Our anniversary trip to Marathon Key started out beautifully. Perfect weather, hardly any traffic, a great start to a lovely little anniversary getaway. Less than 24 hours later, we were at a dead stop on Ocean Highway, along with thousands of other cars attempting to flee the path of Tropical Storm Fay.
First I want it known that we weren’t fleeing. We live southern in Florida. We are used to Tropical Storms, so while such storms are very serious, we weren’t particularly fazed. But there was this little matter of the Mandatory Visitor Evacuation of the Keys. Once the evacuation notice was issued, our hotel unceremoniously kicked us (and everyone else) out, and we had no choice but to leave and get rained on at home.
So I didn’t get much of a chance to experiment with gluten free travel. But we did have one night away from home. To deal with it all, first, I packed food. Tons of food. Enough food that if we had been confined to our hotel room for a week, we wouldn’t have starved to death. The Irish (Mexican/Ethiopian) Soda Bread was a big hit in the car. We booked a room with a full kitchen, I brought my own pans, utensils, and cutting board, and there were two grocery stores within a block of our hotel. We were set.
Next, we brought a computer and took advantage of the wifi connection at the hotel. Normally we don’t do this. When on vacation, be on vacation! But we cheated a little this time, and were able to look up restaurants, ratings, and contact information. From that, we chose a place to eat our first (and only) night there, and called ahead to find out from the manager if they could accommodate my needs. They said they could, so we went.
Last, I had my Triumph Dining Cards. I didn’t think I would need them at first. After speaking with the manager of Keys Fisheries, I felt pretty confident about dining safely. She said they cook everything fresh, and cook to order all the time, so just tell the server what I need, and it will be okay. Great!
We got to the restaurant unfashionably early when almost nobody else was there. I spoke with the server, and told her I had just talked to the manager about my food allergies, and she gave me a blank look. So I gently and smilingly explained that I am “allergic to wheat, bread, and flour, and I just need to make sure my food doesn’t have any of that in it.” She gave me a slightly panicked look, and grabbed the cook to come speak to me. I repeated to the cook that I can’t have wheat, bread or flour. (No way was I going to get into my other intolerances!) I remained calm and smiled a lot. David smiled and nodded and repeated what I was saying. Everything seemed cool. The cook seemed a little confused though, so I whipped out my American Cuisine dining card and gave it to him. Suddenly it dawned on him, and he said all their fish was dusted with flour before cooking.
Oh, really? (Oh, $%*&!)
But no problem, he could cook mine without flour. That would be great, and can you hold the tomatoes on the Key Lime Mahi? No problem!
Everything turned out okay, and I can heartily recommend the Keys Fisheries in Marathon (and the Key Lime Mahi). And I learned a valuable lesson in communication.
I was so careful in my wording – I didn’t mention celiac or gluten, or food intolerances. Those things are not in everyone’s vocabulary (yet). I said “allergy” since most people understand the severity of that term. I said “wheat and bread and flour” since most people recognize them as ingredients, but not necessarily as being the same thing. I was calm and friendly and repeated my request several times. I thought I was being clear.
But though he heard “flour” at least twice, it didn’t register with the cook until he read it on the card. Ah, the power of the written word!
So my Triumph Dining Card saved the day. Without it, I’m pretty sure I would have ended up sick.
Lessons learned: If possible, check out the menu before you go, to see if there is anything you might be able to have or modify. Go to restaurants when they aren’t busy. Calling ahead might not help, but you should try it, anyhow. Be nice. Be patient with others; they know not of what you speak. You might have to repeat everything a few times, get used to it. Keep repeating your request until you are absolutely positive they understand. Use your dining cards, even if they seem to understand what you are saying, because, well, you just never know.
Oh, and there’s (usually) time for one last dip in the ocean before bugging out of the Keys ahead of a Tropical Storm!