Perugia: Gluten Free Dining

Yesterday we meandered through the San Pietro area.  One of the highlights of the trip was finding this random crepe kitchen, Le Cre.  It was tucked near the end of a tunnel-like alley next to the Pozzo Etrusco, an ancient Etruscan well.

I noticed the word “glutine” in a few places around the shop and then I saw a newspaper clipping with the words “gluten free” in the title along with a picture of the place.  The bar tender saw me pointing and saying “gluten free” and she nodded.  She pointed up and at the ceiling and in that moment I learned one of the loveliest phrases of my trip thus far: Senza Glutine.  Directly translated it means “without gluten”.

She spoke a fair amount of English, and was able to explain that the senza glutine side of this particular kitchen has been dedicated to gluten-free food preparation.  She told us that there were a few GF restaurants in the area, and that they were very prevalent in Southern Italy.  So it was that I enjoyed a crepe in Italy.

We nom nom nom on a nutella e crema senza glutine crepe

On Wednesday we ran across another luncheon place that had a senza glutine section on the menu, so I was able to enjoy PASTA in Italy 🙂

Thatsa lotta pasta carbonara – and it’s gluten-free!

Tonight (Wednesday evening) we stopped back at Le Cre for one final crepe dinner.  The owners close up Le Cre for the summer on Friday, so even though we’re surrounded by bars, paninitecas, pizzarias, tavole caldas and ristorantes, we decided to vist them one more time. 

One of the cafe staff makes my senza glutine crepe

Salami, cheese, whole marinated “spicy” button mushrooms, lettuce, mayo on a GF crepe

Mom said she needs a short break from “Italian food”.  Tomorrow night – sushi!

Perugia: Gluten Free Dining

Gluten Free Pancakes

I make gluten-free pancakes at home.  I use a traditional recipe, but substitute in a mix of sorghum, rice and garbanzo (chickpea) flours for all-purpose wheat flour and I reduce the baking powder.  The result is a decent, but slightly drier and firmer, version of a pancake.  But tasty – especially if most carby goodness treats are not an option for you.

GF Flour Recipe
This recipe was given to me by a friend from her sister.  The sister has celiac disease and says she formulated this mix herself.  A google search for “Gluten free flour mix” will yield a ton of recipes, some claiming to be better suited for different types of baked goods.  I usually make about 1/2 gallon of the stuff and keep in it in a container for general use.

1 1/3 cup Sorghum Flour
1/4 cup Sweet Rice Flour (I usually use the easier-to-find Rice Flour)
1/4 cup Garbanzo (Chickpea) Flour

GF Pancake Recipe

I found this recipe on the internet ages ago using a general google search for “pancake recipe”.  I can’t give credit to a specific source anymore, but most of the recipes I found in a recent search resemble this one:

1 1/2 cups flour (GF or all-purpose)
1 tsp baking powder (if using wheat flower, up baking powder to 3 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp white sugar
1 1/4 cup milk
1 egg
3 tbsp butter, melted

Yum, yum, yum!  The Hubby eats the GF pancakes and enjoys them, but sadly, I can’t compete with the traditional buttermilk pancake.

However, The Original Pancake House of Eden Prairie can.


The Hubby and I had breakfast at The Original Pancake House (OPH) in Eden Prairie this morning.  He really likes pancakes, and I figured that I could get some sort of egg-based breakfast.  I only cut gluten from my diet about three years ago, and when I was growing up OPH in Tinley Park, Illinois had been one of my favorite breakfast places.  I would always order the Apple Pancake.  For those of you who like pastries of the the apple persuasion, and who haven’t had an OPH Apple Pancake, you must take thee to an OPH location and have one at your earliest convenience – it is the pinnacle of apple+pancake experiences.  The apple is baked into the pancake, but it’s also baked on top of the dough and covered in cinnamon and butter.  Seriously, it adds another hour onto the treadmill, but who cares?


This is the Original Pancake House’s signature Apple Pancake...drool…

So back to this morning’s experience:  We get to OPH at 9am and the place is swarming with families – lot of babies and kids, tired looking parents, and patient grandmas and grandpas playing with the kids and cajoling the parents.  This is the last place on Earth I ever really want to be.  I drop the Hubby of at the doors so he can run inside and see how long the wait would be.  I drive in a circle around the packed parking lot – dodging the occasional excited kid or the zombie-looking-mom-with-stroller combo, and twice stopping for some idiot on a cell phone who blithely meanders in front of my car.

I think, Thank goodness I sent [The Hubby] inside – the wait’ll probably be 30 minutes or more and we can go someplace else. I make my round just as he’s coming back outside.  I make eye contact and start to drive forward, already planning Plan B, but he signals me to park and come inside and then dashes back through the doors.

Noooo!  I start to grumble thinking that he’s put us on the waiting list.  He can be much more patient that I am when it comes to restaurants.  He’ll wait 20 minutes in line to eat at one location, while I’d rather drive 20 minutes away and to eat somewhere with no wait.  But I’m a good wife, so I go park the car with only one little sigh and start the marathon trek back to the restaurant.  I even leave the smartphone, the iPod and the Saturday  paper in the car because The Hubby likes to have conversations when we eat out.  What up with that?

I get to the door and end up holding the door for this huge family of 12 (I counted), which isn’t so bad, except one really wound-up kid ends up going in and out three times before being pulled to a screeching halt (the screeching part…that’s literal) by a harried looking woman who I’m guessing is Mom.  I see the Hubby across the lobby-sized waiting area and he motions me over.  I give him my best shoulder shrugging “how the hell am I supposed to get over there” look as I begin sidestepping and weaving my way through the throng.  Inside I’m groaning, how long is this wait going to be?.

But behold, a veritable miracle – he’s gotten us a place at the bar!  We sit down, the guy brings coffee, water and menus, and we’re off.  They’ve got some tasty looking omelettes and sides.  I glance longingly at the Apple Pancake (curse you, gluten!), and then, a glorious phrase leaps from the page:

Gluten Free Batter is available at no charge for most of our pancakes.


Ceiling Cat be praised – gluten-free pancakes!  It looks like OPH started the gluten-free menu in 2007.  I was sad because they couldn’t make me the Apple Pancake with gluten-free batter, but I decided to get pancakes with a spinach, mushroom and goat-cheese omelete.*  I was pleasantly surprised by the pancakes – they were light (but not quite fluffy), and they actually absorbed syrup!  Woo-hoo!  I’ll definitely be going back, especially because there is no extra charge associated with the gluten-free batter.

As *anyone* who follows a GF diet knows, it is possible to find substitutes for our pastas, pizza crusts, sandwich breads and pastries, but by the Flying Spaghetti Monster do we end up paying a ridiculous amount of money for them!  Pizza Luce in Minneapolis/St. Paul serves GF Pizzas, but they’re much more expensive.  A small pizza made with wheat crust may run you $12.  The same pizza with GF crust will cost you $18.  A loaf of regular old sandwich bread may run $3; plan on spending $6-$9 for a GF loaf plus a trip to a specialty bakery.

So, a big thank you to OPH, and I promise never to complain (too loudly) about having to navigate the circus of families you attract every weekend!  I enjoy the quality of your GF pancakes, and I appreciate your willingness to offer GF options free of charge.  We’ll see you again soon!

One more shot of the Apple Pancake:

*As an aside, that’s way too much food.  I don’t recommend doing that unless you’re sharing or taking some home.  Ugh.

Gluten Free Pancakes

Who needs sleep?

Last weekend was incredible – I’m just starting to recover!  Let me tell you what I did…

On Friday night, I went to the first classroom session of my SCUBA class!  The class took place in a teensy, tiny 9-chair classroom in the basement of the Minneapolis Scuba Center.  The lessons were brief.  They were very much a high level review of the textbook, so it’s a good thing I actually did all of the assigned reading and in-book quizzes and tests. 

After I got back from class at 10pm, the Hubby and I went walking through LynLake and Uptown.  It was an excellent spring evening, and the crowds were out!  The yuppies were dolled up and standing on the sidewalks, waiting to get into Chino Latino and Stella’s.  The slightly hipper yuppies were sitting outside at the Bryant Lake Bowl and Sauce.  We took a ride on an almost-completely-built bike taxi – which was fun and a little scary – and we discovered a new comic store in Uptown, which always makes me happy.   The shop was closed when we walked by, but I snapped a picture of the store and an awesome decal on the front window.


Bright and early on Saturday morning I rode the motorcycle out to Eagan for the last scuba classroom session, the final test and our first water lessons.  I aced the final, which came with the dubious honor of having a minute trimmed off of my 10-minute tread (the water was 88°F – I would have rather stayed in than stood shivering on the pool deck!).  After a 200-meter swim, we set up our equipment for the first time.  We put the BCD on the tank, attached the regulator to all of the right places, turned on the air (important skill, that one) and lowered the whole mess into the water.  Then we all hopped in and helped each other shrug into our gear. 

PADI Certification | Beginning Scuba Diving Lessons | PADI Open Water Diver Certificatioin Class enjoying the heated indoor pool at Scuba Center in Eagan, Minnesota. | PADI Open Water Diver Certification classes are small, limited to a maximum of eight to ten students per PADI Instructor during pool (Confined Water) training, to assure personal attention and fun while learning to Scuba dive. | Certification classes offered in Eagan, Minnesota and Minneapolis, Minnesota

photo source

We mostly stayed in the shallow end on day 1.  We followed a PADI skills list and learned how to communicate and stay with our dive buddy underwater, how to clear water from our masks and regulators, how to detach and re-attach our low-pressure inflator from the BCD, how to breathe from a free-flowing regulator, how to equalize our ears and masks, how to haul our buddy in a “tired swimmer” tank pull and body push, how to ease a leg cramp underwater, and all sorts of other skills. 


Saturday evening, the Hubby and I went to a party at a friend’s house.  There were probably about 30 people who came and went on that night, and we got to meet some new people – always fun!  We went home relatively early because I was exhausted from messing around in a pool for three hours 🙂


I had Sunday morning free, so I decided to head over to Valleyfair.  This was the 2010 season’s opening weekend for the amusement park, and I love me some roller coasters and thrill rides.  See?  I even know that there’s a difference between roller coasters and thrill rides!  The weather was perfect and was kind enough to give me a brilliant blue sky – perfect for pictures!



There are my two favorite photos from the park:



Cut to early afternoon:  Back to Eagan for the last day of pool scuba lessons.  The instructor made us put our equipment together and take it apart four times in a row.  Damn, that’s a lot of equipment!  But I’m glad he made us do it – I should be able to remember how to set up for the Open Water dive class next month.  At one point we were sitting at the bottom of the 12-foot pool for 45-minutes straight!  We did a few buoyancy exercises, but that’s a skill I know I’ll need to work on.  It’s really hard to sit in one place in the water and not float to the surface or sink to the bottom!  Swimming or moving at a certain depth – no problem.  Hovering was a little harder.  But in the end we all passed the pool portion of the scuba lessons!


Back in Minneapolis, later that afternoon, the Hubby and I went down to the LynLake block party.  The shops between 31st and Lake Street were open, a few Art Cars were parked in the center of the block, and a stage was set up by the intersection of 31st and Lyndale. 

This dude thought maybe one more cup would fit….some people’s kids, I tell ya.  I watched this garbage can for about three minutes, and people just kept tossing garbage in the general direction of the overflowing trash bin.  Either that, or they’d shove something in from one direction, and three pieces would fall out another side.  Seriously?

We walked a block up from the block party to Pizza Luce!  Yummy gluten-free appetizers and pizza.  Thank you Pizza Luce in South Minneapolis for finally adopting the full-time gluten-free menu!



Phew.  And then I collapsed for a few hours!

Who needs sleep?

Pizza Luce has a gluten-free menu!

Pizza Luce has some of the best pizza in all of Minneapolis.  At least that’s what I’ve heard from friends and family.  For the longest time I couldn’t tell you what Pizza Luce pizza tastes like because I’m gluten intolerant, which means no yummy pizza crust, no regular pasta…what’s a good Italian girl to do???

Well, there are several brands of gluten-free (GF) pasta that can be found in specialty shops, co-ops and even some regular ol’ city  grocery stores, when the market demands.  GF pasta is actually pretty tasty if it’s made correctly; it usually takes ~16-18 minutes to fully cook, versus the comparatively brief 8-10 minute boil demanded by wheat pasta.  Those new to GF cooking (i.e., well-meaning friends who want to include me in the menu!  You guys rock!) often under-cook, which produces a mushy on the outside, crunchy in the middle noodle.  But it’s not their fault!  Remember:  Love the pasta-maker, hate the GF pasta.

So, I’ve got the pasta covered.  And now, after a trial period of Wednesday night GF offerings, Pizza Luce is offering a full-service gluten-free menu all week long!  At the downtown Mpls and St. Paul locations, one can find a plethora of GF products – and not just the usual bready stuff one would expect.  Sure the pizza crust is GF, but  so are the dips, the dipping breads, the appetizers (GF bruschetta…mmmm…) the pizza toppings, the desserts – everything is sans gluten!

The yummiest and most unexpected item we had at Pizza Luce were the mini-loaves that were served with the GF artichoke dip.  Soft GF breads are really difficult to make; it’s gluten that gives bread that soft, chewy consistency, and breads made with rice, potato, tapioca, sorghum flours tend to be compact, heavy and thick.  But these loaves were divine – Even the Hubby and best friend couldn’t tell that they were gluten-free.

The breads, flours, etc.  come from Cooqi, a specialty gluten-free bakery located in St. Paul. 

 So congratulations to Pizza Luce and Cooqi, for their collaboration and for turning out a comprehensive and high-quality GF pizza menu!

Of course, when you want to eat your left-overs at work, make sure you bring the box that contains your GF pizza, instead of the Hubby’s gluten-laden pie.  grumble grumble grumble.

Pizza Luce has a gluten-free menu!