Florida part 2 – The Food!

Me and my little man, out for a stroll near the water in Clearwater, Florida.

Eating out is always a challenge for me, especially when I’m away from home. I worry about finding somewhere safe with a low risk of cross contamination, that will understand how serious it is when I say that I’m celiac, and that isn’t a drag for everyone else in our group. I feel like that last part is the key when you’re with a larger group. No one wants to make the call about where to go since they don’t necessarily know what would be safe for you, which means that over the years I’ve become accustomed to having to be the person that chooses where to eat. It typically involves a lot of googling, checking other bloggers for recommendations, and searching for the words “gluten” and “celiac” on yelp reviews. While we were visiting family in Clearwater, Florida last month, my husband and I did a bunch of searching, and found a few great gems in the process! Here are my three favorites from our time in the sunshine state. I hope you all enjoy them as much as I did.

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill – Our first meal out after arriving, I was pleased they offered a separate gluten free menu. Upon walking in, we were greeted by a steel drum player, and a fun island atmosphere. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this restaurant. Our server was super helpful both to me and our table’s two young children. I ordered the grouper reuben sandwich (without a bun of course), and stole some of my husband’s ceviche appetizer. Ceviche might be one of my favorite dishes from my visits to Peru, and this one certainly lived up to my memory of the dish.

Marina Cantina – This was completely a google find. I had been searching for fun local spots to eat, and took a chance on this after reading a couple yelp reviews that specifically referenced gluten free. We happened to be there on a Monday night, which amazingly was $5 margarita night! I have to be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I ordered, but I do know the wait staff was very friendly, courteous, and helpful in figuring out what was safe and how to modify each dish.

Pearly’s Beach Eats – Another google find that was close to where we were staying, Pearly’s was our pick for lunch the last day. They had fairly quick takeout, and it was easy for me to get there, park, and get back without too much hassle. When I called to explain my situation, I was told my best bet would be to order a baja bowl without the taco bowl…even though I really wanted the nachos. I’m not one to be picky when it comes to food, if the kitchen staff tell me that’s my best bet, you better believe that’s exactly what I’m ordering. Since we were doing takeout and it was only lunch, my expectations weren’t high. Turns out, this was a great choice, and the baja bowl both tasted incredible and was very filling. Everyone else in our group enjoyed their orders as well 🙂

All in all I was very impressed with the options I had. Typically, places that seem a little more touristy can be very dicey for a celiac, but I didn’t get that vibe in Clearwater at all. Everyone was very well educated on safe kitchen standards, and how best to modify meals to make them safe.

*Mom warning – there was NO changing table at Marina Cantina. I’m learning to pay attention to that when we’re out now, and even though I don’t always need it, that was one night when I really could’ve used the help…and an extra margarita when all was said and done!!

Dining Out…with kids!

A couple months after our son was born, we were in desperate need of a night out at a restaurant. I was craving sushi post-pregnancy, and we’d heard rave reviews from friends about a restaurant not too far from our home. I will never forget that first dining out experience. We thought we timed it well, and the little man snoozed through the beginning, waking up just as our food was about to be delivered. The restaurant was noisy, and we hoped he wouldn’t disturb anyone as we got a bottle ready. Suddenly, it seemed he was near impossible to calm down. He wasn’t loud, but I quickly turned frantic and nearly started crying at our table. We were still so new to parenting and it was all overwhelming. As my husband started to soothe our son, a woman approached us out of the blue. She sat down beside me, and told us what a wonderful job we were doing. To keep it up, keep going out, and enjoying our life. She mentioned she heard the cries and knew it must be a newborn; both a mortifying thought upon seeing how far her table was from ours, and soothing at the same time. I will never forget the kindness of that stranger, and how she made me feel in that overwhelming moment. We’ve taken our son out since then, but I’ll be honest that it isn’t frequent. As he transitioned to solids, the mess he makes and everything we need to bring discouraged us from venturing out.

Fast forward to the holidays. Our son is now 10 months old, and quite the active little man. The car seat no longer comes in with us, and he can eat small bites from the table! It was time to venture out again, this time with quite the crew. We had family and close friends in town for the new year, and decided it would be fun to eat out on the water one evening; however “evening” can be relative with a little one in your life. I’d heard good things about Surf restaurant in downtown Portsmouth, overlooking the water, and serving true New England food for our out of town guests. I called to make reservations, clearly mentioning that we were 6 adults and 3 children, no one batted an eye. Trying to coordinate the timing of dinner with bedtime, our reservations were an early 4:30pm! Oh how times have changed.

Upon our arrival, we were escorted to a long table overlooking the Piscataqua River. Even though the sun had set, you could still see how beautiful it was outside. We received smiles from wait staff and patrons alike when they saw our little boy smiling and giggling back, but the fun didn’t last long. The table next to us held an older couple, near the end of their meal. As soon as we were seated by them you could see the side eye and feel the glare pointed directly at our table. Clearly they were not pleased with our presence, even though the restaurant was clearly accommodating to families. Thankfully they were not there long, and the table turned over to what appeared to be a more friendly couple.

Our food was delicious, and everyone was enjoying themselves. That quickly changed when not one but two of the little ones got sick over dinner. Call it bad luck, a full moon, or whatever you will, we suddenly found ourselves in a mix of panic and clean-up mode. Our waiter could not have been nicer, bringing water, paper towels, and whatever else we needed. He did not miss a beat, arriving with our check not long after we asked. All in all, it was a fun night night out, but it certainly taught us some lasting lessons.

  • Early reservations are perfect with little ones, you can still enjoy a nice restaurant without impacting bed time, and clearing out just before the dinner crowd arrives.
  • Expect the unexpected. Although our son is a great eater at home, and nearly never spits up, you can’t predict what will happen in public.
  • Not only did I have to worry about what was safe for me to eat, but what my son could reach on the table, and whether or not he could get gluten near my plate. I’d never thought of it before, but now that’s obviously a concern.
  • No matter how accommodating an establishment and its staff are, there is always a chance that its patrons do not feel the same way. Don’t let that stop you from going!

Lexington, KY – A fun family weekend!

Since it’s Thursday, I thought I’d post a throwback to a trip we took last year.  I started this blog post on our flight home, but never quite finished writing.  Hubby and I took advantage of a three-day holiday weekend, flew out to Kentucky to visit his family, and witnessed Keeneland first hand.  We took a late Thursday flight and started the weekend midday on Friday 🙂  I have to admit, this was one of those trips that I wasn’t able to do recon beforehand on the gluten-free options we’d have.

We started our Lexington fun with a local chain, and favorite of hubby’s cousin, Saul Good.   There honestly could not have been a better start to the weekend.  One of the things I was really bummed out about in Italy was that I only found gluten-free pizza in two restaurants.  Saul Good not only had gluten-free pizza crust, but they also had my favorite spicy Italian red sauce as one of their options!   The staff was more than friendly about working with me and double checking each item I ordered.  They offered to put together a fresh vegetable platter for me when I told them I really wanted to try the dip, but could not have their chips.

Our tailgate fare was all low-key, and made for very little prep work that morning.   We’d stopped at a grocery store early in the trip so I could help make sure we had enough gluten-free food for me.  Be forewarned, I did search around to find gluten-free food options inside the track before we went, but didn’t have much luck searching online.  Armed with that in mind, we packed enough pregame food to be sure I wouldn’t go hungry.

We hit up Local Taco for brunch Sunday morning,  where I was pleased to find that their menu had gluten-free options marked with a convenient “GF”.  After confirming with the manager that their chips and salsa were safe for me to eat, I put in an order for four specialty corn tacos along with the chips.  I can not put into words how good those tacos were after a full day tailgating at Keeneland.   The smoked brisket was by far my favorite, but trust me, they were all pretty delicious.   Thankfully,  I remember to snap a picture of my plate before devouring all of it!

Smoked Brisket, Tequila Lime Chicken, and Steak & Eggs  Tacos from The Local Taco

Smoked Brisket, Tequila Lime Chicken, and Steak & Eggs Tacos from The Local Taco

Later that night, we decided to hit up the movie theater after a quick dinner.  Hubby had been in the mood for barbecue, so we made our way to City Barbeque.  In frustrating fashion, my phone froze just as I’d started downloading their allergen listing.  Thankfully, the list was also printed out and kept at the front register.  Without hesitation, I went straight for the naked brisket.  After combing through the gluten-free sides, I settled on baked beans and sweet vinegar slaw.  As we completed our order I mentioned that my meal would need to be carefully handled, and that the staff would need to change their gloves for safety.  Just as I said that, the woman at the register told me she’d already put our order in, and quickly called over another person from the kitchen to ensure my dinner was safe….phew!  I made a quick mental note that all of their sauces were safe, but realized I’d need more help when I saw the condiments station.  All of the sauces were kept in large serving vats, with a single ladle in each one.  Knowing this was a sure-fire way to make myself sick, I grabbed the woman manning the pickup area to see if she could help.  Once I explained my concerns about cross contamination with the sauce ladles,  she came out with two fresh to-go containers of sweet sauce for me to enjoy.

Our final culinary stop in Lexington was at the one and only Shakespeare & Co.  I have to say, the Victorian decorations were very unique, and I totally wanted to stop at every table so I could sit on their vintage couches.  We made it here about midday, making it the perfect time for a late brunch.  Upon asking for a gluten-free menu, I was told the restaurant had gluten-free bread, pizza crust, and quinoa for substitution in nearly any dish.  I asked for some help since I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted.  Our waiter told me hands down that I should go with the Salmon and scrambled eggs.  Let me tell you, that dish did not disappoint!  The gluten-free bread had been cut into rounds as if it were a biscuit, with perfectly shaped salmon and eggs on top.  It came with a side of roasted potatoes and hollandaise dipping sauce, which I obviously smothered all over the eggs 🙂 one word ladies and gentlemen: heavenly!

Our final stop before going home was to the Town Branch Brewery and Distillery.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any gluten-free beers for me, but the first part of the tour was pretty cool anyways.  We were each given four tasting tickets at the beginning, so I stashed mine away for the Kentucky Bourbon.  I’d done some research about whether or not it was actually safe for me to drink Bourbon, and come to the consensus that the distilling process should make it safe, but that some celiacs still have issues.  Personally, I’m a fan of Bourbon, so it was worth giving it a shot for me.  I tried their Bourbon, Rye, Pearse Lyons Reserve, and an especially tasty Bluegrass Sundown.  My favorite hands down was the Bluegrass Sundown, which is a dark roasted coffee infused with Bourbon and sugar.  Our tour guide served it with hot water over cream, and it just might have to replace the Irish coffee on my list of cold weather spirits!  The best news is, I had no reactions to the Bourbon…line ’em up 😉

Copper pot stills at Town Branch Distillery

Copper pot stills at Town Branch Distillery

Kentucky Bourbon straight from the source, aging in fresh barrels!!

Kentucky Bourbon straight from the source, aging in fresh barrels!!

Anxiety in Lima

Lima, Peru is a beautiful city that I’ve been so lucky to have visited twice in the last three years.  When I found out I’d be going back last summer, I could not have been more anxious!  Not only was the trip was scheduled smack dab between Ukraine and China, but Lima held some not so great memories from my first visit.  Technology has become a wonderful thing, connecting each of us regardless of location.  Thanks to Skype, I was able to connect with my mom and sister (in the DC metro area) to call and wish my grandmother (in Florida) a happy birthday while I was gone.  I was staying a few blocks from Miraflores, and was so excited to show off my hotel room to everyone back home…it practically took up an entire city block!  Later that same week on a video chat with my boyfriend (now husband), I reached a near breaking point with what I would eventually find out was celiac disease.  We’d been catching up about my day when mid conversation I ran to the bathroom and began vomiting.  I’d only had one beer with dinner, which had been at a highly recommended sushi restaurant.  I hadn’t been drinking any local water, and could not for the life of me figure out what was wrong.  This wasn’t the first time I’d done this either, only a few weeks prior I’d had the same thing happen while I was in Charleston, South Carolina.

Fast forward two years later, I now know why the beer and sushi made me sick that night.  But how sick had I been?  Were there other meals that upset me that week?  I was excited to experience Lima again, but would I run into the same problems armed with the truth about celiac disease?  My second trip started out a bit rocky.  I’d been getting phone calls and emails from United all morning telling me my flight to Newark had been delayed.  Before even arriving at the airport, I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t make my connection to Lima.  As I checked in at the counter, a sigh of relief came when they informed me I’d already been re-booked, and would be connecting through Houston.  My coworkers were not so lucky, I’d been given one of the last seats on the Houston flight, and United had no other options for them.  Eventually they were switched to another airline, and we were all set for our trip.

One of the great things about having to travel for work, is that you don’t always have time to go out to eat.  I know that sounds counterintuitive and normally I’d be annoyed by this, but it actually put my anxiety at ease.  Our hotel staff were great, I’d mastered the phrase “sin glooten” and they were especially careful with each room service dinner I was served.  Each morning started out on the right foot as well, our hotel offered omelets made to order (my favorite!), and freshly squeezed juice from local fruits.  When we finally got our workload under control, I took my team out to what I think is the most incredible site in Lima.  We had dinner at the restaurant overlooking the Huaca Pucllana, it is actually built on the grounds of the Incan ruins, which are illuminated after the sun has set.

Overlooking the Huaca Pucllana during dinner!

Overlooking the Huaca Pucllana during dinner!

I have to admit, I truly love trying new things when I’m outside my comfort zone.  If you’ve read my blog before, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it a time or two 🙂  Peru is one of those places where there are so many fun new things to try!!  I was a little afraid of going for the full fledged guinea pig that street vendors sell.  If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, google image search “Peru guinea pig” and I think you’ll understand.  BUT, when it’s cooked and served like any other meat, I’m all in!  I’d tried the appetizer sampler platter before at the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana and wanted to share with my coworkers some of the unique foods Peru has to offer.

Appetizer sampler at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant - the guinea pig is in the upper right corner!

Appetizer sampler at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant – the guinea pig is in the upper right corner!

Dinner at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant

Dinner at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant

Please forgive me for not remembering everything I ordered…unfortunately this trip pre-dates my blog, and I’ve now started to keep better track of everything I’m trying!! Trust me though, if you ever find yourself in Lima, Peru this restaurant is a can’t-miss opportunity.  The ambiance, menu, and wait staff make the experience one to remember.  If you love food as much as I do, I’m hoping you’ll appreciate the next two pictures of some of my other favorite meals while I was there.  As I said before, everyone in the hotel staff (we stayed at Golf los Incas) was incredibly helpful with my gluten free requests.  One of the first nights we were in town, my team and I enjoyed dinner at the hotel restaurant, where I could not get enough of this great dish!!

Steak and potatoes at the Golf los Incas Hotel

Steak and potatoes at the Golf los Incas Hotel

Any trip to Peru would not be complete without their signature dish….CEVICHE!!!  On my first trip to Lima, I tried ceviche for the first time and seriously could not get enough of the stuff!  For those new to the dish, ceviche can be any assortment of raw fish, cooked in the acid from local lemon and other citrus juices.  Talk to any Peruvian and they’ll tell you that you can’t recreate the dish anywhere else, because the local citrus is what makes the dish.

Enjoying ceviche in Miraflores

Enjoying ceviche in Miraflores

The last two pictures I want to share with you all today are from two of my favorite spots in the city.  The first is on the water in Miraflores, where you can watch people para sailing over the coast line.  Although I didn’t get the opportunity to actually try this myself, it was great to watch as everyone else flew over the hazy coast line.  The last picture is quite simply a beautiful contrast of new and old on the Miraflores water front.  This quaint home is situated between two high rise apartment buildings, and boasts the most enchanting home garden and front door!

Watching people glide in over the coast

Watching people glide in over the coast

Beautiful juxtaposition of old and new :)

Beautiful juxtaposition of old and new 🙂

 

Dropping the Allergy

I’ve had celiac disease for nearly three years now.  It’s been a long and sometimes very challenging road, but I am healthy and feeling great!  Over the years, I’ve gone through my fair share of hiccups…some making me swear off half the restaurants and fast food joints I know.  But I’m learning to live with the disease, and learning to live my life despite the restrictions it places in my path.  Recently I was out to dinner with a group and the most liberating words came out of my mouth…”I have celiac disease.”  I went on to explain the full story, I can’t eat gluten, I’m very sensitive to cross-contamination, please be sure to check with the chef.  For the past three years, I’ve had a habit of telling restaurants that I have a gluten allergy.  You and I both know that’s not the case, but allergies are taken seriously, and my health is not something worth risking.

Telling places and people that I have an allergy has started to bother me though, I’m doing myself and everyone a disservice by not telling them the truth.  My friends and family may know that I have celiac disease, but there are so many people that still don’t know what that is.  The month of May is celiac disease awareness month, so I’m making it my mission to never again tell that little white lie about my condition.  I have celiac disease.  I’ve been living with it for three years.  Ask me about it and I’d be happy to share my story with you!  If we can’t talk about it honestly ourselves, how can we expect others to understand?  Join me in promising to tell restaurants, servers and chefs from this point forward, “I have celiac disease!”

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) – Honeymoon Part 2

After spending about a week in Bora Bora, my husband and I flew back to the main island of Tahiti for our next adventure.  Like I said in the first honeymoon post, we decided to make it a bucket list trip, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) was near the top of the list.  Truthfully, this wasn’t our initial plan.  After telling some friends about our Bora Bora plans, they brought up extending our trip since we’d already have flown halfway around the world to get to Bora Bora.  What an incredible idea!!  We looked at a few maps later that night and realized that Rapa Nui was surprisingly close to Bora Bora.  Not only that, but there is a direct flight from Tahiti to Rapa Nui, albeit only once a week.  We could make it work!

We struggled initially in the planning stages, there aren’t many sites that have a lot to offer about planning to visit Rapa Nui.  We ran into some challenges finding a travel agent that could help us as well.  It turns out, not many people actually make it to Rapa Nui each year.  The entire island is approximately the size of Washington, D.C., and though tourism is their number one economic provider, there aren’t a ton of places to stay either.  Thankfully, we were finally put in touch with a great travel agent that locked down our travel, hotel, and excursions within a week of first speaking with us.  I’m not sure we could have pulled this trip off without her!

Having learned a few lessons in Bora Bora, I felt a little better prepared when we touched down in Rapa Nui.  Although the flight was a red eye, LAN Chile really took care of me and had prepared gluten free meals and snacks each time they served food to the other passengers.  This may not seem like such a big deal, but I frequently have to ask for a gluten free snack on international flights.  While airlines are great about getting gluten free meals, they tend to forget about the snacks.  When we arrived at our hotel, the Altiplanico, we were armed with a Spanish pocket dictionary (I suggest the Berlitz Phrase Book & Dictionary for any language) which informed me that my key phrase of the week would be “sin glooten.”  Thanks to our travel agent, the hotel had already been made aware of my dietary needs, and they were prepared to help me order from their menu.

To my delight, Rapa Nui restaurants were full of fresh fish dishes based on their catch of the day.  The locals were incredibly friendly people, that were very happy to work with our struggling Spanish, and understood what “sin glooten” meant!  Thankfully, I never once felt as though I’d been even the slightest bit cross-contaminated.  While we were there, we visited two restaurants more than once because we truly enjoyed their food and surroundings so much.  Although I can’t remember exactly what each of the meals were, I can share with you my thoughts on the restaurants, and a few pictures of my favorite meals from our trip.

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto

Ceviche

Fresh ceviche, served in a conch shell with a side of rice

Kuki Varua:  This restaurant was located just on the edge of the water in Hanga Roa.  The location was great for people watching, sunsets, and enjoying the island mentality.  We found ourselves here a few times, each visit staying for a longer period of time, and drinking in our surroundings.  Great for their catch of the day offerings and surprising local side dishes (green mashed potatoes and purple potato chips!), I enjoyed every single bite at the Kuki Varua.

Tuna and Mashed Potatoes

Seared and salted tuna with green mashed potatoes (Kuki Varua)

Catch of the Day

Same meal, different day…yes it was that good! (Kuki Varua)

Hetu’u Restaurant:  We stumbled upon this gem while we were walking through the downtown area (Hanga Roa).  The service was very quick, and though they did not have many tables, they certainly seemed to be a more popular spot.  The menu was incredibly diverse, and thankfully included pictures which helped with the language barrier.  The restaurant also had a nice sized wine cellar, which I have to say really drew me in!

Fish in Peanut Sauce

White fish in peanut sauce with a side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Fish in Caper Sauce

White fish in caper sauce, side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Open Letter to Resaurants

Majority of the time, I try to bring a lunch to work so I don’t have to deal with the hassle of eating out.  Life happens though, and sometimes I have no other option than running out in search of food near my office.  I have a hard time finding places I trust, instantly cringing anytime I see a restaurant that has bins of ingredients lined up, an instant concern for cross contamination.  But seeing a place that has so many signs about requesting gluten-free gives me hope that I can give somewhere a shot.  I always begin my order by courteously requesting that my server change their gloves, explaining that I am “severely allergic” to gluten.  So why then today, after watching the server carefully take off his gloves, wash his hands and arms, and putting on new gloves would the server then hand my food off to the next person in the chain?  Before I had caught up with my food it had already been contaminated!  Seething as I watched my gluten-free salad poured onto another workers stale gloves to be chopped, I explained the situation and they tossed out my first round of food.  As that server then began to clean his hands, another server attempted to make salad round two for me.  Now explain to me why on earth, after two servers have washed their hands and changed their gloves for me, would a THIRD begin making my salad with OLD GLOVES?!

After throwing out two salads that had been contaminated, I finally had one made by a single person with fresh gloves, but it made me think about the situation as I watched this all unfold.  Under no circumstances would it be acceptable for a server to sneeze on food and serve it to a customer.  So why then, after I’ve carefully explained my situation, do they continue to be so hasty with my food?  I am not on a fad diet, I do not eat gluten-free because it’s trendy.  I eat gluten-free because it’s the only solution to celiac disease!  And when restaurants are careless with my food the following almost always occurs within 30 minutes:

1. I am forced to leave work for the day, feeling too ill to continue.
2. I spend the next few hours curled in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, intermittently vomiting and dealing with diarrhea.
3. I lose all energy, and sleep for hours.
4. I deal with lingering symptoms for the next few days.

It’s not acceptable for me to walk over and casually spray your meal with bacteria; don’t do the same to me by hastily handling my food.  When I tell you I have a severe allergy please take me seriously and know that your actions have very serious consequences to my health!