a little pricey (at least for students! And by that I mean I paid somewhere between 30 – 40 euros for the soup, escargot, entree – which was steak, salad, and potatoes gratin – and a glass of hot wine) but well worth the trip for the service alone. I wish I knew our waitresses name… I mean, she even taught me how to get snails out of their shells to eat!

exotic gluten-free food and I!
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When You Can’t Eat Croissants in France…

Celiac disease is hard. Traveling with celiac disease is not only hard, it is at times traumatic, tearful, pathetic, embarrassing, and enraging. If you have a food intolerance then I am willing to bet you understand that it is absolutely possible and normal to experience all these emotions at once. And that also pretty much sums up my amazing trip to the South of France this weekend – completely breathtaking yet marred by frustration and extreme food envy.

Traveling with friends means you will also feel the added sense of guilt over not being able to eat with them everywhere they go. My friends in Spain are the best ever and want to find places I can eat too but every celiac knows this is not always a possibility. Cue the inner turmoil: Do I buy tons of snacks (aka rice cakes) and just eat those all day every day? What if they want my expensive gluten-free snacks? Maybe I can distract them with gum. What if they offer me their food? You’re too kind but no I don’t want to try your gluten-containing meal. QUICK does this restaurant they like have anything I can eat? Do these potatoes look like they were fried with other flour-battered things? Maybe I should just have gelato for dinner and chips later to make this easier.

I have at one point or another thought all of these things to myself. Usually all in one day and especially in France where I was constantly wondering what I could eat while friends were enjoying their warm chocolate croissants.

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Basilica of St. Sernin, Toulouse, South of France

Okay now we’re done with the brief pity party let’s get to my favorite topic – food. Breakfast at the hotel in Toulouse was provided for us and here I was able to employ my common sense and enjoy a drama-free meal. I bee-lined for the prepackaged yogurts and apple sauces, juices, meats and cheeses at the hotel buffet and was always pretty full after. I also grabbed mini servings of Nutella in case I found a gluten free snack to smother it with later on in the day. Fortunately the first day started off with a walking tour of Toulouse and a little wine and cheese tasting to fill me the rest of the way up!

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wine & cheese, cheese & wine

Lunch is usually the trickiest for me but in the south of France I think I got pretty lucky. Day ones lunch was provided by my host mom in the form of salami on gluten free bread (it is a testament to Spanish meats that I can tell you they make even gluten free bread completely palatable). The second day I had a picnic with my friends by the river with the food we found at local markets. Everyone I was with got excited when I found some fresh baked gluten free bread – in France of all places! I went for the buckwheat/corn option because the rice/corn option sounded like everything else I eat but if buckwheat is not your thing or if you haven’t tried it – steer clear!! It cost 3,75 euro but I still have some leftover because it is so dense. Again, if you like buckwheat it’s worth the investment.

IMG_8927 (2)me with my gluten-free bread in a market in Toulouse

Aside from this incredible glutey free find, I split a gorgeous little round of goat cheese with a friend so my bread would taste even better. We cut it in half and got our own knives to avoid any crumb cross-contamination. Annoying but necessary when sharing food with normals. If you’re as lucky as I am, your friends will be completely understanding and just so happy you can eat something that they eat.

IMG_8943 (2)the world’s most beautiful goat cheese

Picnics are a great way to fill yourself and I filled up on my gluten free bread, cheese, nutella, champagne and tons of fruit in our little riverside park location that day. Europe has fruit vendors and open air markets everywhere so when your need is dire you are never to far from delicious, fresh produce. Even when you’re not a starving allergen-ridden tourist the fruit here is amazing. I always find myself staring wistfully at the array of produce and wondering what the hell some of it is.

IMG_8936 (2)one of many colorful markets in Toulouse, France

Day threes lunch in Collioure (pictured below!) started off with chocolate coconut gelato because I did not think I would be able to translate another scary French menu. But as luck would have it my friends and I chose a crepe place not only with an English menu but with a meal option that included a huge omelette and generous “side” salad.  The lesson we learned here was that even in the tiny, picturesque town of Collioure there is hope, my celiac friends.

IMG_9032 (2)Collioure, France

Last but not least – dinner. The first night I downed half a rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes with a friend. We also split a basic salad with dressing (olive oil and herbs) on the side just in case it wasn’t gluten free (the owner and only waiter did not speak any English). For dinner the second night in France my friends wanted to go out for a fairly nice, sit down meal which naturally filled me with anxiety (because obviously I can’t eat a damned thing on the menu). But I worried for nothing because we chose a charming place called La Reserve that does a wide variety of Italian food and has the added bonus of being near the river park in Toulouse where all our friends were gathering after dinner. The staff was extremely accommodating to our group of 8 rowdy American students and everyone’s meal was fantastic – including mine. Pretty much the only thing I could order on the menu was a salad and while it came in at around 16 euros total, it was worth its weight in jamon. Seriously, half the plate was dry cured meat, and the rest was tomatoes, grilled peppers, onion, Parmesan, fresh Mozzarella and a a hint of lettuce. I know it seems like I end up with a lot of salads (and I do!) but even when they cost upwards of $20.00 USD it is absolutely worth it to be able to enjoy a worry-free meal with amazing people in a spectacular French city. Just like I said in Porto, I’ll have the salad – and I’ll enjoy the heck out of it.

IMG_8985 (2)dark grainy picture of a HUGE cheese and jamon stacked salad in Toulouse, France at La Reserve