Dig In: Socially Acceptable Gluten Free; Basil Failing to Thrive

Do you have questions about planting, cooking, and the best restaurants in L.A.? Send them in to our Living Editor Katherine Spiers here and she may answer them in this column!

I recently had to go gluten free for medical reasons, I'm already vegetarian, and I find myself really frustrated whenever I go out to eat with my friends. I don't want them to change their plans to eat around my diet, but I leave restaurants feeling like I am not full at all. How can I make simple substitutions when dining out that will help me feel like I'm still enjoying my dining life? -- Nikol

That's a dietary double whammy you've got there, but good on you for being properly ashamed of your situation. (I'm kidding. And I love hate mail.) In my experience substitutions only make the restricted eater more depressed about missing out on meaty, carby, full-fat treats, so I think it's better to go to restaurants that naturally cater to your dietary needs. Here are three cuisines well-suited to the gluten-free vegetarian, all of them found in abundance in Southern California.

Mexican: Outside of taco trucks, Mexican food isn't all that meat-centric. Mushrooms, nopales, and other vegetables (and in the U.S., plenty of cheese), are easily the main event on the plate. Plus rice and beans together a nutritional powerhouse, often referred to as a perfect protein. One suggestion: to make sure you're not accidentally eating wheat, ask four times that your tortillas aren't cut with flour. Use a censorious tone. (Here are some excellent Southeast L.A. Mexican restaurant suggestions for you.)

Vietnamese: This would be especially obvious if you were pescetarian, but Vietnamese food works well for vegetarians, too -- just don't go dipping anything in fish sauce. There are rice noodles aplenty, and all manner of delicious herbs, and as much tofu as you want. (Get the cold noodle salad we Californians call bun.) The preponderance of excellent Vietnamese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, and Westminster in Orange County, is well-documented, but if you're in L.A. proper, allow me to recommend Pho Broadway in Chinatown.

Lebanese/Armenian: It's true that you'll have to avoid pita and tabbouleh. But here's a great trick when you're out with friends and don't want to draw attention to your restrictions: order a big ol' mezze platter. Cheese, eggplant, pickles, olives, hummus, falafel, yogurt, salad ... you're good to go. Check out Carousel in Hollywood and Glendale and Marouch in East Hollywood, among many, many others.

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Why are my basil and sweet peppers failing to thrive? Yellow leaves and not growing so much. I live near the ocean. -- Mara


The first thing to know about gardening is that it's a complete enigma. Plants do weird things, and sometimes there isn't any real solution -- no shame in starting over. However, there is conventional wisdom about yellow leaves: the plant's being overwatered. Both basil and peppers are pretty thirsty veggies, but the soil needs a chance to drain, too. If you're planting in pots, make sure they have plenty of aeration (holes) in the bottom. Both these plants also need a ton of sunlight, so it's best to grow them in the absolute sunniest spot you have. If those cures aren't working, you can trying adding just a touch of nitrogen-heavy plant food to the soil.

Also, your basil plant will be happiest if it's cut back regularly. If you can't possibly eat that much basil at once, use this preservation technique: chop it up and freeze it in an ice cube tray, in either oil or water.

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