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More Gluten Free Travel by The Celiac’s Wife

Now that I’m back, I have so many things I want to blog about: places and people we visited and books I’ve read, as well as other randoms thoughts I’ve had lately. Today I only have time to mention once again how difficult it is to travel with someone with severe celiac disease.

We flew into Chicago and drove to Kalamazoo. Because of the length of time that can be involved–especially if a plane is delayed–in going without food and what I learned last time, I packed some cheese and salami and hard-cooked eggs with a frozen ice pack in my carryon. These items, along with gluten free crackers and breads, would sustain hubby as long as necessary. As a precaution, I’d emailed my mother an easy recipe for gluten free chicken and dumplings so she could have a hot meal for us when we got in for a late dinner. She also made homemade applesauce to go with it. The gluten free dessert I packed provided the nightly dessert hubby always craves.

Next day breakfast and lunch were negotiated by reading labels at mom’s house.

My brother was making dinner for us on the grill. He had been planning it for weeks and had asked me several questions by text about what hubby could and could not have. Brother made both trout and salmon and everything was delicious.  Plus, I got to play with my brother’s granddaughter (18 months) and two dogs.

The day after we were off to Toronto and figured it would be easy to find gluten free in a big sophisticated city. Wrong. It was very difficult, but that first night we were able to rely on a standby: PERSIAN FOOD. Or you can call it Iranian food. No matter what you call it, it’s the only truly reliable food. If you’re gluten free you have to avoid the delicious bread and watch for appetizers and other odd dishes that might have gluten slipped into them. And no baklava ever ever ever. But the basic kebabs, koobidehs, and other meats, as well as the rice dishes, are all gluten free. We usually bring our own gluten free salad dressing, just to make sure, but even the salads are usually gluten free.

For the second night, we had problems. We didn’t want to subject our cousin and her friend to the same meal, and we were meeting a second cousin as well. The only restaurant we could find that we felt we could trust was a burger place that made a huge deal of having a zillion gluten free options, etc.  It sounded like the good place we ate at in Victoria. Nope. We discovered that the fries were not made in a dedicated fryer, meaning that they are fried in the same fryer and oil as the BREADED ONION RINGS. We were disappointed because the only side he could have with his burger was a very very spicy cole slaw. Between the spice and the cabbage, that is a disastrous combo for someone with a GI illness.

As an aside, although many people with celiac recover when they switch to a gluten free diet, a minority keep their symptoms because the system is already so damaged. My husband is in the latter group.

So the burger place was disappointing as the only way hubby could get enough food would be if he ordered a 2nd burger, which he was unwilling to do (too much meat, too much food, too much of the same, too much money). And we worried about cross-contamination in a place that didn’t even care to get a 2nd fryer when they advertised so much about their wonderful gluten free menu items. hahaha

After Toronto we drove to New York. We stocked up on cheese and gluten free bread items and managed to get our ice pack frozen, but the drive didn’t offer much else to eat. You can’t really get gluten free food on the road. All along the way, even at Niagara Falls, Tim Hortons was the major food option–buns, doughnuts, and coffee creamer by a company I couldn’t research! Hubby didn’t dare get anything but black coffee there.

Notice the double rainbow: no gluten free yummies at the end

New York City is both the best place and the worst place for a celiac. It’s the best because they actually had some wonderful restaurants for celiacs and the worst because there is such a wealth of wonderful foods (especially ethnic, our favorites) that hubby can’t eat. We found an entirely gluten free Italian restaurant that was very good and quite charming. We also ate in a Persian restaurant the night we saw Something Rotten, a delightful Broadway musical. The food was excellent, and so was Christian Borle in the show! In my daughter’s apartment building, a well-stocked bodega kept me satisfied and offered just enough gluten free salami and cheese for hubby.  But we couldn’t buy food off the carts around the city or eat at museums or stop wherever we liked for a snack.

We drove for 2.5 days after our NYC visit–through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and into Indiana. Breakfast the 2nd day was a bust. We had a free one at Homewood Suites, but literally everything had gluten or could have had gluten. They didn’t have any packages so that we could read labels. Waffles, pre-made omelets, sausages, cereal, you name it: all gluten or potential gluten. Hubby lived off the salami and cheese once again. And potato chips.  I had to grab whatever I could. At one rest stop I grabbed something ahead of an Amish family of 8 slow-deciders. It turned out to be 10 tiny potato wedges and breaded chicken tenders. GREASY. And then I had to carefully wash my hands so I wouldn’t contaminate hubby’s bread and cheese. Very tedious, but we didn’t starve. It just wasn’t fun and was annoying.

So when we drove toward Indianapolis late on the 2nd day of that trip, I tried to find a restaurant with gluten free offerings along a major highway. I used an app on my iPhone. The only one I found was Outback, one we can often rely on, although sometimes you get an employee that puts croutons on the salad and thinks that if he takes them off the salad will be gluten free. NOT. 1/500 of a slice of bread is enough to make a celiac sick.

Outback was literally mobbed, with a half hour wait. I started to get a sinking feeling because I worried about cross-contamination, but what else could we do? I asked hubby if he wanted to find a grocery store instead so we could read labels. But he was sick of cold food out of baggies. Then I used the restroom. What a disaster. I came out and said, “We’re going. You will get so sick here.” If they were that busy, there is no way he was safe.

Once again, I resorted to my iPhone. There was one–and only one–real option less than 2 miles away. As we drove up to it in the dark, we saw how sketchy it was. It was on the “bad side of town,” and the restaurant didn’t look so great inside. Then there was that biker decor–graffiti walls and a big skull. But by then we were starving, or at least thought we were. We decided to go in. As we stood at the counter to order our food, hubby said, “I’ll pay. Will you go look for my pita bread?” We have Middle Eastern Deli & Bakery in Phoenix, and they make gluten free pita bread. Hubby likes to take it everywhere. Out in the dark, I was searching through suitcases with the door open, thinking how dangerous this was. After a little while I heard some scuffling past me, but I had the bread in hand and turned to go in.

The heavily metalled and tattooed young lady who worked the counter was locking the door and yelled at me to come in fast so she could lock up. I scuttled in, wondering what in the world was going on. Hubby sat by the front glass window and I told him something was up and to move back from the window.

A minute later the young lady came out from the back and said to us and the other customers, “We’ve just been robbed. If you don’t want to stay we understand and you can go. If you want to finish eating, that’s fine. We are going to keep the doors locked and are closing up for the night.” She was very rattled and bounced about somewhat manically. We heard other employees in the backroom talking about the gun.

Hubby told me that it was the guy in the hoodie who had come in as I went out to the car. He and hubby had had a small conversation. At the time, hubby didn’t realize he had a gun or was planning to rob the restaurant, of course. In retrospect, the guy could have robbed hubby at that time and he could have robbed me when he came back out.

Everyone else left, but we waited for hubby’s po boy beef over rice and cole slaw (no bread) and my fried oyster po boy (YUUUUUUMMMMM) and ate it all down. I had a big glass of sweet tea, to boot. The police came, but they didn’t even interview us. What would have been the point?

 

 

 

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