April 15, 2011

Friendly Emails and Falafels

Some people aren’t afraid to ask for things.

You know who I’m talking about. That person who sends you their holiday wish list in May. That roommate who always seems to be too busy to pick up their own dry cleaning. And that friend who always orders the BLT sandwich but then requests that the lettuce be switched out for spinach, the tomato be served on the side, and the bacon be replaced by a freshly butchered and fried chicken. No bread, of course.

You know those people. I know those people. And I definitely don’t judge them. I just wish I was more like them.

It took me a long time to realize that, with my dietary needs, it was ok to ask. For help, for special accommodations, and for something more than steamed vegetables to eat. It was only when I started asking – and of course asking with lots of gratitude and charm – that I started eating well, really well, outside of my home. And I slowly went from maybe getting some sauteed fish and an un-dressed salad to being served gorgeous plates of specially crafted food that were really exciting.

Like salt-free tempura asparagus

and even mini, low sodium empanadas

Believe it.

But even with all this success, I haven’t asked for anything in a while.

While plenty of new restaurants have opened up around me – Patxi’s deep dish pizza and Little Chihuahua’s fresh Mexican – I’ve stayed in my comfort zone. Happy with the meals I have and not daring to ask for more.

Yesterday, though, an email changed all that. A reader who we will call Carol (because her name is Carol) sent me the most wonderful story about a most wonderful meal she had.

Carol journeyed with some of her best friends to see Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea, speak at the Marin Center. And for dinner, her friend, who we will call Gloria (because her name is Gloria) found a Mediterranean spot, called The Garden Restaurant, that seemed capable of meeting Carol’s low sodium needs.

But of course, you never know.

Suspense. Builds.

Then, when Carol arrived, she was immediately greeted by the owner and chef, Hilda Hattar, who happily answered all her questions about the menu, offered to replace the salad dressing with oil and balsamic vinegar, and finally – and this is where the story gets really good – asked her if she would like some fresh falafel.


A tasty fried treat made from chickpeas or fava beans and usually loaded with salt.

Carol was skeptical, but intrigued.

And our hero, Hilda, told Carol that she had not put any salt or baking powder in it yet, so they would be low-sodium safe for her to eat. So falafels did Carol receive. And even better, her friends were so envious of the bean patties that Hilda eventually had to bring them a plate of the “regulars” so they would not feel left out.

Carol reports that it was a delicious and heartwarming experience. She wasn’t treated like a second-class culinary citizen. And instead, by asking for what she needed, she was treated to a high-end, high flavor meal in which her dietary needs were met with the utmost care and attention.

So the lesson in this tale?

For one, falafels are totally delicious and if someone offers to make them for you definitely say yes.

And two, don’t be afraid to ask. Go to that pizza place, the Mexican take out spot, and your old favorite Chinese restaurant, and see what they can do for you. You can’t lose. You can only win more good food to eat.

Chow on.

lizthechef April 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

You are SO right – we deserve it! Hey, I’m starting to depend on these pep talks…

sodium girl April 15, 2011 at 10:03 am

Clearly, I need them too! Happy Friday, Liz!

Caroline April 15, 2011 at 10:51 am

So what you’re saying, Sodium Girl, is that we have an upcoming date at Little Chihuahua?!!! YESSSSSS. So glad Carol’s experience went so well. As a wheat-free girl, man can I relate. The incredible enjoyment of eating something YUMMY and unexpectedly wheat free (thank you Pica Pica on 14th and Valencia), or salt free for that matter, is so wonderful. People can take advantage of the food they eat, but when you have limitations, it’s little joys like sodium-free falafel and gluten-free cachapas that can really turn a day around.

Laura Day April 15, 2011 at 11:30 am

This is so true. When I go back home to Liverpool I always go to this little Italian deli which is known for its mezze meat plates, pizzas and cheese-laden pasta dishes. In the past they’ve offered to reserve their fresh pasta for me (assured to be cooked out of salted water), or make up entirely new meals using the best of their fresh ingredients. The first time I went there the waiter greeted me and immediately acknowledged my needs, and went through what could or could not be tailored to my needs by individual meal on the menu on recommendation of the chef. It makes going there extra special, and I agree with Carol when she says it gives a “heartwarming” feeling because you really feel so appreciative of their efforts.

Alison April 16, 2011 at 3:11 am

I just stumbled across your blog – what a find!!

I have Meniere’s disease and stick to a strict low salt diet – following the same guidelines you do. I am also about to give my daughter a kidney.

I look forward to reading your blog and am going to go and have a look at your recipes.

Momo G April 16, 2011 at 4:51 am

If you call and order ahead, Outback will cook sodium free, and they can also go gluten free. Olive Garden always makes my hubs a dish that isn’t on their menu, but I’m sure they’re using their standard marinara. Our favorite Chinese take-out also will cook sodium free meals for us. Only the squeaky wheel gets oil, and good restaurants are anxious to please, so, yes, ask away!

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