Bartacos ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It was a random Tuesday night when a friend and I decided to search Yelp for a dinner suggestion nearby. Up popped a new restaurant called Bartacos which I pronounced “Bart-a-goes”. It took the random kindness of someone overhearing nearby to correct me and explain the name was actually pronounced “Bar-tacos”. Hmmm, given that this was a taco place, I concurred that her suggestion made much more sense.

Walking in, the restaurant was set up like a modern style home (but much bigger) with an expansive bookshelf, low seating, wall seating and booths all accented by handsome beach décor. I really hoped the food was good because I was already looking forward to frequenting this new found gem.

Once seated, the process was explained. The ordering was much like a sushi bar where you complete your choices on a tiny piece of paper before turning it in. Making my selection took some time because all of the tacos were (or could be modified to be) gluten free. I repeat, I could eat almost anything on the menu!

I settled on a spicy shrimp taco and two mushroom tacos, one traditional and one in a lettuce wrap at our server’s suggestion. They arrived family style, tiny tacos lining our tray, and I didn’t hesitate to dig in. Not only was the presentation perfect, the taste was fantastic. With a great atmosphere, awesome service and tasty little gluten free tacos, this place gets five stars. And by the way, just a tip - it’s pronounced “Bar-tacos” : )

This pic is from my second visit!  

This pic is from my second visit!  

Juice'd ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After seeing so many posts, pictures and blogs about a new place in Orlando called Juice’d, I finally had the opportunity to visit this Sunday. The founders stress their desire on the website to offer healthy food and beverage alternatives to what exists elsewhere. You can find cold pressed juices, smoothies, salads and my preferred choice, smoothie bowls.

Walking in you see a clean and modern environment, complete with a green lush back wall, like nature itself can’t stay away! Although they advertise gluten free, along with “100% organic, GMO free and locally sourced”, I wasn’t exactly sure what my options might be. I started asking about the PB Acai bowl and found they were happy to omit the granola and substitute almond butter for peanut butter (since I was still avoiding peanuts in my auto-immune diet).

I took a seat in the corner, sunlight shining through the large window, and waited for the most beautiful acai bowl I’ve ever seen.

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Anytime I'm out and have to make substitutions to a dish, I know the flavor may be off a bit, but to my surprise, it was amazing! Not too sweet, and the consistency of frozen yogurt, my only disappointment was that I live twenty minutes away and can't visit every day!

I would like to say I’ll try the salads and the smoothies one day, but I’m not sure. I will say, five stars for the smoothie bowl. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it!

Whole Food Challenges

The cool thing about going on a whole foods diet is the realization that even what I considered to be a "healthy" diet before had room for improvement. And when I say improvement, I mean like trash to treasure level!  

My weekly shopping trips now had me focused on 1/16th of the store at best! As you walk through aisle after aisle, it's eye opening to realize how much of our food comes in a box! And worse still, how many of those boxes have ingredients that are unidentifiable.

It's hard to believe that eating only real food would present a challenge but it's true. That fact alone helped motivate me to keep going! Aren't we supposed to be eating real food??? So just in case, you're thinking of joining the few, the proud, the hangry... here are my tips for starting (and finishing) a whole food challenge. 

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1. Meal prep. No joke, decide what you're going to eat in advance and don't depend on any fast restaurant options to save you in your time of need.  

2. Try not to cry. Believe me, you will want to cry but no one ever died trying to eat healthy. Well, they may have but chances are the healthy part was unrelated. 

3. Respect the process. You may face withdrawals, headaches, tummy aches, etc. (in this case, refer to step two) but that is actually good! You're giving your body a chance to heal and healing can be painful! 

4. Be gentle with yourself and find other ways to celebrate or relax. Our culture and habits center a lot around food but a night out or glass of wine isn't what matters, it's being with friends and family to begin with! You can do that with water as easily as wine. Or, better still, try a new class or activity together instead of the same old place. Yoga anyone?

5. Enlist friends! Misery loves company! I mean... the more the merrier! And if your friends don't want to suffer along, find a local group or Facebook page. Not only are there nice people out there but hearing others experiences, ideas, recipes, etc. can go a long way when you're thinking about giving up!

Happy eating friends! 

Makis Place ⭐️

Learning of a new sushi place in the neighborhood is like finding out Christmas is coming a month early. The excitement heightens as you count down each day! My brother, being a sushi afficionado such as myself, was just as excited. We'd drive by, we'd walk by, we'd check their Facebook page! If this place were a human, we'd have been arrested for stalking. 

Makis touts a different take on sushi, selling primarily temaki, which are large hand rolls (think sushi burrito!). So needless to say, we were excited!

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When they finally opened, we visited late in the evening. The place was empty except for one table with what appeared to be the owners, working with the kitchen staff as they shuffled papers.  

The waiter came over, seemingly as excited as we were, joyfully walking us through the menu. I told him, as I now do many wait staff across Orlando, that I had Celiac disease and asked for suggestions on what might work.  

He wasn't sure but quickly offered to check before walking over to the table where restaurant business was in full swing. The bad thing about an empty restaurant that night was that the conversation was easily overheard and the answer to "what gluten free options do we have?" was simply, "we don't have anything for that".  

And so here my review ends abruptly, like any hopes of future meals at Makis Place. I'd like to say a little more thought was given, or even that the owner took the time to walk over and offer an empathetic explanation, but the issue was opened and closed in under ten seconds. For what it's worth, my brother quite enjoyed his meal and I imagine will become a regular patron. But in the meantime, my one star remains, solely for the great waiter who was a pleasure to have around, at least until he told me there was nothing for me there.  

Extreme Makeover, part 1!

Have you ever stopped by your local make-up store and picked up a couple fun new items to try? I have! Except instead of a FEW items, I decided to restock every beauty and toiletry product I had.

Why the insanity? Because after weeks of dealing with the constant pain of DH on my face, the embarrassment of looking like my skin was constantly falling off and the final humiliation of my CEO asking if I had "kissed a blowfish", I was willing to try anything.

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Medically, the solution is not to change makeup and shampoos. "Gluten is not absorbed through skin", you'll hear from well intentioned doctors. But practically, shampoo and makeup can accidentally find its way into your mouth when washing your face or hair for example. And after numerous accounts from online blogs and Facebook pages with people saying it helped, why not? I was preparing for a detox diet and  detoxing my products seemed like a logical part of the deal!

So one late Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend and I strolled into Ulta. He carried around a shoulder shopping bag while I started perusing products. Soon we had an army of employees helping us, everyone pulling out their phones to google innocuous ingredients in between squinting at the tiny ingredients list on each product label.

$700 (yes, that's $700 U. S. dollars and no, Ulta does not take promises, Monopoly money or tears as forms of payment)... and three hours later, I was poor AND ready to go home and purge my old product demons.... But that's another story.... 

Pizza Delivery, at its creepiest....

This past Tuesday I decided to drive down to Fort Myers, FL for a meeting scheduled for the following morning. I knew it meant a night away from home, but it also meant I would not be driving down the highway at 4am Wednesday morning, inflicting emotional trauma on drivers around me as they watched me nod off! 

It was late in the evening when I landed at my hotel and I was anxious to eat and sleep. Unfortunately, my plans didn't go exactly as I thought they would. When I asked the hotel what they might have available for someone maintaining a gluten-free diet, all I got back was "nothing"........... Hmm....

Since "nothing" wasn't exactly what I had hoped for, I decided to do a Google search immediately. After making a few calls, and reviewing more than a few online menus, I settled on a small upscale pizza parlor that had not only a gluten-free menu, but also would deliver! 

Enter dilemma two. At this point it was 9 PM and my stomach was growling. But when I called and spoke to the first employee at the restaurant, they seemed to be a little overwhelmed with my request. Fortunately, what sounded like a manager came on the line next. He assured me they could do a gluten free personal size pizza with a salad and even a drink to go. The only problem was they were in the midst of making the batches of dough for the next morning, so in order to ensure an allergy safe pizza, they needed to clean up the space and it would take about an hour and a half before I was seeing any semblance of dinner. Since pizza.... Or, well... PIZZA was my only option I decided I'd wait. The manager said he'd send my order out with someone at the end of their shift so I thanked him and began the search to find something to fill my wait time.  

Just about the time my will to live was ending, my cell phone rang! It was the same employee I'd talked to earlier and he was delivering my meal personally! What service! I met him in the lobby and he was overly friendly, I figured because I had tipped him about 35% for his efforts to keep me fed. 

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It was about twenty minutes later that my cell phone rang again, now well into the late evening hours. I recognized the number from the pizza guy. "Odd, I'll just let it go to voicemail and see if maybe he charged me wrong or something"... When he didn't leave a voicemail, I figured it was nothing. But now at 11pm, my phone starts buzzing again with a message from the same number! "Just checking to see how your dinner was. It's me, pizza guy (not exact quote, he used his name : ). Hope your night is great." Now some of you may be thinking, "That's not creepy, it's sweet." But here's the actual truth and a tip for anyone delivering food. If you happen to deliver to a single gal in a hotel and (because it's required for her order) you score her cell number, don't use it to check in on her at 11pm at night!!! I locked my door and triple checked it at least five times, kicking myself for giving out my room number on the initial call. 

On the bright side, my meal was pretty fantastic... 

Firebirds ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It didn’t take long to fall in love with a new restaurant in the Mills area of Orlando. Firebirds stands out as you drive past it, boasting a modern brick design and large outdoor patio. With my good friend in town from San Diego, I decided to give it a try, hoping it would be up to the “foodie” standards of California.

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When you walk in, the high ceilings, impressive bar (with items organized by color along the back wall) and bright pops of orange throughout make you feel like you’ve stepped into a place designed with every detail in mind. My friend and I chose a high top table with bright pillows and a nearby built in fireplace. From start to finish, we were catered to by a friendly and knowledgeable staff (one of whom shared tips from his training), “Never say no to a customer”.

The separate menu full of gluten free options was amazing. I decided to start with a fruity mojito (it was happy hour after all), which definitely made it to the top ten list of best drinks I’ve ever had. And for dinner, I chose a strawberry shrimp salad and side of mashed potatoes. This would be a great time to share a picture with you, but it looked so fantastic I dove right in and was NOT disappointed. If I had to find any negative, I’d say the salad was a little heavy on the dressing, but the taste was so delicious it would be hard to fault having a little extra.

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So, if you like good food, a friendly staff, amazing drinks or just sitting down in a relaxing and beautiful atmosphere, Firebirds is the place to be. You’ll probably see me there, right next to the fireplace. If not, that’s ok… more for me!