Sunday, September 6, 2009

Staying Gluten Free While Traveling

Traveling, staying at hotels, eating out, and staying gluten free while doing it...shall we say it requires a bit of planning ahead?

You betcha!! At least it does if you're both paranoid and a super-sensitive celiac! :)

This is my topic today because I just went on vacation with my family for the first time since going gluten We returned about a week ago from a trip to Oregon to visit my mom, who celebrated her 83rd birthday on September 1st:

That's a gluten free cake in front of my mother, by the way, made with the new Betty Crocker Gluten Free Yellow Cake mix (two boxes, actually, because each box only makes one layer).

My mom's been a knockout all her life....and has hardly changed since age 16! :)

Happy Birthday, Mom!!

Aside from how cute my mom was at 16, and still is at 83, the really astonishing thing is that none of us were glutened during our vacation!! I'm SO glad I did take time to plan, and call restaurants, and talk to managers...well, let me tell you the whole story from the beginning.

Before we started our trip, I sat in front of my laptop for hours, tracing and re-tracing our probable routes and looking for safe places for four gluten-intolerant people to eat. I also purchased the complete set of Triumph Dining Cards, which has information for cooks, chefs, waitresses, etc., printed in multiple languages for many many different types of restaurants from American cuisine to Greek to Mexican to French....well, you get the idea.

On the way up, we planned to see my adult son Stephen, wife Ashley, and adorable son Cian, who will be two years old in January. They live about half way up to Oregon from my house, on the loooooooooong drive north from Southern California. I hadn't seen them in quite a while, so we just had to stop briefly and visit with them.

We decided to stop overnight in Modesto, which is about two hours from Stephen's house (they live far back in the Sierra Foothills in Calaveras County), and meet them in the morning for brunch. I found an Outback Steakhouse there in town, which of course has a gluten free dinner menu, but no obvious place to eat breakfast. In desperation I called a Denny's and found that they do actually have a pamphlet for people with allergies to help plan meals. The manager was very nice over the phone and assured me that they could work with us.

The breakfast worked out well; when we arrived I asked to speak to the Denny's manager (a different one on duty than I spoke to on the phone). She confirmed that they would do their best to accommodate and I handed her the Triumph Dining Card for American cuisine, so that the kitchen staff could read it. She started to brush it aside, saying that most of them only spoke Spanish, but I turned it over and showed her that it was in Spanish on the back.

We all ate well and had a very nice visit with my son and his family! I'll post some pics of them a bit later....still waiting for Stephen to send them! I stupidly didn't bring a camera with me to the restaurant, but they did.

The next day we continued our drive up to Oregon...

Mt. Shasta and the surrounding area is my favorite part of the trip up the 5!

As you know, I had decided our best bet was to simply rent a house for a week so we could have a full kitchen. I knew that it would be too nerve-racking to be eating out three meals a day just waiting to be glutened....not to mention expensive! As mentioned in the previous post, we were able to rent a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house the dates we was great! Here I have to give a shout out to Tina Hughes and her beautiful home in Grants Pass. Thanks again, Tina!!

And yes, we really did bring along a couple of our own pots and pans, our toaster, and one of my Crockpots, as well as cooking utensils, etc. Even though the house came with such things already in the kitchen, we were very concerned about hidden gluten in cutting boards or pans. Also, since there are no Trader Joe's or Whole Foods Markets in Southern Oregon, we had to bring some non-perishable foods such as Pamela's Baking Mix for pancakes, and of course the Betty Crocker Gluten Free Cake Mix for my mom's cake.

In addition, we packed a couple of coolers with: two loaves of Pamela's Amazing Wheat Free bread (made in my beautiful new Zojirushi bread machine), 2 dozen gluten free banana-blueberry muffins, plus sandwiches, drinks, and gluten free snacks. I even packed bags of spices so I could make the kid's favorite chili up there in the Crockpot.

The sandwiches and blueberry muffins really helped during the drive!

OK, I know that the idea of vacation doesn't really mesh with cooking. But (as mentioned in previous post) I planned meals that wouldn't take much time, and would make lots of leftovers for lunches, etc. We did eat out a few times, mostly at McGrath's, and once had ice cream at Dairy Queen in Brookings, which is on the Oregon coast. Dairy Queen has a gluten free menu, too!

The road home posed potential problems too. Once again I was on the Internet and the phone before we left to make sure we could find places to eat (we came back a different way than we went up, down the 101). Why did we do that, you ask? Because of redwoods, rivers, and the gorgeous coast:

Well, we also ended up finding a WONDERFUL gluten free pizza at Mary's Pizza Shack in Petaluma, CA. We bought two of the pizzas on our way to the Sheraton there, and still had enough for lunch the next day.

The Sheraton in Petaluma was another incredible gluten-free experience! We stopped there for one night. The next morning was Sunday, and we wanted to eat a safe breakfast in the on-site restaurant, Tolay. I spoke to the manager and showed him a Triumph Dining Card.

He promptly asked if he could photocopy it...he said this would be helpful for his staff in the future!

Next he showed me where the restaurant wheelchair ramp was (I'm in a wheelchair) and promised to tell the hostess all about us.

By the time we were seated, both the hostess and our waitress had told us that they had read the gluten info from the Dining Card. Our waitress was AMAZING! I explained that our eggs etc. should be cooked on a part of the grill not used for wheat products such as French toast and she said she would tell the chef to use a clean pan for everything. She also told us that she washed her hands before touching our plates!!!

I just cannot praise them highly enough....needless to say we did not get sick! :)

The last half of the homeward journey was relatively uneventful, since we had plenty of food to sustain us without risking any more restaurants. We enjoyed the drive through San Francisco but it was foggy, of course!

The only thing of note is that on the date of our return (8/30/09), the Station Fire in Southern CA had burned within a few hundred yards of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is closely tied to the California Institute of Technology and the project I work for, and was also threatening hundreds if not thousands of homes.

This is a picture of a pyrocumulus cloud, caused by the intense firestorm:

Here is the fire itself; you can see the hot spots glowing in the dusk....

The good news is, that as of this date, the fire is now burning in a wilderness area away from homes and is over 67% contained. And JPL survived!

And of course, we made it home safe and sound and un-glutened.


Kathryn said...

We drove down the mountain today into this smog/smoke. It is really something!

Glad you enjoyed your trip. :)

JoAnn said...

Thanks, Kathryn!

It's great that you have a place in the you live in Big Bear all year round or just part-time?