Chow Bella

A (Mostly) Gluten-Free Meal at Arcadia Farms

When I was in junior high, my family moved to Hawaii, and I was enrolled in a school where I was often the only white student in my classes. At lunch, I would play cards -- Hearts mostly -- with a group of Japanese girls who took pity on the new kid. Trouble was, like all the other kids, they spoke pidgen, a mix of Hawaiian and other languages common in the islands: Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Korean and Spanish, among others. The words were foreign, and the sentence structure frequently altered. It was Greek to me.

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When they happily chattered over the hands of cards, I would let the sounds wash over me, but when they directed a question to me, I would have to ask for it to be repeated. And again. And, finally, I would just nod my head as if I understood. But I didn't. Still, they kept talking to me, and one day, months after arriving, I realized I was following the conversation.

For those with celiac disease, going gluten-free is like learning a new language. But it's a crash course, instant immersion, and you have to get fluent or get sick. There are a lot of books and websites, but there's no Rosetta Stone for this. Even for those not diagnosed, who eat gluten-free because they feel better or worry about the inflammatory process, the new vocabulary can be overwhelming.

When I was diagnosed with celiac, I learned where my duodenum is, what villa are and that wheat, barley, and rye are not my friends. I started reading labels like a mad woman:

What the hell? There's wheat in dry-roasted peanuts? Are you kidding?

I can have maltodextrine (a starch) but not malt, a flavoring made from barley?

No on malt vinegar, but yes on distilled vinegar?

And restaurants can be the most difficult, because you have no idea what's happening in the kitchen and there are no labels to read.

Luckily, the folks at Arcadia Farms Café are happy to help. Like many restaurants these days, Arcadia Farms has gluten-free options clearly marked on the menu with GF, so you don't have to strain your brain.

When we took my mother there for her birthday this weekend, I could easily find something delicious and safe for me. For an appetizer, we had the crab and avocado tower with chilled gazpacho salsa, diced tomatoes, and micro greens for $13. And for an entrée, I had raspberry salad with warm goat cheese medallions. It had baby lettuce, raspberries, jicama, carrots, candied pecans, and raspberry vinaigrette for $14. You can add chicken for $2.

It was wonderful. The flaky crab tasted fresh, and the avocado and gazpacho were an interesting twist. The goat cheese medallions took me back to my trip to France a hundred years ago, when I first tasted toasted goat cheese on a salad. I have been a sucker for it ever since, and I'll order it every time I see it on the menu. This salad did not disappoint.

However, Arcadia Farms could put a little more thought into the desserts. Our waiter told us there was nothing gluten-free on the dessert menu and directed me to the Arcadia Farms Marketplace across the street, where they often have gluten-free baked goods, like a brownie. But he must have forgotten it's closed on Sunday, which I discovered after marching our whole party over there.

Oh, well, I'll just savor the goat cheese and call myself "lucky." In the gluten-free language, that translates to "I found something I could eat, and it tasted good."