Archive for Travel

Gluten-free in Austin, TX Blog

   There is a new blog in Austin scouting out and posting about gluten-free sources! That would be grocery, bakery, deli, restaurants, pubs, etc. I have added ATX Gluten-Free to our blog roll. Can you tell I am excited? The Austin and Central Texas area is really getting on board much like they have strongly supported the vegan needs for many years. Don and I already planned to go to Whole Foods at The Arboretum because I need more of my homeopathic allergy medication. Now there are a couple of new products to try.
   Annnd, Jason’s Deli at The Arboretum is testing customer response to gluten-free sandwiches! I don’t even remember the last time I ate a sandwich at a restaurant. Not only do they post nutrition information but they have a separate listing for common allergens including gluten. Gluten-free shopping and lunch!

Mom

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Gluten-Free Carnival Cruise to Cozumel

   Don and I took a post-Thanksgiving cruise to Cozumel. Don’s sister, Pat, flew in from Maine and joined us onboard the Carnival Ecstasy in Galveston. Those of you who eat gluten-free and/or have other food issues know what such travel implies. Don and Pat were trying to eat healthy and especially low-fat while I avoided gluten. Most passengers consider shipboard dining to be a major attraction. Personally I regard it with all of the enthusiasm usually reserved for galloping horseback through a field of beehives – somebody’s going to get stung and it’s not going to be pretty.
   My survival stash included Larabars, a package of dry figs, some raw almonds and Brazil nuts. We collectively agreed to eat only at the ship’s buffet where I could scout the main offerings as well as the salad bar. There may have been safe options on shore but we deemed that to be too risky to search out in the time allotted for excursions.
   Our previous experience has been that cruise lines have real chefs onboard and they prepare a tremendous amount of fresh fruits and vegetables. Every day there were fresh apples, oranges, pears, grapefruit, and bananas available. Slices of cantaloupe and honeydew melon were also available. A fruit salad of diced cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple was in the service line and/or the salad bar. There were dairy products including several milk options, yogurt, and cheeses. The main serving line had so many offerings that only once did I pass it up completely because of doubt over the possibility of gluten in breading or a sauce. Fish and chicken were on nearly every menu. Two evenings featured roast lamb or prime rib. I sampled several of the delicious vegetarian options that did not have a pastry, sauce, or breading.
   The Salad Bar! There were some incredible taste surprises at the salad bar. By the last two days I was completely entranced and eating double portions of salad for a meal. It was so good I could savor each bite without a twinge of envy while my companions enjoyed the famous and incredible Warm Chocolate Melting Cake topped with ice cream. That is some seriously tasty salad! Of course it was the creative dressings that made it special. After enjoying these salads so much I have resolved to be more adventuresome with salad at home.
    A typical trip to the salad bar started with a few greens, slices of tomato, slivers of red onion, fresh sliced mushrooms, a few black olives and then finished with something like these (I should have copied the labels but here are just a few of the combinations as I remember them):
Rice, pineapple tidbits, seasoned and grilled tofu crumbles, red pepper, black olives in a vinaigrette dressing
Red beans, garbanzo beans, diced celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives in a sweet dressing
Roasted chopped pears, red peppers, sautéed spinach, candied walnuts with bleu cheese dressing
Roasted yellow potatoes, sautéed spinach, mushrooms, onions with bleu cheese dressing
   An internet search turned up several websites with recipes for those Carnival Cruise Lines Chocolate Melting Cakes which are more like ramekins of warm chocolate fudge sauce topped with ice cream. These really should be reserved for a cruise where you can spend all day walking off those calories! And if you do your own search be sure to select one that includes techniques. I will be searching my recipe box for the Chocolate Fudge Pudding Cake recipe that was totally vegan and low fat but always was received with rave reviews. That is the one that needs to have a gluten-free makeover!

Mom

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Gluten-Free in Branson, MO

    We spent the recent Holiday in Branson, MO. The last couple of years have taught us a great deal about getting me through a trip without becoming disabled by illness. These are the essential steps that we take – it’s all about planning ahead.
1) Bring safe food from home – traveling by car we bring a cooler.
2) Research restaurant menus on the internet along the planned trip route.
3) Choose accommodations that feature a refrigerator and microwave in the room.
4) Research and stop at major grocery stores along the way –
Wal-Mart Superstores dependably take care of the rural and remote areas.
5) Pack medications to alleviate symptoms just in case.
    We did all of the above and it worked out well. Only one restaurant was a bit tense about my refusing a salad that I had ordered with no croutons. The same salad was refused again after having the croutons scraped off and I explained that appearance was not the issue. Fortunately someone in the kitchen realized what was up and prepared me a lovely salad that was served with grace and apologies.
    There were two stellar restaurants during our stay. One is The Pasta House Co., a chain based in St. Louis with very few locations outside of Missouri. Not only is all of their food wonderful but they have gluten free pasta available – we had dinner there twice! Their house salad is so very good and they generously post the recipe on their web site, The Pasta House Co. Special Salad
    A more local restaurant, in adjacent Hollister, is at The Keeter Center in Dobyns Dining Room. The facility is part of the work/study program that is the cornerstone of the college’s programs and philosophy. There I enjoyed a delightful house salad with pear honey dressing topped with grilled chicken and a side of sweet potato fries. We toured the fruitcake and jelly kitchen and purchased some apple butter. There were fruitcake tasting samples which I regretfully passed up. A batch of fruitcakes had just come out of the oven and the whole building smelled of spice. We also toured the basket making and weaving facility. The students seem quite accustomed to tourists wandering through their campus and asking questions.
    We also made a planned stop at a Braum’s soda fountain, grill, and grocery store which features Don’s favorite ice cream of all time, their version of Cookies and Cream. Every now and then I wonder about how many grilled chicken salads I have eaten and how many other gluten sensitive folks default to that very same selection.
    That was the exciting culinary part of the trip. The ragweed was in full bloom and part of the time I consoled myself by making up a song about it to the tune of ‘Home on the Range’ on the return trip.
Mom

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On the Road

   Travel is one of the greatest challenges for anyone with dietary constraints and gluten-free is not universally understood as yet. Restaurants are beginning to take notice and the better ones have staff trained regarding most permutations of food allergies and sensitivities. If your food server does not speak ‘gluten’ then you are better off with a plate of salad sans dressing. Even a topping of grilled chicken, seafood, or veggie might be contaminated with a grilling sauce.
   Any person who travels at all knows by now that they must travel defensively and plan to take care of themselves. This is really true whether or not you have food sensitivities. It doesn’t matter if you have only the most common of health needs; it will cost you a great deal extra unless you provide for yourself ahead of time. Cost can be in terms of currency or in terms of physical misery.
   A personal travel strategy is to pack at least one Larabar for every day of the trip. These are made of dried fruit and nuts without any gratuitous ingredients or preservatives. They are perfect for me but may not work for everyone. Another strategy has been to get a dry salad-to-go and add canned chicken or other protein back at the hotel room in order to have a gluten-free meal. Not exactly fancy dining but safe is better than fancy. And always in the car, purse, or carry-on baggage there is a plastic knife, fork, and spoon. For a longer trip the checked baggage will include one of those paper thin silicon cutting mats and a very small sharp knife.
   Rita suggests that one of her ‘shopping points’ for evaluating potential travel lodging is the presence of a small refrigerator and microwave in the room. Even inexpensive motels may provide these amenities but you need to ask and be sure that your room reservation includes these items. When necessary she will upgrade to extended stay facilities with a fully equipped mini-kitchen.
   A list of addresses and maps for grocery stores and restaurants obtained via an internet search is priceless. Also check to see if the grocery has a website giving some indication of which one might have the greatest variety. Once arriving at destination my first stop is usually at a grocery store for fresh fruit, cheese, nuts, gluten-free canned soup, and/or baked goods depending on the duration of the visit and the selection at the store. Others traveling with you will be grateful to pick up a few items so they will not be at the mercy of a vending machine. Restaurants that post an online menu and highlight their special diet options are very high on my list. I usually print out those menus along with the maps.
   If traveling by auto a small cooler allows for greater variety and certainty. Celery is one of my favorite health foods and it holds up surprisingly well. A stalk or two every day seems to provide just the right something that my system requires.
   Another intriguing notion for travel by auto is to bring a Crockpot. At least one family with gluten sensitivities finds that is a sure and economical way to maintain a gluten-free lifestyle and it makes me curious to try it.
Mom

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