Tag Archives: gluten free

Gluten-Free on the White River

Last week I was in Arkansas. My aunt passed away last month, and the gardener and I went to visit my uncle. He’s my dad’s twin, and it was wonderful to spend time with him. As usual, we did a lot of sightseeing, but I don’t have time to put all that in this post. However, I wanted to share about a restaurant that we went to in rural Arkansas. My uncle gave me the name PJ’s White River Lodge to investigate for gluten-free dining, so I called ahead to check on it. So often, when I call, the person who answers the phone doesn’t even know what gluten-free means. This time, I was immediately told about their gluten-free menu. Plus, it was the owner who answered–and he recognized my cell phone area code, which is still from California. Turns out, he was from the same town in California we lived and where our kids grew up!

Truly, this area of northern Arkansas is very country as in out-in-the-country, except that the restaurant and lodge is on the White River which is a big fishing spot. I didn’t expect such an elegant, though casual (the gardener wore nice shorts and a button down shirt), restaurant. This was the view from our window. You can see the interior light in the reflection.

 

We ordered the Chilean Sea Bass and the Lobster Ravioli (a special) and the Pan Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops. My sangria was also a special. The gardener was eating the scallops before I could get a pic. The food was so delicious, and because I added in the deep fried potato roll (think twice baked potato meets egg roll–to die for), I had enough food for two meals. Fresh ingredients, well-blended flavors, and unique creations. That’s why I am writing a whole post about the restaurant. What a find for anybody in northern Arkansas (near Bull Shoals, White River, etc.), but for the gluten-free it was heavenly.

I picked up this take-home menu which has a better photo of the deck.

 

I was sorry to miss my aunt’s funeral, but glad I could spend some quality time with my uncle. Aunt Dolly passed away of leukemia, just as Aunt Jean did last year. I couldn’t make it to Aunt Jean’s funeral last year, but there is much more family around that uncle, including my mom (his sister).

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My gratitude to The Disappointed Housewife for publishing my lyrical prose/ flash nonfiction piece, “Multicolored,” last week. I haven’t been able to write much recently (same old complaint) because my daughter has been around and then I was traveling. More travel is coming up, and I am already exhausted!

My uncle regaled me with stories of the old days. I took some notes, just in case ;).

Happy Monday and Happy July!

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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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Filed under #AmWriting, gluten free, gluten free travel, Research and prep for writing, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

The Definitive Guide to Gluten Free Travel

Backstory

My husband has celiac disease. Before his diagnosis, for over eight years he was sick with exactly 100 mainly neurological, rheumatologic, and digestive symptoms. He and I visited 41 doctors, trying to find the cause. Hubby eventually figured it out himself, but until his GI doctor got the results of his (5th) endoscopy she didn’t believe him. The lab report confirmed that he has celiac. And he’s got it pretty bad, especially for an adult. It can be life threatening in some children.

The only way to handle celiac is to avoid gluten entirely. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some other grains. Unfortunately, going gluten free is not merely a matter of avoiding breads and desserts. Gluten is hidden in many processed foods.

The Attitude

People without celiac often say this to me or to hubby: “They have gluten free everywhere now.” Although I’m sure they don’t mean to, they sound so cavalier. In the U.S., we love a positive attitude. People with illnesses and “different abilities” are encouraged to show how brave they are. On the news we are deluged with feel good stories about people who have lost all their limbs creating masterpieces and armless people driving cars. In their TV interviews, they sound so upbeat. We speak of being inspired by them.

I don’t have to worry about being the sad sack with a pessimistic realistic attitude. I don’t have to feel that I should be an inspiration to others. I don’t have celiac. I’m not gluten free. If I eat gluten or not, I can’t tell the difference. So I CAN TELL YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVELING GLUTEN FREE.

When my husband was first diagnosed, the only way to eat at a restaurant was to take his own salad dressing and go to a restaurant with a chef-run kitchen that offers steak or fish/seafood. Then he had to order a steak unmarinated and a baked potato (hardly any restaurants serve the latter any more, by the way), and a salad without croutons or other contaminants. His only seasoning was salt and pepper and, if he was lucky, a little garlic.

Gluten Free Craze

Then the gluten free craze happened. This happened for two reasons. One is that the amount of people who are celiac (which is an auto-immune disease) and who are gluten intolerant (similar to an allergy, but not an actual allergy) has risen dramatically because our wheat has been created with 100 times the protein it had 100 years ago. NO KIDDING. And also because food manufacturers were adding it to processed food right and left. The other reason is that some people decided a gluten free diet was healthier or a way to lose weight (no, it’s not). Therefore, now it’s much easier to find gluten free food in stores and restaurants.

So How Does That Affect Travel?

Being gluten free while traveling is still a nightmare. You know all those gluten free menus in restaurants you see now? Most of those restaurants cannot provide a gluten free meal to people with severe celiac. People who are gluten intolerant (except the ones with a very severe version) and people who avoid gluten for other reasons don’t know when they have been “glutened,” but somebody like my husband suffers very much when they are glutened. The response from restaurants that do so tends to be that they never promised they were a gluten free environment.

Since hubby got sick 12 years ago, he has mainly only travelled for business, medical, and for our daughter’s college graduation. And he didn’t fly again until this past year when we visited my parents three times.

Now that hubby has been gluten free for a few years and is feeling so much better (with occasional bouts of illness generally related to restaurant food), we decided to see if we could travel. Not a trip where we go to my mother’s house and stock it with gluten free food and cook there. But an actual vacation adventure.

This is How A Celiac Fares During Travel

We had booked a three hour flight to Seattle. That is about as long as we dare to fly because hubby can’t eat food at airports as they are not equipped to offer “allergen free” foods. He has a weak stomach that has been caused by this illness. The man who once ate hot peppers dipped in fire hot sauce in Korea can now not even tolerate raw cashews on days of stress, such as flying day. Once we enter the airport, he can only eat the dry food we pack in his carryon. He brings rice cakes, rice crackers, a Kind bar, and an apple. I try to bring him some cheese as well, but I do worry because there is no way to keep it cold. Keep in mind that hubby is 190 lb of dense muscle. He works out 2 hours 5-6x week.

With a three hour flight, getting to the airport 1.5 hours early, .5 hour to get to the airport, and then time to get our baggage and rental car and get acclimated, I figured that he would be 6-7 hours without a meal. No problem. He had a piece of gluten free toast with cashew butter for breakfast. That was all he could handle before a flight, but he could wait the seven hours.

Well, our flight was three stinken hours late. That meant that he could not get a meal for 11 hours as we arrived at rush hour.

As an aside, is there a reason that Southwest Airlines has to offer as its only food choices gluten-coated peanuts and wheat crackers? Seriously? Since peanuts are such a dangerous allergy, why carry them at all? And why can’t one of the two options be gluten free?

That first night on our trip, after the long day at the airport and on the flight, we couldn’t find a restaurant that had gluten free options except for Morton’s steak house. We didn’t want to spend the money for such a pricey meal when we were tired and I had my own health issues at that point. But we had no choice. Guess what? With all their care, hubby still got glutened. We don’t know what item it was, but something must have been made incorrectly or been cross-contaminated.

To make a long horror story short, we spent our 12 days of vacation scrounging food. On two occasions, we found restaurants that didn’t gluten him and that we liked (one Persian and the other sushi) and returned the second day only for him to be sick within an hour or two. One day, we spent almost the entire afternoon and early evening searching for a meal. Every restaurant we went to either had run out of food or was closed. Some were closed because the owners had arbitrarily decided to close for a few days. Some were closed because they don’t serve dinner (typically, a gluten free restaurant is a gluten free bakery that offers lunch and maybe breakfast).

Making our restaurant research more difficult than usual (when it’s always bad enough), we were in Canada for much of our trip, and we couldn’t use much wifi on the road or while out and about. Because the world now relies on everyone individually accessing the internet, we couldn’t get much help at our hotels—and phone books? What are those?

The one highlight of our gluten free dining was that our 2nd to the last hotel

was a nice resort and offered two delicious (and tiny) gluten free desserts.

Unfortunately, we had eaten dinner elsewhere, so when hubby was sick

that night we didn’t know if it was dinner or dessert so we didn’t dare order again.

We carried gluten free bread, salad dressing (useful for bunless burgers if the restaurant didn’t have gluten free mayo, etc.), and tamari sauce (tamari sauce is only made with soy and not with wheat, and tastes about 50 times better than regular old soy sauce anyway). Note that unless you order gluten free single serve salad dressing online (Kraft Thousand Island is hubby’s fave), you have to keep an opened bottle of dressing refrigerated. Not an easy task while traveling.

We also travel with a toaster because hubby can’t use toasters previously used for gluten bread. 1/500 of a slice of wheat flour bread is enough to gluten him, so imagine what would happen with those toaster crumbs in his GI system. A humidifier and air purifier are necessary too because of damage caused by the disease over time. (I feel like I’m traveling with Niles Crane).

When we went to the gardens, aquarium, walking downtown or at the waterfront (the list goes on), we had to carry this stuff with us just in case. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a place that can offer that plain burger and not have any bread or condiment for it.

After a week and a half of this kind of travel, I came home exhausted. I couldn’t remember the places I experienced, but only felt haunted by the hunt for food (and beverage in some cases—gluten free coffee creamer, gluten free cocktail ingredients, gluten free beer).

Hubby was sick so much of the time. And we were so careful. But it’s not good enough. There is no such thing as gluten free travel.

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