I was petrified at the idea of traveling and eating away from home for any length of time. At home, I have my warm, safe gluten-free cocoon. My kitchen has been detoxed, my pans and utensils are safe, and the few ingredients floating around that have gluten in them have been clearly marked. When David uses those things, he has a special counter upon which to contain the poison, special protocols to follow, and my watchful eye hovering over his shoulder to remind him: “Don’t touch the fridge door until you’ve washed your hands! Don’t use the gluten sponge on the gluten-free counter.” Very annoying for him, but he deals with it because he loves me and knows I’m crazy.
Out in the real world, in a real restaurant, they won’t put up with that shit.
So I, and my health, are relying upon employees of any given restaurant that don’t know what gluten is, don’t know what gluten intolerance is, and probably don’t much care about either. And I find that very scary.
Ensuring my safety makes me crazy. Because you can’t see, smell or taste gluten, it can be clinging to the inside of a bowl that the hubby used for soup and added saltines to, then ran through the dishwasher. (True story, I got sick once because of that, and now David has his own gluten bowl.) It’s in everything, it gets everywhere, it’s tenacious, and it makes me incredibly ill for three days. We’re talking: feels like a truck just ran over me, feels like the flu, horrible stomach cramps, joints aching, brain fogged, someone please shoot me now, AWFUL. For three days. That’s just the part I can feel, it doesn’t count the 4-6 weeks it takes my intestines to heal from the damage that has just been done if I ingest gluten. Which means, if I get glutened (poisoned) once a month, it’s as if I am eating it every day. So I have become an anti-gluten commando.
To add insult to injury, not only does gluten affect me, but I have developed numerous other food intolerances over the last year. These don’t cause the lasting intestinal damage, but they do make me pretty ill for 12-24 hours each, and have a cumulative affect, so they also need to be avoided as much as possible. A few of the more common things I have to avoid are: chicken, soy, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), legumes (including peanuts), vinegars, brassica vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard seed, canola oil), apples, peaches/nectarines, sunflower oil, most artificial and natural flavorings. Among other things. Yeah. Fun, huh?
The last experience I had with traveling was when I visited my friends Vi and Carla W. at Vi’s place in Washington D.C. last year. I became the food czar and controlled everything, from kitchen cleaning, grocery shopping, food prep, and dish washing. Nobody entered the kitchen without me popping up, monitoring their every move. And no, we did not eat out during that time. SORRY, LADIES!! I know I was a major pain in the ass.
This time, however, David and I were taking a road trip, covering major distances and stopping for the night in different hotels. We didn’t have a kitchen, and I knew I would have to eat out at some time.
So I made it through the trip by cheating! Actually, I prefer “being smart” to “cheating”. I packed a cooler with things I could eat: cheese sticks, plain yogurt, bananas, grapes, rice cakes, honey, almonds, pumpkin seeds, Larabars, rice crackers. I ate out of the cooler for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. It all worked out well, the only issue I had was trying to rotate foods ( I had a banana and almonds yesterday, so I’ll have grapes and pumpkin seeds today). I conceded to eating out each night, and we stuck to chains that have gluten-free menus, or claim to. Actually, I made it through the whole trip without a gluten reaction. I did have one food reaction at Chili’s in Savannah.
So here’s the rundown: Savannah GA, Chili’s. Servers clueless, manager clueless, between them they somehow managed to find a list of supposedly gluten-free items, printed off their company website. I had salmon with veggies and rice, the veggies turned out to be broccoli (which I can’t eat) with a couple of pieces of carrots. Didn’t get sick from gluten, but had a secondary reaction. The rice tasted heavily seasoned, could have had nightshades, soy, or chicken broth, or some combo. It was a very nerve-wracking experience, and I don’t plan to eat in a Chili’s any time soon. Or possibly ever.
Asheville NC, Bonefish Grill. Fabulous! Everyone knew what they were doing, knew what gluten was, and they have a special menu just for people like me. Great food, wonderful service. They are owned by the same company that owns Carrabba’s and Outback, and are committed to providing a safe, gluten-free dining experience. And they did! I had steak and squash – they made the squash special for me, because I couldn’t have broccoli or potatoes.
Nashville TN, Outback Grill. We waited over an hour for a table. I could deal with that. But then it took them half an hour to find the one gluten-free menu they had. Hmm. The waiter had never heard of gluten-free, but he was new. I decided to play it safe and have a steak and squash again. They turned out fine. I also tried the Chocolate Thunder from Down Under, a gluten-free dessert they have. It’s basically like my chocolate flourless cake. Funny, but they don’t advertise that it’s gluten-free on their main menu. Anyhow, it was okay, if you like pecans. Lots of pecans. So many pecans it was hard to find any brownie. Is it always like that?
Southern KY (don’t remember the town), Red Lobster. I know, they don’t advertise gluten-free dining, but I figured I could get some sort of safe fish there, and we were starving. It took a while to find something, working with the manager and even whipping out my (previously unused) Triumph Dining Card, but we came up with salmon and squash. Are you sensing a pattern? They tried very hard and everything turned out fine, but I could have lived without the extra worrying.
Atlanta GA, Carrabba’s. Ah yes, Carrabba’s. They were just as wonderful in Atlanta as they are at home. I had a fabulous sirloin marsala with a zucchini/garlic sauté, again, made just for me. We were there early, before the dinner rush, and asked the waiter how often he has a gluten-free diner. He told us he only works 3 nights a week, and has at least one gluten-free customer a week. See? You other restaurants should jump on this bandwagon. We’re here, we’re gluten intolerant, and we want to eat out!
So really, the only drawback to the trip was the lack of culinary diversity. I used to love that about traveling: seeking out local restaurants, trying local fare. I used to have a rule that I wouldn’t eat in any restaurant that I could find at home. Now, it seems, I have my list of safe options, and if I can’t find one of them, well, there’s always a rice cake with honey on it! Maybe someday I’ll be able to take a few more risks, but I’m just not ready to do that yet.