Mr. GFE and I finished up our 4th of July celebrations the weekend after the actual day by traveling to join some distant relatives—literally and figuratively—for their annual holiday picnic. We added to the fun and excitement of the trip by checking out a new bed & breakfast (B&B) and an Italian restaurant that’s long been known for its gluten-free fare. We were only gone from home for about 30 hours, no kidding, and a fair amount of that time was travel time, but it still turned out to be a lovely self-care getaway. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m taking part in the 2012 July Self-Care Retreat with several other gluten-free bloggers. My last post was part of this event and focused on Movement. (Cheryl (Gluten-Free Goodness) has compiled all the event posts here, including several more on Movement, and others on our first two topics—Food, Support and Connection. Creativity and Inward Reflection will be the last two topics in our series.)
While we might think that self-care means something that we do when alone—and, truthfully, often it does mean that—that doesn’t have to be the case. Self-care can also involve a getaway or activity with your partner or your friends. In fact, a huge part of self care is connection. Mr. GFE and I were both getting in some self care by taking this time away from our daily routine to meet up with relatives and pamper ourselves a bit.
We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary a month ago, and I’m convinced that our times away when we can reconnect without the diversions and demands of everyday life are key to the success of our marriage. The same holds true of our times away when we’re apart. Mr. GFE will take solo scuba diving vacations at least once a year and I take solo vacations for all number of reasons: to attend blogging conferences, to spend time with girlfriends (gluten free or not), to speak at gluten-free events, and much more. While we’re gone, we’re experiencing restorative time and making connections with others. Our time away together and apart not only plays a part in our self care, but also contributes to our relationship. But without getting too serious or personal, let’s get to the trip report, shall we?
The Haddonfield Inn is a charming Victorian in the historic town of Haddonfield. We love staying in B&Bs always choosing one over other types of accommodations when possible. So once I found this beautiful inn online and determined that it was 5 miles away from the location of the family picnic, I didn’t look any further. A quick phone call to the B&B with queries on their ability to serve a gluten-free breakfast made me feel comfortable that they could accommodate my gluten-free needs safely.
We arrived at the inn right as we knew the family picnic was getting started in the “next town over,” so we didn’t dally. We immediately checked into our room (the Rose and Bud room), unloaded our bags, and changed our clothes. Shari, the innkeeper on duty, did manage to give us a quick tour of the common areas before we headed out. She pointed out all the reading materials and food and drink for the guests. Everything looked lovely and inviting. The inn was beautifully decorated with lots of special touches. In our room, I was most taken by the “wild” wing chair with ottoman adjacent to the fireplace. While I’m not one who usually goes for animal prints, I appreciated the lack of conventionality in this piece of furniture. And I thought the bookcase built-in below the fireplace was brilliant—a handy and attractive placement, as well as a great use of space.
Speaking of that fireplace, with temps outside over 100 degrees, using it was not going to happen, but our room was air conditioned to the max. When I spied our thermostat and headed over to adjust it, there was that oft dreaded written warning label—“Please do not adjust this thermostat.” The note further explained that the thermostat in our room controlled the temperature for the entire first floor. I frowned. Chill bumps had already appeared on my arms and I momentarily eyed the gas fireplace. But I set the room temperature concerns aside as we quickly headed out.
We headed to the relatives’ house and despite the short distance we had to travel, we still had to stop for directions. Sigh. New Jersey, it seems, is one of those areas where roads frequently change names and street signs are not common enough or placed in ways an out-of-state visitor does not expect, plus you pass through all sorts of boros (the spelling used on signs) and townships. A visiting “country mouse” can get mighty confused. Admittedly, we are one of 10 remaining families in the U.S. without a GPS, but I digress.
At the family 4th of July picnic, we visited with cousins of Mr. GFE’s late mother and their children and grandchildren. It was lots of fun. This part of the family is very warm and sweet. Hugs and kisses for all … always! Our gracious hosts had outdone themselves with all their party preparations and told us how much they enjoy their opportunity to have the whole family at their house. The oldest cousins are 81, 87, and almost 90. I love that they are still so active and wouldn’t dream of missing the annual family event. It was 103 degrees that day, but they still all eagerly took part, and not without effort. One came down from Massachusetts on the train. Another, the soon-to-be 90-year old, drove down from Pennsylvania. And one, the mom and mother-in-law of the party hosts who lives just about a block and a half away from them, rode over with one of her daughters because she didn’t want to have to worry about walking home if there was a storm. It wasn’t that she’s afraid of storms. It was the fact that she had just had her hair done the day before at her weekly hair appointment, and was not about to risk messing up her “do”! For that same reason, she did not get near the water mister that her son had set up for the event. No, she wasn’t averse to exercise or work, just water. Earlier in the day, when our hosts had taken us for a walking tour of the neighborhood (where many family members live), we had found her working in her yard in the 100-degree plus temps!
Mr. GFE and I enjoyed standard, but delicious picnic fare—hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecued chicken, and watermelon, plus some liquid refreshment. (Our hostess prepared and served our food before the other guests—all “stragglers”—arrived; she ensured mine was prepared separately and safely.) One relative was trying out a new drink, a Coronita Margarita (also called a Margarona by some)–a margarita with a mini-Corona, a Coronita, inverted in it. (Follow the link to find out how the physics of that one work.) With the inclusion of a gluten-full Corona or its smaller version, a Coronita, this recipe is obviously not gluten free. But one could easily substitute a gluten-free beer of choice to create a gluten-free beverage. I’m pretty happy with a margarita on its own, without beer added, but Cousin Rob sure seemed to enjoy his Coronita Margarita. I enjoyed a standard margarita after helping our hostess with the lemonade. I made these lemon slice “flowers” and they turned out pretty well, even though I didn’t have the proper tool.
Many hours later, after saying goodbye to all, we headed back to our B&B and changed into fresh attire for dinner. I’d queried my readers for area gluten-free friendly restaurant recommendations on my gfe Facebook page the day before we left home. The first recommendation came from my friend Erin (Gluten-Free Fitness and Nutrition). She recommended Pasta Pomodoro, located in Vorhees, which I’d already spotted in an online search. The restaurant was only 7 miles away from the inn, so that was a big plus even before the menu was considered. Erin said, “I grew up on the border of Haddonfield and Cherry Hill. I highly, highly recommend the 10-15 minute drive to Pasta Pomodoro. I make it a point to get there anytime I visit home.” Having such a strong recommendation from a former “local”—not to mention good blogging buddy whose opinion I trust—was pretty convincing. Another reader, Sophia, seconded Erin’s recommendation. Plus, I kept finding great recommendations for Pasta Pomodoro online. One gluten-free customer called it “the best restaurant on the planet.”
I had also asked Erin to share her favorite menu items. “Honestly, I’ve made it a point to try different things each time I am there and have never been disappointed. I don’t do pasta, just because I don’t crave it at all, but there GF garlic bread is absolutely awesome!” I replied that pasta wasn’t the food that usually called my name either.
Pasta Pomodoro was a fairly quick drive from the B&B. It is located in Eagle Plaza shopping center in Vorhees, New Jersey. (It’s on Route 561; the specific location is 700 Haddonfield Berlin Road.) As soon as we were seated and I snapped a photo of the interior of the restaurant, the chef/owner, Pasquale Masters, came over pretending to “chastise me” due to liability concerns. Once he made it clear that he was kidding, I told him I was there for his gluten-free menu. Mr. GFE, often the “exaggerator,” told him that we’d come all the way from Virginia just to eat at his restaurant. It was then that Pasquale introduced himself as he thanked us and told us that the furthest a customer had traveled was from Australia. He also said his best friend lives in Rome and dines at Pasta Pomodoro whenever he can visit.
I didn’t ask Pasquale his culinary life story in person, but his background is readily available online. Pasquale is a veteran chef (26 years) and was the winner of the 2007 NFCA Gluten Free Cooking Spree held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and after that, it seems that the popularity of Pasta Pomodoro really grew! In fact, the award is proudly displayed on Pasta Pomodoro’s glass front. That shows how proud Pasquale is of this recognition and also immediately lets diners know that his restaurant staff not only knows what gluten free means, but that it excels at serving gluten-free food. Although I didn’t discuss Pasquale’s motivation for being such a gluten-free friendly restaurant with him when we chatted, I read in this NFCA profile of him that his young son has multiple, life-threatening food allergies (I have read that wheat is one of them), so Pasquale totally gets the need for food that’s completely free of allergens.
We did discuss the specifics of the gluten-free menu (most of it gluten free already, and other items may be made gluten free) and Pasta Pomodoro’s practices to prevent cross contamination. The major way that Pasquale ensures that the food for his gluten-free patrons is safe is to use already prepared, safe gluten-free items that he purchases. For example, dishes like ravioli and stuffed shells are made by Conte’s. Conte’s gluten–free products are produced in a dedicated gluten–free facility opened in October 2010, and are certified by the GFCO, which tests to less than 10 parts per million (ppm).
The innkeeper on duty had given us a heads up that Pasta Pomodoro is located in a “dry” area of the state, so patrons must bring in their own wine or beer if they want some with dinner. We didn’t exercise that option, but we saw many who had brought their own libations.
Although I had told Erin in our earlier discussion that I wasn’t interested in a pasta dish, when I saw manicotti on the gluten-free menu, I suddenly had to have that old favorite for dinner. Eating pasta in any old dish and eating pasta in a classic Italian dish are much different things as far as appeal in my opinion. Because of Erin’s exuberant endorsement of the garlic bread, I ordered that with the manicotti.
Soon my server returned to tell me that they were out of gluten-free manicotti, but they still had stuffed shells to offer. I readily agreed to stuffed shells instead, and once they arrived I was delighted that I’d ended up with them. I think there’s something whimsical about stuffed shells; they’re an innately happy food.
Our server returned next with my garlic bread—a totally different presentation than most gluten-full garlic bread, but a very attractive one and the bread was just as delicious as Erin had indicated. Wonderful texture and divine flavor with just the right amount of garlic and butter. Pasquale had told me that the garlic bread is made from tapioca flour, potato starch, and white rice flour. He stopped by a few minutes later to see what I thought of the garlic bread. I shared my rave review and he pointed out that the garlic bread was cooked and served on its own parchment paper as another “protection barrier.” Pasquale told me that he uses the same bread for the focaccia in gluten-free sandwiches. That means that those of us who are gluten free can enjoy gluten-free versions of Chicken Parmigiana or Veal Parmigiana, the latter which Mr. GFE ordered.
The Stuffed Shells with the Garlic Bread is a match made in heaven. The stuffed shells are pillowy pockets of ricotta with just the right amount of flavorful marina and mozzarella atop them. I decided to eat all of my stuffed shells, save some of my garlic bread to go with the omelet that the B&B innkeeper was serving the next day, and skip the desserts. I was disappointed that I would not be sampling any of the desserts as Pasquale had shared earlier that the server actually brings out a whole tray of gluten-free desserts for diners to choose from. Wow, how often does a gluten-free diner have that option at restaurants? But reality can be harsh sometimes as I truthfully could not eat another morsel of food—even one in the most delicious category. Oh, it would be so wonderful if Pasta Pomodoro was located much closer to our home, so I could visit easily, and often, to sample all their menu options!
When I shared my excellent review of my meal with Erin, she was pleased and added: “I’ve never been disappointed in the food or the exceptional service. I don’t have any fear of being glutened there. (Which is the highest compliment I could pay anyone.)” Erin’s right … that really is the highest compliment that those of us who are gluten free can pay any chef, any restaurant!
When we returned to the B&B, I tucked my garlic bread and the remaining half of Mr. GFE’s sandwich into the mini refrigerator available for guests. (Note: At Pasta Pomodoro, when I made a comment to our server about keeping Mr. GFE’s and my food separate as she removed it from the plates and boxed it, she informed me that the restaurant staff is trained to do just that. Then she added that her husband has celiac, so she practices those cautionary steps on a daily basis.)
Once back in our room, which was still way too cool to me, Mr. GFE’s common sense prevailed and he simply placed all the “frou frou” pillows from atop our bed in a pile over the floor vent. Problem solved! The rest of the evening was spent lying in bed reading. I’m sorry to say that I never got to enjoy the fun chair in the lovely reading nook, but I did greatly enjoy reading snuggled up in one of the B&B’s robes. Embroidered with the inn’s crest and generously sized, it was one of the most luxurious robes I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing.
Breakfast at the B&B the next morning—served from 9 to 10 am, you just show up during that time—started out with a traditional offering of juice and hot beverages from the innkeeper. I enjoyed a cup of decaf Earl Grey. Next up was a simple and lovely mix of cantaloupe and strawberries. The main course was to be an omelet made to our liking. The innkeeper listed several choices, but both Mr. GFE and I visibly perked up when she mentioned ham and cheddar. Soon we were enjoying our omelets along with some oven-cooked home fries (potatoes with basic seasonings cooked in olive oil) and bacon. Mr. GFE sampled a piece of gluten-full toast and I enjoyed the last of my garlic bread that the innkeeper had graciously wrapped in aluminum foil and heated in the oven. It was a very enjoyable breakfast of simple, but delicious foods. The omelets were huge, so we couldn’t finish all that we’d been served.
After breakfast, we briefly visited the front porch and toured the grounds before taking a short walk up the street to admire all the other beautifully preserved historic homes. Later, I chatted with the innkeeper as Mr. GFE packed up and sneaked in a few more pages of his book. It turned out that the innkeeper also has a business with a number of certified gluten-free products, including makeup and supplements. We talked about the importance of real, healthy food; the need for products that are actually gluten free; and discussed the possibility of her speaking at an upcoming meeting of my support group. That contact and new friendship were a nice little added surprise of staying at The Haddonfield Inn. Even without that benefit though, this inn was a perfect retreat for us and I’d highly recommend staying there.
I’d like to return to this area to visit our relatives once again and explore Haddonfield more. I want to check out a few of the 200+ shops in the town that one can walk to from the B&B. I also read a review on the celiac listserv of The British Chip Shop nearby (only 2 miles from the B&B). The listserv member stated that The British Chip Shop (which I’d also seen in my searches for gluten-free restaurants for the area) is “a real treat. The chef has celiac. The wait staff is informed. The menu is clearly marked for vegan and gf options, and they carry delicious rolls from a bakery, not prepackaged. Delicious. I will go there again, for sure.” That sounds like another eating spot that is definitely worth a visit. Last, both Mr. GFE and I think it would be fun to take the PATCO train (the station is only a few blocks from the B&B) into Philadelphia for some sightseeing. Don’t you love a movie that “leaves the door open” for a sequel?
I still “owe” you posts on Bermuda, Spicy Sausage and Russet Potatoes with Creamy Sweet Potato Sauce, and a few more recipes. And soon I’ll be sharing my July GFE Virtual Support Group—this one focused on Paleo Parents and their book, Eat Like A Dinosaur: Recipe and Guidebook for Gluten-Free Kids (which, as I’ve said previously, is for everyone, not just children). Stay tuned to gfe; subscribe to updates.