New York Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting 2014

New York Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting 2014

New York Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting 2014

This October we attended our third New York Wine & Food Festival weekend.  We took part in three events – two hands-on cooking events on Saturday (more on that in another post) and the Sunday Grand Tasting at cavernous Pier 94.

At the Grand Tasting, as we did last year, we split the day between sampling the many excellent vendors and watching culinary demonstrations given by Food Network stars.  I was thrilled to find that there was lots I could eat, dairy free, delicious and enrapturing.  For convenience, let me break these samplings down into three categories: dairy free samplings, special samplings (made dairy free just for me) and dairy free vendors.  I could define each of those categories, but I think that as I begin to describe the food and the vendors, you will understand what I mean.

Dairy Free Samplings

What do you do when you someone carving up an entire roast pig?  Well, if you’re me, your jaw drops and you stand there waiting for a chance to have a taste of it.  Kuma Inn actually had two such pigs on display(!!!) – one they were carving for eating, and the other one was a back up for when the first one got used up.  Each sampling offered a chunk of pork, a strip of crispy skin, and some pickled vegetables.  Wow!

Kuma Inn

Kuma Inn

My local supermarket features Bell & Evans chicken, and so when I saw that the Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality was offering Bell & Evans chicken legs as their sampling, I was very excited.  Their chicken legs were marinated in coconut milk and were mildly sweet and tender.  When I bit into that leg, it instantly became my favorite thing I had tasted all day.

FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality

FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality

Ever since I heard Chef Aaron Sanchez pronounce Pulpo on Chopped, I have been intrigued by octopus.  So when I saw that Chico Julio Bodega de Mar was offering pulpo en escabeche, I had to try it.  What they didn’t tell you, was that this sucker was spicy!  Wow!  I chewed on a few gnarly nubs of pulpo and came away with the sensation that my lips were burning!

Chico Julio Bodega de Mar Spicy Pulpo

Chico Julio Bodega de Mar Spicy Pulpo

Taste of Korea offered a sampling centered on Bossam (Korean pork belly) – with a cream made from tofu.  I marvel that to this day, people equate “tofu” with “tasteless.”  This cream was luscious and smoky flavored and contrasted nicely with the pork belly.

Taste of Korea's Bossam

Taste of Korea’s Bossam

Another contender for my favorite bite of the day was Mira Sushi & Isakaya’s Kurobuta hot dog.  I will confess that the roll it came in, a brioche, may have had a little dairy in it.  That little tube of delightful pork with a slaw of mango and jicama over it didn’t need the bun – it was a dynamite bite all on its own.

Last in this category is the grilled chicken wrap Luvo is making for Delta Airlines flights.  Therese and I fly Delta frequently, and while on our most recent flights, there were signs of improvements, generally Delta’s dairy free on-board options are few and uninspired (read: they don’t taste good).  Luvo’s wraps will be available as part of a for-purchase snack box.  I’m not sure how widespread their availability will be, but rest assured, the next time we fly Delta, I am going to request them and do whatever we can to get them!

Luvo Chicken Wrap for Delta Airlines

Luvo Chicken Wrap for Delta Airlines

Special Samplings

OK, so my first category was of samplings that were dairy free just as they were being offered.  This second category is of samplings that were not dairy free as being offered; however, the dairy element was something sprinkled onto the dish.  So for these we were able to put in a request to have the vendors make a special one without the dairy for me – and in each case, they were very happy to do this!

Volare Ristorante

Volare Ristorante

When we entered the Grand Tasting, Volare’s flank steak was pretty much the first thing I saw.  The chef had laid out the plates of steak and salad and was proudly grating parmesan cheese over them all.  We spoke up – um, could you not do that for one?  And thus, our day of tasting got off to a grand start, with a high quality taste of complexity and depth – in addition to the stated ingredients, there was roasted red pepper and dried cranberries, a wonderful dance of savory and sweet.

Many of the vendors are locals, and it is always wonderful to learn of great restaurants right in our town at the Grand Tasting (for example, Mira Sushi and Chico Julio Bodega de Mar are here, and we look forward to visiting them for dinner soon).  It is also great learning about restaurants we would like to visit when we travel.  In this case, Cunningham’s of Maryland was at the Tasting, and we will definitely look them up when next we travel to the Baltimore area to see Therese’s family.  Cunningham’s made an extraordinary meatball – once again, we asked and they plated one for me without cheese sprinkled over it.  There was no cheese inside, but there were pine nuts – wow, what a lovely surprise!

Cunninghams of Maryland Pine Nut Meatball

Cunninghams of Maryland Pine Nut Meatball

In a section of the hall over near the stages where the demonstrations took place were some food stations that had some of the best food in the whole tasting.  For example, Mira Sushi was there.  Right next to Mira Sushi was Prime Meats, offering a nice hunk of weisswurst over sauerkraut with sweet mustard on the side.  Unfortunately, they also sprinkled bread crumbs over the whole thing, and the guess was that the bread crumbs were made with butter.  We put in the request, and it took a couple of minutes, but they did plate one with no crumbs.  Surprise, the sausage had no skin.  How excellent a bite of sausage and ‘kraut dipped into mustard was, was no surprise.

Prime Meats Weisswurst

Prime Meats Weisswurst

Dairy Free Vendors

I have reserved the highest honor for those vendors at Grand Tasting who advertised their offerings as being dairy free.  Last year, I only remember coming across one such vendor.  This year, there were four.  Progress?  I’d like to think so.

I have seen Steve’s Ice Cream sold in pints in our local Whole Foods, and enjoyed one of his dairy free varieties.  About half of the varieties the company makes are dairy free.  For the Tasting, they offered a cinnamon coffee sundae.  Therese came practically running over to me with this sundae in her hand.  I tasted it, and immediately understood her excitement.  It was excellent.

Steve's Cinnamon Coffee Sundae

Steve’s Cinnamon Coffee Sundae

I did not remember ever having encountered Garden Lites products before.  I tasted their chocolate and blueberry oat muffins, and they were incredibly light and moist.  I will definitely be tracking down some of their products (especially since they were giving out coupons at the Tasting!) and will give a fuller report after I have done more eating!

Garden Lites

Garden Lites

It was with great pleasure that I found our friends from Gourmet Sorbet, the “Sorbabes,” at the Grand Tasting.  It was a year ago that I met Nicole Cardone and her partner and I am excited to see that their company is going places.  They have new flavors like Raspberry Dark Chocolate, and Nicole told me that there are more new flavors on the way.  Nicole and I are going to connect again shortly – I want to interview her for the blog – I’m sure you will be thrilled to read the Sorbabes story.

I have been eating So Delicious products for probably nearly 20 years.  So finding them at the Grand Tasting was like re-connecting with an old friend.  Their latest thing is packaged coffee drinks called Cococcinos, made with coconut milk.  While not that much of a coffee drinker, I do love the taste, and am thrilled to experience this new product.  But as I told the folks at the So Delicious booth, I have had some trouble finding the Cococcino.  Well, they said, “here, take one.”  My friends, that was quite a gift.  I carried that heavy quart carton around for the rest of the day with pride, and am now enjoying it at home.  This is another product I will be writing about at greater length soon.

So Delicious

So Delicious

What a day!  What. a. day.  And after sampling all this wonderful food, we finished off the day by relaxing at the north stage, watching some culinary demos by the likes of Food Network stars G. Garvin, Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and iconic Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.  I will leave you with snapshots of what they were up to that day.

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Café Louvre, Choco Café: Prague Culinary Tour, Part 2

Cafe Louvre

Cafe Louvre

Our culinary tour of Prague concluded with lunch at Cafe Louvre and dessert at Choco Cafe.  But having left Zvonice Restaurant, as I described at the end of my last post, there was some territory to travel in getting from there to the last three stops on the tour.  This Eating Prague tour aspires to cover a lot of territory, pretty much the whole city, or at least those neighborhoods on the east side of the Mltava River (perhaps if they are successful with this, they will eventually develop a second tour that covers the west side of the river – there are enough restaurants and sights there to warrant a tour of its own, I am sure).

So yes, there were three stops to go, and some walking to do to get there.  Having left the Henry Tower, we quickly encountered the Jubilee Synagogue, notable for its Moorish/Spanish architecture.

Jubilee Synagogue

Jubilee Synagogue

Having seen so much Moorish architecture during my many trips to Spain, it holds a special place in my heart.  The Jubilee Synagogue is not the only building decorated thusly in Prague – the Spanish Synagogue, in the heart of the city’s Jewish quarter, has a similar design.  But that one is not as colorful as the Jubilee.  My quarrel at this point was with the narrowness of the street – I wasn’t able to get far enough away from the synagogue to get a good picture of the whole building!  Oh well, next time when I visit Prague, I will have to bring a camera with a wide-angle lens!

At the end of that block, we turned right, and our guide pointed out Prague’s main railway station on our left.  Of note there is that the station is on Wilsonova street, named for the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and there is also a statue of Wilson standing in front of the station.  Apparently, the first president of what was then called Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who was educated in the United States and married an American woman, was good friends with President Wilson and a great admirer of American democracy, and aspired to bring Wilsonian democracy to Czechoslovakia.

When we reached the end of that street (Opletalova), we ran smack dab into Wenceslas Square, Prague’s main square.  Several blocks long, it is really more what we would call a plaza I suppose rather than a square.  To our left we could see the statue of Saint Wenceslas on a horse that is positioned at the southern end of the square, and the National Museum, which is currently being renovated (the building’s foundations were unfortunately damaged when the Metro station below Wenceslas Square was built).

 

Mirka, our guide, had told us when we walked across the square to get a good look at the horse statue, and we saw why just a minute later.  In the middle of the nearby Lucerna Palace shopping mall is a sculpture by modern Czech artist David Cerny hanging from the ceiling in the form of Saint Wenceslas riding an upside down, dead horse.

David Cerny's Statue of Wenceslas on a Dead Horse

David Cerny’s Statue of Wenceslas on a Dead Horse

Cerny’s sculpture here, as with all his work (there are several other prominent works of his displayed around the city), is a critical comment on the current state of affairs in the Czech Republic.  There are different interpretations as to exactly what this sculpture means, but all agree that Cerny is seeking to criticize the political system in place.  As a visitor, my take on it is that the mere fact that Cerny’s work is on display in Prague, and that it has not been destroyed by an angry mob who threatened his life, is a sign of a healthy open society, the antithesis of what existed under the Soviet regime.

Having had our dose of political commentary, it was time to wash it down with some good beer.  And not far from here was the Novoměstský Pivovar (Newtown Brewery), a microbrewery and restaurant.

As we sipped our small beers – I chose dark and Therese went for the pale one – the brewery’s manager gave us a short tour of the facilities.  He gave details on the process of making the beer in Czech and then our guide translated his comments into English.  He showed us the ingredients, including the pelletized hops, that are used in making beer.  I accepted his offer to taste the hops, and was almost instantly sorry I did – the bitterness in that little pellet stayed in my mouth for the rest of the tour.  Thankfully, the creamy smooth beer helped to was a bit of the bitterness away.

On our way to the next stop, our sit-down lunch at Cafe Louvre, we passed through the brightly-lit Pasaz Svetozor Shopping Arcade.  Prague certainly does seem to have its share of gaudy indoor shopping spaces!

Pasaz Svetozor Shopping Arcade

Pasaz Svetozor Shopping Arcade

The main thing Mirka wanted to point out to us here was an ice cream counter that is very popular with Prague’s school children – she said that they come here after the last day of school to celebrate – but she cautioned that the ice cream is not such good quality.  My reaction: ok, worthy of our time why?

Next we walked into the Frantiskanska Zahrada (or Franciscan Gardens or Park).

Frantiskanska Park is certainly a hidden gem, an unexpected oasis of calm in the middle of downtown Prague.  But personally, I would’ve been happy to skip the shopping arcade and this park and move on directly to the lunch restaurant – especially since at this point it was obvious that we were behind schedule.

Lunch at Cafe Louvre was our next, and penultimate, stop.

I will leave others to talk about the historic significance of Cafe Louvre (yes, it is more than a hundred years old, and people like Franz Kafka have eaten there).  I will just say that it is a beautiful cafe, no question.  I found the food rather pedestrian, and as Therese said as we were leaving there, could we not have been offered something more than water to accompany our lunch (like maybe a glass of wine – I’m sure we all would’ve paid extra to buy a couple of bottles to share)?  The logistics of accommodating a rather large group in a popular cafe in the middle of the day must be challenging – but maybe if we hadn’t been so behind schedule, we could’ve relaxed and enjoyed the lunch a little more.

And what was lunch?  Braised beef with cream sauce for everyone else – for me, goulash.  I mostly stayed away from the dumplings since I couldn’t be sure if they had dairy (our guide thought they were safe, but I was cautious).

To finish off the day, we had dessert at Choco Cafe.

Here is where our guide really came through for me.  She had called ahead and gotten them to make me a (mostly) dairy free version of the dessert – a long wafer like roll for dipping in coconut milk-based hot chocolate.  She did warn me that the the cookie was made with a tiny bit of milk.  I was willing to take the risk just this once, and I was well-compensated for my bravery/foolhardiness.  This was a dynamite finish to an afternoon of eating.

Choco Cafe Dessert - Coconut Milk-based Hot Cocoa and Dipping Cookie

Choco Cafe Dessert – Coconut Milk-based Hot Cocoa and Dipping Cookie

So how would I rate Eating Prague’s culinary tour, compared to others we have taken?  I would give this one a definite “B.”  They are fairly new, having just started giving tours a month or two earlier, and I’d say they are off to a great start, but they have some kinks to work out.  I would suggest not trying to cover so much ground geographically.  There are several neighborhoods in Prague where you could easily do a 4-hour romp of food establishments and not have to travel far.  The tour we took in Toronto two years ago, for example, took place on a 5-block stretch of one street, and it was plenty varied and interesting – I would bet it would be possible to do something similar in Prague.

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Eating Prague Culinary Tour: Seven Stops in Five Hours in Prague

Eating Prague Culinary Tour

Eating Prague Culinary Tour

On the fifth day of our 10-day trip to Prague, Therese and I took a culinary tour with Eating Prague Tours.  We were part of a lively group of 10 people with a wonderful guide named Mirka (I’m pretty sure that was her) who visited 7 different culinary stops.  The tour was supposed to be four hours, but it took a little longer than expected – five hours, to be precise.  That didn’t bother us a bit, but I gather some people had plans for later in the day or that sort of thing (more on that later).

To keep things at a manageable length, I thought I would break the culinary tour into two posts.  In this first one, I will cover stops one through four, and in the second/concluding post, I will cover 5 through seven.  Just so you don’t think you’ll be getting cheated in the 2nd post, I can tell you that we covered more ground geographically later in the day, so there are more city sights we encountered along the way that I will describe in that later post.  So please do check it out.

1. Le Court Galerie.  OK.  So we had an invigorating walk from our hotel to the starting point of the tour, Le Court Galerie, a cafe set in an enviable location, a quiet courtyard lined with trees.  It is the perfect place to have a beverage and a snack, which is what we did, while we waited for everyone to arrive.

I should tell you that the strudel we were offered was NOT dairy free.  Here’s what happened: even though I had told Eating Prague about my allergy when I reserved our place on the tour, somehow that information was not communicated to Mirka.  When we went around the group and introduced ourselves, I talked about this blog and my allergy, and she apologized and immediately went to work contacting other stops along the tour to ensure that there would be dairy free options for me (yay!).  But she couldn’t do anything about the strudel.

So what did I do?  I reasoned that a tiny taste would not be enough to make me sick (I know that some of you would not choose to take this risk, but based on my experience, I felt comfortable doing this).  This strudel, in any case, was a modern, healthy take on the popular dessert.  The apples had a bit of crunch to them, and they weren’t bathed in lots of sauce.  And the pastry was not flaky with layers of butter, but more like a wonton wrapper.

At this first stop, I think our hostess could’ve been more cut-throat about getting off to a timely start.  There was a group of three ladies who were running late and had informed her of that; but when they arrived, instead of rushing us off to the next stop, she let us all linger for a good bit of time so the three late arrivals could enjoy a beverage and some strudel.  Which was fine with me, but I’m just saying: if there are time concerns, that would be a place to cut some.

2. Sisters Bistro & 3. Naše Maso.  I mention these two stops in the same breath, because they are literally right next to each other, with their entrances facing each other across a narrow alley-way.

Sisters Bistro is an homage to the Czech open-faced sandwich or chlebiky, but with a modern, farm-to-table twist.  We were told that one of the two sisters who started the restaurant is a pioneer in bringing the farm-to-table concept to Prague, and in promoting the neighborhood food markets that will support this movement.

All of the open-faced sandwiches we tried featured some great fresh vegetables: beet puree and basil, celeriac and tomato, even the herring sandwich came with radish and dill.  The first one came with a sizable dollop of mozzarella, which I let Therese handle for me.

I had hardly swallowed my third sandwich sample when it was already time to slide across the alley to Naše Maso.  This is the cool, hip butcher that we all wish we had in our neighborhood, and all appearances is that this establishment, just a year after opening, is already quite popular.

Now normally I am not much for hip, but this is a little different than the hip I am used to – this is hip with substance (I think we need a new word for that).  The cured and smoked meats are done slowly using natural ingredients in a way that delivers the flavor cleanly.

Naše Maso Samplings

Naše Maso Samplings

As much as I loved the hams, especially the second one that tasted a bit like pastrami, the two sausages were even better.  And the house mustard, spicy and sharp, was perfect for dipping the sausages.

I am glad that we had a fair amount of walking to do after samplings these hams and sausages, because I was pretty full at that point.  Our journey took us through Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), the square near to our hotel, where there was the opportunity for photos of the soot-covered Powder Tower.  At that point, we passed from Old Town to New Town (the section of Prague that was founded in 1348).  Our guide explained to us that the street called Na příkopě, which is now a busy commercial street full of shops, whose name means “At the moat,” was the site of the moat that separated the two sections of the city.  We left the square behind and turned southeast, passing through the Czech National Bank building to our next stop, a surprise.

4. Restaurant Zvonice.  Zvonice is notable for its location, inside Henry’s Tower, the tallest belfry in Prague. In modern times, the belfry was stabilized by building a structure within it, so that it now features an elevator and stairs as well as air conditioning.

Henry's Tower

Henry’s Tower

The dish that Mirka promised us at Zvonice was a sauerkraut soup.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat the sauerkraut soup, but the soup that was prepared for me was also quite lovely: a chicken consomme with julienned carrots and a dear sausage.  This was a result of one of the phone calls that dear Mirka had made after hearing of my allergy – and I of course was very appreciative.

I enjoyed the soup, but I think the best part of being at Zvonice was sitting at the long table with our group in the cozy confines of the restaurant – using one of the floors of the belfry, with large beams cutting through it, I would guess that the restaurant seats less than 30 people.  On the way down, I thought I would walk; but when, after just a couple of flights, the elevator opened on the floor near me, I hopped aboard, and there was Therese, as if she had been waiting for me.

At that point, I had probably already eaten enough food for the day; but there were still 3 more stops.  One of them would be for a sit-down lunch (wait, hadn’t we just done that?), one would be at a local micro-brewery, and lastly, there was a dessert promised (and for me, there would be a nearly-dairy free version of the dessert).

As we left Henry’s Tower and started on our way further south, I turned and saw this cool retro Coca Cola ad painted on the side of a building:

Coca Cola Ad

Coca Cola Ad

Posted in Countries, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Prague, Travel, Walking tours | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snack Safely: Just What It Says!

Snack Safely is one of the great resources I learned about recently at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Las Vegas.  I was at lunch when I overheard someone talking about how Snack Safely had recently downgraded Oreos, removing them from their list of snacks that are safe to eat.

This got my attention.  Here we are at the Conference, with so many artisanal and allergy free brands represented, and someone is talking about something as mainstream as Oreos?  I had to find out more.  It was explained to me that beyond the ingredients listed on a snack’s box, there can sometimes be issues, such as cross-contamination, that make a product unsafe for us food allergic folks.

Also, I was a little shocked to hear that Oreos might be unsafe.  Yes, back in the day when most mainstream snack companies routinely put whey or other milk products in their cookies, Nabisco’s Oreos were off-limits for me.  Luckily, Nabisco’s rival cookie company, Sunshine had several cookie varieties that were dairy free, including Hydrox, which was somewhat similar to the Oreo (chocolate crunchy cookie outside, sugary creamy filling).  But at some point, I read the ingredients on Oreos, and they had removed the whey, and yay, I could eat them!

So to hear that they were maybe not really safe was going to make me sad.  But two items of clarification are necessary to conclude this story.  The first is about Snack Safely.  Louise uses them religiously, because their focus is on peanut allergy (which is the food allergy with which she is concerned).  Luckily, the work they do revealing companies’ manufacturing processes can also be very helpful to us dairy-avoiding folks.  But peanut allergy is what they are trying to address.

Second, in reading their report on Oreos, they do say that original and double stuff varieties are ok, but everything else is best avoided.  Phew!  I can live with a world where the only kind of Oreos I can safely eat are original and double stuff.

But let me tell you a little more about Snack Safely.  They produce a Snack List, which is updated regularly, where they break down snacks into different categories (pretzels, chips, cookies, etc.) and then tell you in each category which brands and varieties are definitely safe for people with peanut allergies to eat.  They also partner with manufacturers and have a list of those companies that work with them in making their ingredients as well as manufacturing processes clear to consumers. (An aside: many of the brands/companies on their list are companies I had not previously heard of, like Cybele’s and Enjoy Life, which I encountered for the first time at the conference).

To me, what Snack Safely is doing is pretty extraordinary!  To be advocating for us food allergic folks and making connections with companies cannot be an easy job.  I am sure there are some companies, especially the big conglomerates, who probably don’t want to be bothered with disclosing their manufacturing processes to the general public.  The fact that Snack Safely gets so many companies to do this is an incredible service to us.

And again, I am including us (dairy allergic folks) in this conversation, even though Snack Safely is focused on peanut allergy.  As I said earlier, I’m sure that a lot of the information they convey is also helpful to us.  Also, the high degree of professionalism they have shown in advocating for the peanut allergic is an inspiration to us.  We need a dairy free version of Snack Safely!  Well, until we have that, Snack Safely is a wonderful tool for getting information on what’s safe to munch on.

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The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Las Vegas

The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference

The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference

On September 26th through 28th, I was very privileged to attend the second annual Food Allergy Bloggers Conference at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Organized by co-founders Homa Woodrum and Jenny Sprague, the conference was three days of connecting to the community of food allergy bloggers on many levels.

There were sessions on many topics, from the writing side – self-publishing and copyrighting your work, for example – to the scientific side – how eczema and asthma can be affected by food allergies, for example.  The event was sponsored by many food producers and food allergy advocacy organizations, and the sponsors were on-hand, with tables set up in one of the three conference rooms in which the conference took place.  Most of all, this was a chance to meet many people in my field, and I did, and made some friends along the way.

What stood out about the weekend in particular?  Besides the people, who were great, there were a few things that stuck in my mind (and belly).  Upon registering for the conference on Friday, I received two full bags of swag that included literature and food samples from the many sponsors.  There were amazing snacks in there from brands I’ve never heard of before!  Stay tuned for another day when I will just do a blog to focus on the many new products I have been noshing on, both during the conference and since I got back.  It is just so exciting to learn that so many companies are creating allergy free food.

I was astounded to see how many mothers attended the conference who are advocating on behalf of their food allergic children!  I knew that demographic made up a significant portion of the food allergy blogging community, but I didn’t realize how energized and passionate (and present!) these ladies are.  The rest of us can learn a lot from them, because these ladies don’t take no for an answer and are restless in their pursuit of solutions.  Many of them have faced much steeper odds than I ever have, with children with any number of allergies, and have found a way to keep their children healthy and well-fed, and they are getting their stories out!

One very intriguing late-afternoon session dealt with the most current medical research into food allergies.  Dr. Ruchi Gupta of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago told us about where we are right now in our understanding of how food allergies are contracted and how to manage them.  The highlight of her presentation was an extraordinary video she created of herself singing a song to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” that tells kids how to live with food allergies.  This video had me laughing and crying at the same time.  It was so enthralling to learn that someone in the medical community is working so hard to care for those of us with food allergies.

Dr. Xiu-Min Li of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City followed with a description of a clinical trial that is underway to create a medication that would combat food allergies that is based on traditional Chinese medicine.  It will be probably a few more years before the medication she described is perfected and made available to the public, but hearing her lecture got me thinking: if such a medication existed, would I take it?  Don’t get me wrong: I will do any and everything to take care of myself, for myself and for my family.  But having lived for more than 30 years with a food allergy, I have become so used to eating a certain way.  I wouldn’t want to take medication to allow me, for example, to eat cheese or drink milk.  I am happy doing without.  The one application for which I can see myself using this medication would be protecting myself against accidental ingestion of dairy products.  For those times when I am at a restaurant and it is bothersome if not impossible to be certain that everything is dairy free, I might consider taking a pill.

This weekend meant so much to me.  In the weeks to come, I am sure you will hear me continue to make reference to things I learned at the conference.  And I will be introducing you to many of the wonderful people I met – hopefully, I can interview some of them, and maybe even get some of them to write guest posts here.  This was a transformative experience.  It was another step toward making me the advocate for the cause of dairy free living and travel that I so dearly wish to be.

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Hilton Old Town Prague, Ornamental Clock: Day One in Prague

Hilton Old Town Prague

Hilton Old Town Prague

After surviving the overnight flight from New York to Prague, Therese, Eileen and I got a taxi and in about 30 minutes we were at the Hilton Old Town Prague, and ready to begin our holiday in the Czech Republic’s famous capital city.  The only problem was that while Eileen’s room was ready, ours was not – apparently, even with Therese’s vip Diamond status, early check-in is not a guarantee (and it wasn’t that early anyway – by then it was already noonish).  It would’ve been nice to have a shower before heading out to do some sightseeing, but we adjusted, and with a sigh, we left our luggage in Eileen’s room, and headed out.

My plan for the afternoon was to explore the nearby Namesti Republiky (Republic Square), and then to walk from there to Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí).  Once in the square, my plan was to find the cafe with the best view of the Ornamental Clock, and then have lunch and catch the hourly chiming of the clock.  I also planned to buy us three three-day Prague Cards, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about tickets for public transportations and museums for the next few days.

The Republic Square, or Náměstí Republiky, sits just a block west of the Hilton Old Town.  Our adventure began there.  We saw the Municipal House and the Powder Tower on its western edge, and the Czech National Bank building to the south.  On the archway that connects the Powder Tower and the Municipal House is the seal of the city of Prague, which was neat to see.  This square is named for the fact that, in 1918, what was then Czechoslovakia achieved its independence from the former Austro-Hungarian empire, and became a country for the first time – and the ceremony announcing this new republic took place in the Municipal House.

We walked through the arch under the Powder Tower and entered Celetna Ulice, the street that connects this square to the Old Town Square.  It is a pedestrian-only street, and filled with souvenir shops on both sides of the street.

Colorful Building on Celetna Ulice

Colorful Building on Celetna Ulice

Some of the buildings are decorated in quite elaborate fashion, undoubtedly bringing to our attention the street’s historical significance, as the place coronations passed through on their way to Prague Castle, and a street on which some of Prague’s most famous citizens like Frank Kafka lived at one time.

Along the way, we passed the remarkable Church of Our Lady Before Tyn on our right.  I tried on that occasion and later as well to figure out where to enter the church. to get a good look at its interior, but was never able to find the entrance.  Oh well.  Therese and Eileen were ready to enter the square and give it a good looking over, so I kept walking.

We were hungry too, so it was time to find a good place to eat.  We saw a restaurant advertising pig’s knee, something we saw offered again and again in Prague.  The place that we found to have the best view of the clock was Oliva Verde.

Oliva Verde Restaurant

Oliva Verde Restaurant

We got a seat and settled in for our first meal in Prague.  I realized that it had been a long time since I had eaten a full meal – if you don’t count the sandwich at Croque Madame at JFK Airport (which I don’t), I had not eaten properly since breakfast the previous morning.

We ordered our lunch and a glass of Czech wine from Moravia, a Czech Riesling.  Therese and I both had the half duck confit over red cabbage – I had french fries with mine of course, while Therese had dumplings, I believe.

Half-Duck Confit with Red Cabbage Entree

Half-Duck Confit with Red Cabbage Entree

Oliva Verde is an Italian restaurant ostensibly, but like most restaurants in Prague, they have a section on their menu for Czech specialties.  That’s where I found the duck entree.  Eileen also ordered from that part of the menu – a sausage platter that was also dairy free, I believe.  She kept offering sausage to me, but it was all I could do to finish my own dish (thought I was so hungry that I did!).

While we were eating, the hour struck, and a huge crowd had gathered, as happens every hour, to see the Ornamental Clock chime the hour.

Prague's Astronomical Clock

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

I can’t pretend to know how this clock tells the time – for an in-depth explanation of this, consult Wise Monkeys Abroad’s post on the clock – but it is fun to watch it chime the hour.  The doors near the top open, and the 12 apostles step through the opening, one after the other.  Then the clock chimes the hour.

Once we had seen the clock’s show, and finished eating, I went off in search of the tourist office.  There is a tourist office on the northern border of the square, but for some reason, that one does not sell the Prague Card!  Instead, you have to go to a second office which is to the left of the clock.  I did, and bought three three-day Prague Cards, using my Visa bank card (many businesses in Prague, as in the rest of Europe, do not accept American Express).

At this point, exhaustion was starting to set in, and it was time to get back to the hotel, check into our room, and have a nap.  Therese’s rule is that we should get 4 hours of sunlight when we travel to Europe, to start re-setting our inner clocks, before we sleep.  We had done that.  So I re-joined Therese and Eileen, and we walked back to the hotel.

Our room at the Hilton Old Town Prague was lovely.  A plate of fruits was left to welcome us, and the king-size bed looked very comfortable.  And there was a desk for me to set up my computer and blog and plan further excursions.  Perfect!

A nap, a shower, and then it was time for dinner.  We picked out a few places to have dinners over the next few days, and had the concierge in the executive lounge call and make reservations for us.  For this first night, we picked a place that was fairly easy to get into – Hybernia Restaurant, on a street parallel to our hotel’s, and just one block away.

Hybernia Restaurant

Hybernia Restaurant

This restaurant had a very tavern-like feeling to it.  Set in a quite ancient structure apparently, it turned out to be much larger than it seemed on first glance.  I had my list of possible ways to say “I am allergic to dairy” – Mám alergii na mléko, máslo, a sýr (“I have an allergy to milk, butter and cheese”);  Jsem alergický/alergická na mléko, máslo, a sýr (“I am allergic to milk, butter and cheese”); and Jsem alergická na mléčné výrobky. Prosím, bez mléka máslo nebo sýr (“I am allergic to dairy.  Please, no milk, butter or cheese.”).  It wasn’t too hard to find some food for me at this restaurant.  I started with a plate of ham and mustard.

Ham Appetizer with Mustards

Ham Appetizer with Mustards

I followed that up with a pork skewer.  No way was I going to finish this one!  It was monster-sized!  See what I mean?

Skewer Main Course

Skewer Main Course

At least it came with lots of vegetables, and a side dish of roasted vegetables.  I removed everything from the long metal skewer, set it aside, sliced up the food, and did my best.  It was much more than I could eat.  This would be a reoccurring theme in Prague.  Our first day got us off to a very good start, both in getting a taste of the city, and getting some good food in our stomachs.

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Prague Gastronomy Museum: Eating Down Through The Ages

Prague Gastronomy Museum

Prague Gastronomy Museum

You might say that I had placed the Prague Gastronomy Museum at the top of the second string of Prague attractions.  After we had seen a lot of the things that make Prague famous, like the Astronomical Clock and the Prague Castle, gone on a culinary walking tour of the city with Eating Prague, and gone on a day trip to amazing Cesky Krumlov, we were ready to ask the question, “what else is there to do in Prague?”  And the Gastronomy Museum, which had been at the top of my pre-trip list anyway, was the first place that made the cut.

After visiting this gem of a museum, I regret not putting it right at the top of the top list.  For a museum of diminutive size – it seems to be a converted townhouse, with two floors and maybe a dozen rooms containing its permanent exhibit – it had a considerable impact on us.  There are a number of quite thought-provoking elements.  For example,  we were instructed at the outset that we could photograph photos and materials in the exhibits, but please not to photograph the descriptive placards accompanying them.  I shrugged at this and figured ok, they don’t want us stealing their ideas.  But then, as I passed through the exhibit and read, for example, a point-by-point history of the fork and knife and spoon, I understood.  The information is astounding – entertaining, enlightening and often unexpected.

I was surprised also to see that not only did they start at the beginning, with a description of what prehistoric mankind ate, but that they broke it down into a number of periods, with different available diet and method of food preparation at different times and places (of course, most of the food was eaten raw).  I was intrigued to learn, for example, that early man had the flora to be able to eat rotten meat and not get sick from it.

Recreation of an early homestead and kitchen

Recreation of an early homestead and kitchen

As we approached one of the museum’s highlights, the exhibit and description of the medieval smoke kitchen, we were unexpectedly joined by the museum’s co-founder and owner, Ladislav Provaan, who gave us an in-depth description of the smoke kitchen and its advantages and disadvantages.  Its name comes from the fact that the cooking and heating came from the fire, but since there was no chimney, the smoke from the fire stayed in the house with the inhabitants.  Sounds pretty ghastly, right?  But apparently it was a great way to keep food preserved for a long time without refrigeration (I’m sure like me, you just said “oh, right, they didn’t have any refrigerators then!”).

Medieval Smoke Kitchen

Medieval Smoke Kitchen

The next room dealt with the incredible advances that took place during the Renaissance period.  Of course, most of what we saw there was based on what went on in the wealthiest households; nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing how sophisticated the kitchens became for providing food for a large group of people.  Mr. Provaan was still with us for a few more minutes and we enjoyed hearing his commentary on the large copies of 17th century prints that are displayed at that point.

17th century Renaissance Prints

17th century Renaissance Prints

At that point, we were on our own to explore the next room, which was full of representative kitchens from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  My favorite was a nineteenth century stove and accessories, with an early pressure cooker sitting on the stovetop.

I also loved one kitchen set-up that had an early portable radio on a shelf above the stove.

20th Century Kitchen with Portable Radio

20th Century Kitchen with Portable Radio

This reminded me of when I was very young, when my mother had a clock radio on top of the refrigerator to listen to news and music while she was cooking.  This museum kitchen set was obviously much old than what I grew up with, but the presence of the radio in it gave an extra feeling of authenticity for me.

The rooms which concluded the first floor took as their subject drink, namely beer and spirits.  As I was contemplating a large wreath made out of hops and reading about beer production in the Czech Republic, Mr. Provaan re-appeared to add commentary.  Believe me, I really appreciated him giving us a special museum visit – I just felt a little funny about it, since we had not paid extra for a guided tour.

As with many of our museum visits, as I spent time reading every bit of information, just enthralled with the museum, Therese and Eileen moved on ahead of me.  They had already seen much of the second floor when I arrived there.  I did not take too many photos there, since the displays there were mainly of text and materials mixed together (it was hard not to take pictures of text, so I just gave up and read and enjoyed).  The second floor had rooms devoted to the history of cookbooks, and utensils, and modern culinary history, with a focus on Czech culinary luminaries.

Mr. Provaan had pointed out that many of the earliest cookbooks were written by scientists.  Nutrition was much more of a consideration than taste.  Of course, I had heard of Brillat-Savarin and his identifying of the different categories of taste.  But there were many other culinary pioneers featured in that room.

My favorite room on that floor described the history of utensils.  I guess from my days attending Renaissance faires, I was familiar with the idea that the knife was used to do everything from cutting up food to shoveling it into the diner’s mouth.  But the story of how long it took for forks to be widely used and accepted is fascinating.

Once again I became aware that I was way behind Therese and Eileen, as I could hear them speaking with Mr. Provaan in a large well-lit room at the front of the building.  I entered to see a large room obviously set up for doing cooking demonstrations (they do lessons on cooking Czech cuisine every Wednesday, and I’m sure they do other culinary events from time to time).

Gastronomy Museum Demo Kitchen

Gastronomy Museum Demo Kitchen

On the counter was a bottle filled halfway with a dark liquid.  Before I could wonder what that was all about, Mr. Provaan told us it was a special mead, made with numerous spices by a local maker.  He offered us small glasses to taste it.  Wow!  Again, from Renaissance faires, I am used to mead being honey wine, something drunk in large gulps.  This was more a liqueur, much stronger than any mead I’ve ever had, to be lightly sipped and savored.

The Dairy Free Traveler with Ladislav Provaan

The Dairy Free Traveler with Ladislav Provaan

After quaffing that heady brew, the rest of the museum was a blur.  We did walk through the galleries with information about contemporary Czech culinary luminaries which concluded the exhibit.  And on our way out, we took a long look at their gift shop, which at present is pretty small – just a couple of counters next to the entrance, and some tee shirts hanging on the wall.  There was one tee that had a very official look to it, and it happened to be in my size, so Therese bought it for me (thanks, Therese!).

Gastronomy Museum Tee Shirt

Gastronomy Museum Tee Shirt

We didn’t want to leave the museum.  We felt like we had made a new friend in Mr. Provaan.  We wish him and his remarkable museum great success.  This was my first gastronomy museum, and I don’t know how many others exist around the world (New York City doesn’t really have one) – but whatever others I may encounter, they will have a hard time impressing me as much as this Gastronomy Museum in Prague did!

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