March 27, 2012

Eating Out with GERD: Managing Portions and Ingredients

Leek Risotto cakes over parnsip-cashew puree, The Garden Grille, Providence, RI

Last weekend, I spent a few days in Rhode Island where I ate various things, and often, in celebration of my birthday.   Despite doing a lot of eating out (and definitely more than one dessert a day…), I managed to avoid any major GERD episodes.   Even apple-cider donuts at a farmer's market stand did not trigger that food-in-throat feeling or regurgitation.  (Note: I am mostly lump-in-throat free for weeks  now.  I still cannot explain it.  I also have been having much less belching.)

Still, there are lessons learned.  For dinner, we went to the Garden Grille Cafe, a vegetarian-vegan bistro that does wonderful things with whole foods.  The usual seitan concoctions are available, and are among the best I've had.  I jumped at the chance to try the "chipotle seitan," even though I feared this would be too spicy for my palate and gut.  It was hotter than I'd expect to like, but somehow the sweetness of the sauce balanced the heat, and I not only liked this -- I nearly ate most of it, AND did not feel worse for it. Lesson: documented triggers for some people may not be your triggers.  And what triggers today (or doesn't) may trigger tomorrow (or not).

Chipotle Seitan at the Garden Grille.  I skipped the hot mustard.

For entrees, J. selected the leek-risotto cakes (pictured above), which were perfection.  I should have ordered this -- it immediately caught my eye on my menu as not only a pleasing dish, but a GERD-friendly one, with pureed parsnip-cashews and flavors on the mild side.   One taste and I knew I'd have to order this next time.

My dish's main feature -- butternut squash-polenta cakes -- was also fantastic, mild yet flavorful, and GERD-friendly with its creamy texture.  (More and more I am realizing the value of "mushy" foods for less gut issues -- there's a correlation between mushiness and my happy gut.  Luckily, I enjoy soft foods like applesauce, mashed anything, grits, soups, and soft vegetables.)   I did not care for the addition of radicchio -- too bitter -- or the red pepper mash beneath -- it seemed harsh on my gut.  The wheatberries were lovely but provided too much bulk, making this not as GERD-friendly in terms of portion size.  I decided to relish the polenta cakes and eat just as much of the wheatberries as I wanted to eat -- I knew I would not "clean my plate" but told myself this was permissible.  Especially when managing a sensitive gut!

Butternut squash polenta cakes over wheatberries and red pepper mash.

I left the meal with my maximum "fullness" but with no triggered GERD.  For dessert, we headed to a vegan cafe where I split a small slice of chocolate cake.  After this, I thought I had eaten too much -- but for a birthday night out, this was a success!


A few nights ago, J. and I ate at the Candle Cafe, another vegan bistro, this time in New York City.  There was a casserole dish that looked wonderful -- sweet potato, black beans, and millet.  I asked the waitress how it was flavored -- that I prefer mildly seasoned dishes.  She replied, "Oh, this is very mild.  Some people say it's TOO bland."

I ordered this, expecting a savory, macrobiotic-like jumble of flavors.  Instead, the casserole contained a fireworks of flavors, and the beans alone were definitely not bland.  I felt "heat" and noted this when the waitress asked how it was.  (I usually always just mumble "good" no matter my opinion, but since we had discussed this, I felt I had to say something.  Plus, I was cranky.)  She told me there was nothing in the beans, everything was in fact "very mild!"  I finished my meal after adding a side gravy over the casserole, which tempered the heat, and did not feel any GERD issues afterward.  (See previous Lesson -- my aversion to "hot foods" is turning out to be a palate thing, not a GERD-trigger thing.)

Yesterday, I found a cookbook published by the restaurant and flipped through it -- there was the casserole!  (The recipe is also available here on the Cinnamon Quill recipe website.)  I checked ingredients and sure enough -- cumin and red pepper was added to the black beans.   Lesson: aside from "you never know what you're getting in restaurants," I realized this dish is a great concept -- I am going to make my own version at home, sans offending spices.

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