Eating Out: An Allergic Foodie’s Strategies

I’ve been eating out a lot since arriving on Hilton Head Island about a month ago and I haven’t had any bad reactions–just a few mild GI symptoms. I consider this a victory. After all, with over 20 food allergies as well as celiac disease it’s pretty tough  finding gluten-free and allergy-free entrees on a menu. During past trips to the island, I spent many days curled up in a ball with stomach pain while my family was on the golf course or riding bikes on the beach. So what’s making this stay different?

For one, I’m picking safer restaurants and avoiding the “bad ones.” I read online what other allergic foodies say about a prospective restaurant and check out the celiac and allergy apps. I also review the online menus.  People in the south fry everything from octopus to tomatoes, so I look for menus featuring lots of local fish and salads. If I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to order safely, I call the restaurant and ask to speak to a manager or chef. By the time the hostess greets us, I usually know what I’ll be ordering.

Sadly, I’m finding more and more restaurants are cooking with vegetable oil because it’s cheap. Many waiters aren’t aware that vegetable oil is soy oil or a combination of soy and another oil.  I react horribly to both soy and corn oil.  One of the first questions I ask a restaurant–even ones I’ve been to in the recent past–is what oil they use for cooking. I also ask about any “fake butter” they may use. I make it clear that I cannot have a drop of vegetable oil.  While many celiacs avoid Italian restaurants because of the flour used in pasta and pizza, I’ve actually had some of my best meals in Italian restaurants. One of my favorites on the island is OMBRA Cucina Rustica. The chefs cook with olive oil and the menu offers lots of delicious gluten-free and dairy-free options.

Another reason I’m not getting sick as often is because I’ve started taking my own dressings and sauces. My go-to meal for lunch is a salad with shrimp or salmon or grilled chicken. I’ve gotten sick so many times from the salad dressing–even homemade dressings from upscale restaurants–that I just don’t want to take a chance anymore.  I carry a small container of dressing with me. If I’ve forgotten, I ask for olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar. As a last resort, I’ll use fresh lemon on my salad.

IMG_4321

I eat a lot of salads so I’m thrilled when one looks like this one!

Last night we tried One Hot Mamma’s American Grille for the first time because I knew they offered gluten-free ribs. (I also was a fan of Orchid Paulmeier when she was on Season 7 of Food Network Star.) I asked for my ribs dry as I’d brought along some Bone Suckin’ Sauce with me. Our server was well-informed about allergies and took my request for no dairy, soy, or gluten seriously. However, when my ribs arrived, they were covered in barbecue sauce (no dairy, gluten or soy). I’d neglected to tell him I was also allergic to corn, which was likely in the catsup they used. While my husband and son immensely enjoyed the saucy ribs, I waited for a rack without sauce (also delish!).  In the south, restaurants cook with a lot of corn starch–I’ve learned this the hard way.  Cornbread and corn on the cob are often featured on menus. This is great for my younger son who has celiac, but not for me.

IMG_5841

Jamaican Jerk Bowl from PURE Natural Market in Hilton Head.

I also have better luck sitting at the bar and ordering from bartenders who are typically full-time professionals and not summertime staff.  We always tip well for good allergy-free service. After coming here for so many years, many of the bartenders know me and my allergies by name.

When I’m in new places, I look for ethnic, farm-to-table and vegetarian/vegan restaurants. There weren’t a lot of options on the island back in 2008 when I was first diagnosed, but there sure are now. One of my recent discoveries is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called Delisheeeyo. I order the “Happy Wrap”–veggies wrapped in rice paper with an apple cider vinaigrette.

IMG_5780

The Happy Wrap with gluten-free rice paper at Delisheeeyo.

Pure Natural Market offers lots of Jamaican-influenced allergy-friendly options. I saw a new place called Healthy Habit out by the airport, which I hope to go to before we head back to Colorado Springs. We also now have a Kroger (42 Shelter Cove Lane) with a huge “health-food department” as well as a Whole Foods (50 Shelter Cove Lane). This makes it easy to pick up quick and safe meals for beach picnics.

It’s taken me many years–and many good and not-so-good experiences –to learn how to dine out safely.  If you have a tip for safe restaurant eating, or want to share a good or bad restaurant experience, please comment below.

“Eating Out: An Allergic Foodie Shares Strategies” first appeared at “Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.”

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

The smiling white-coated waiter glided up to our rooftop table and introduced himself as Paul.

“I understand there are some food allergies at this table,” Paul said,  handing  us leather-bound menus.

When I’d made the reservation for Watermark Restaurant in Nashville on Urban Spoon, I listed my son’s and my celiac disease as well as my allergies to soy and dairy. We were driving through Nashville on our way home to Colorado and wanted to have a special family dinner with our college boy. Watermark was on our bucket list of restaurants to try.

“I’ve gone over your food restrictions with the chef and I’ve marked what dishes have your allergens.” I looked down at the extensive menu where Paul had placed an X for not gluten-friendly and crossed out the items containing dairy. “Of course, we can also make accommodations, such as leaving off butter. And you don’t have to worry about soy here.”

The chef marked what I could and couldn't eat before I arrived

His words were music to An Allergic Foodie’s ears. I told him how much I appreciated his efforts. Little did he know I had recently had a terrible experience when a chef didn’t want to communicate with the waitstaff and didn’t take my food restrictions seriously. I actually think this demon chef, as I’ve come to call him, intentionally “poisoned” me by including allergens in my food.

After taking our drink orders, Paul then told me because we had decided to eat outside, he didn’t have our table. I panicked. I wanted Paul! The waiter who had done his homework to provide a complete stranger with a safe meal. We considered changing to an inside table, but after a day in the car driving for eight hours, we were enjoying the pleasant evening air.

Watermark Restaurant in Nashville

Paul returned with our drinks. “Well, looks like I’ll be your waiter after all.  The other waiter is uncomfortable with your food allergies.”

This was a first.  A waiter who fully admitted food allergies alarmed him. I appreciated the other waiter’s honesty, especially since it meant I got Paul back. I’ve often witnessed  a waiter’s anxiety over serving me, but I’ve never had someone pass the reigns to a waiter who was more experienced and comfortable with special dietary needs. Kudos to the waiter who didn’t want to serve me for the right reason–not because I was a pain in the neck, but because he wanted to keep my son and me safe.

Executive Chef Joe Shaw’s  food was heavenly. Each of our appetizers and main meals were a work of art and just as delicious as they looked.  For appetizers, Steve had pan-seared scallops with duck confit over a sweet potato puree and poultry demi glace. I had New Orleans style barbecue shrimp, and George had corn and duck egg custard with pan-seared foie gras.

Watermark Restaurant

Watermark uses a wood grill–absolutely no gas–that lended my main dish,  a Niman Ranch pork chop a mouth-watering hickory flavor. Even the rapini melted in my mouth. Steve had lamb on ratatouille and George had his usual ribeye though he said there was nothing usual about it.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

Since developing food allergies and celiac disease I’ve had more terrible experiences than good ones. But Paul gave me hope that there are those in the restaurant industry who do take my son’s and my health seriously–and who take pleasure in serving us.

Thank you, Paul, for renewing my faith.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Musings and Morsels 11-07-14

What a week! I spoke during the online Food Allergy Wellness Summit on a topic close to my heart: Living with food restrictions in college. As a nonfiction writer, I love to research and I read everything available to prepare for this interview. I have enough material to write a book! Well, at least a few blog posts.

I’d like to thank the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and Food Allergy Research and Education for providing PDFs of their college-related handouts. Also, my appreciation to Well Amy, Surf Sweets, and Carrie S. Forbes, author of The Everything Gluten Free College Cookbook, for generously donating giveaways for those who signed up to follow this blog. (A little bribery never hurts. Wink, wink.)  Lastly, kudos to Crystal Sabalaske of Cluttershrink for organizing this valuable summit to help families with food allergies and for including me with such an impressive list of speakers.

Musings and Morsels 11-07-14

Last night I grabbed a glass of wine and a Daiya pizza–by the way, the crust has been greatly improved!–and listened to NFCA’s webinar on Gluten-Free Labeling with Tricia Thompson, RD. She’s the dietitian behind Gluten Free Watchdog, which if you aren’t following you should be! I learned so much about the FDA’s gluten-free labeling rules and I’m going back today to re-listen. It’s a lot to digest (pun intended)!

Good News: NFCA will be providing the webinar on their website. so you can listen, too. Check here later today.

On a sad note, this week I also learned a nonprofit task force I’ve co-chaired with a good friend would be ending. For 12 years my friend and I provided support to high-risk pregnant mothers on bed rest in local hospitals. We’d both been on bed rest during our pregnancies, and I delivered a baby 12 weeks early. We were the substitute families for these women whose families weren’t always available (we live in a military community). It’s hard to have the door close on something we believed in so much.

But as the saying goes–when one door closes, another opens. I truly believe helping others with celiac disease, food allergies and EoE is my new calling. This blog is just the start. If you have ideas for how I can do more to help you, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Okay, enough musings–on to a few morsels!

As I’ve mentioned more than a few times here, I react to soy worse than any of my other allergens. So when I saw Soy Allergy Survivor’s helpful one-page soy list I immediately printed it. Because I have so many allergies including corn and dairy which can hide in many, many foods, I always appreciate guides like this one.

Musings and Morsels 11-07-14

Speaking of hidden allergens and labeling, which seems to be a theme this week, a new FDA consumer report, Finding Food Allergens Where They Shouldn’t Be, says the FDA is working to reduce undeclared allergens on labels by:  researching the causes of these errors; working with industry on best practices; and developing new ways to test for the presence of allergens. From September 2009 to September 2012, about one-third of foods reported to FDA as serious health risks involved undisclosed allergens. This is frightening, to say the least. You can help the FDA by reporting  food-allergic reactions to the FDA consumer complaint coordinator in your district. 

I’ll end with a little gossip. Who doesn’t like gossip? A little bird told me that the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference would be held in a different state than Nevada next year. Turns out it’s true! Pop on over to their Facebook page to learn more. If you aren’t familiar with FABlogCon, it’s a wonderful conference and opportunity to connect with the food allergy community and learn from experts. It’s for everyone–not just bloggers.  I, for one, am pretty excited about a new venue in a new state.  Come to think of it Colorado would be an excellent choice . . . hint, hint.

Musings and Morsels 11-07-14 first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Live Courageously with Food Allergies: Online Summit Nov. 3-6

Avoid eating those foods.

That’s the only direction the doctor gave me when I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies and celiac disease as an adult. Little did I know then that eliminating dairy, gluten, soy, corn, and many more foods from my diet would be as challenging as climbing Pikes Peak with a backpack full of rocks.

The first thing I did after leaving the doctor’s office was go grocery shopping. Big mistake. Reading the back of packages, looking for processed foods that didn’t contain dairy, soy, or gluten, tears streaked my face. Even the organic health foods in the special freezer section contained soy! What was I going to eat? How would I feed my family?

Then came my first meal out. By the time I eliminated all my allergens, I was left with steamed broccoli and applesauce.  I’ll never forget my first plane trip after diagnosis when I didn’t pack any safe food.  All I could find to eat in the airport was a bag of potato chips.

Food Allergy Wellness Summit

I was alone with my food restrictions and stressed and maybe even a bit depressed. In my circle of family and friends, I was the only one with “food issues.” I felt like an outsider at social events and family gatherings and became somewhat reclusive. These weren’t my best years.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Food Allergy Wellness Summit, Nov. 3-6, that Crystal Sabalaske of Cluttershrink started. A busy mom with a house full of food allergies, Crystal dreamed up this Summit as a way to help families like hers. The Summit is online and free, so you can listen to the topics that interest you at your convenience.

You’ll learn how to:

  • travel and navigate social situations while staying healthy
  •  save money while buying gluten-free and allergen-friendly foods
  • send your kids to school and college with the know-how to keep them safe
  • apply updated medical expertise to help you manage your food allergies
  • reduce food allergy-related stress in family, friendship, and romantic relationships
  • enhance your well-being through nutrition
  • cook and bake sans allergens
  • organize your kitchen into a giant “safe zone”

An Allergic Foodie will share tips for the college celiac on Nov. 6, 2014 during Food Allergy Wellness Summit

I’m humbled to be speaking about college life with food restrictions with such a prestigious group of food-allergy experts, including:

This Summit is the guidance I wish I’d have after hearing the doctor say, “Avoid eating those foods.”

Sign up TODAY.

An Allergic Foodie will share tips for the college celiac on Nov. 6, 2014 during Food Allergy Wellness Summit

FOOD ALLERGY WELLNESS SUMMIT: COLLEGE 101

My husband and I drove through Nashville this past weekend and stopped to have dinner with the college boy. You’ve heard me refer to our son often as the  “College Celiac.” Yes, he inherited his mom’s celiac genes, something we discovered after he left home and went far, far away. Actually, he believes the amount of wheat he ate during freshmen year–pizza, pasta, bagels, cookies–triggered his celiac. He’s probably right.

Over gluten-free appetizers, I asked my son if he ever cheated and ate a slice of pizza or a cookie. Okay, I was really wondering if he ever slipped up and had a beer at a party. Perhaps it was the dozen of red solo cups and the beer pong table in his rented house that made me wonder this.

“I’m never even tempted,” he said. “It’s not worth feeling stupid all week.”

Food Allergy Wellness Summit: College 101

My son’s worst celiac symptom is brainfog. Feeling lethargic and air-headed can obviously make learning and studying hard. Trying to adapt to college life is challenging enough without having to worry about eating the wrong foods and getting ill.

And oh how I hated those terrible middle-of-the-night phone calls when he was doubled over in pain. I wondered if it was truly a gluten reaction or if he had appendicitis or food poisoning. Should he go to the ER, or wait it out?

When  he ate in the school cafeterias, he got glutened often. We tried moving him to a suite with a kitchen and that proved to be even worse–the other boys left half-eaten pizza and breadcrumbs everywhere! Moving to a house last year helped, but he still keeps a toaster in his room and gluten-free foods under his bed.

We’ve both learned a lot in the last four years. So when I was asked to speak about our experience for the FOOD ALLERGY WELLNESS SUMMIT–a FREE ONLINE 4-day event with 12 food allergy experts–I jumped at the chance to help other parents and students about to embark on the college journey. There seems to be a wealth of information out there for younger kids with food allergies and celiac disease, but not so much for the high school and college student.

Surviving College with Food Allergies or Celiac

If you have a child with food allergies, or you are a high school student preparing for college, please join me on November 4 for “I Can’t Eat That: Living with Food Restrictions in College.” I’ll offer lots of advice on everything from choosing the right school to preparing to leave home to eating and socializing on campus.

After listening to my talk, you’ll  receive TWO FREE DOWNLOADS specific for college students from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and Food Allergy Research & Education. Plus you’ll have a chance to WIN THREE GREAT PRIZES  perfect for the college student: a $25 gift certificate to Well Amy; an assortment of treats free of the top ten allergens from Surf Sweets; and an autographed copy of The Everything Gluten-Free College Cookbook by Carrie S. Forbes.

An Allergic Foodie will share tips for the college celiac on Nov. 6, 2014 during Food Allergy Wellness Summit

SIGN UP FOR THE FOOD ALLERGY WELLNESS SUMMIT TODAY!

Food Allergy Wellness Summit: College 101 originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie

Food Allergies have many symptoms

We Didn’t All Grow Up with Food Allergies

Sitting at the hotel bar during a recent food allergy conference I was surprised–no, shocked– when two mothers of food-allergic children told me that adults shouldn’t need help coping with their allergies. They were wondering why I was at the conference. Now before you get angry, let me explain their side. They assumed all adults with food allergies had developed them as children. Hence, by adulthood, food-allergic folks should be experienced–physically and emotionally–at handling restrictions and reactions.

Imagine! I had no idea some people thought this way! Of course, I quickly took this opportunity to tell them how wrong they were.

I explained people can develop food allergies and celiac disease and other health issues requiring food restrictions at any time in life. I shared that my symptoms started in my late thirties, though it took nearly ten years to find out multiple food allergies, celiac disease, and eosinophilic esophagitis were the cause.

My kids ate everything–and I mean everything!–when they were little. Their food issues developed as teens. My oldest son realized dairy and eggs were off-limits in high school, and my youngest started showing signs of celiac disease his first year in college. I also mentioned one of my adult friends couldn’t eat dairy and gluten due to Crohn’s Disease and another developed life-threatening reactions to many foods in her thirties. Oh, and by the way, one of my favorite attendees at the conference was a spunky senior citizen with over 40 recently diagnosed food allergies and intolerances.

Adult with 40+ Allergies

After we were all on our second glass of wine, I may have suggested that getting diagnosed with food allergies as an adult may actually be more difficult than being diagnosed as a child. What I was trying to say is the food-allergic adults needed the conference as much as the parents of food-allergic kids did.  Figuring out all the foods containing soy, dairy, gluten and corn fell on my shoulders–I didn’t have mom and dad to guide me. My young adult sons taught themselves how to negotiate school cafeterias and participate in social activities with peers who didn’t get that food could make them horribly sick. My oldest even figured out how to eat dairy- and egg-free in Italy, the land of pizza and cheese.  After years of not needing to worry about allergy-friendly menus, or planes with peanuts, or explaining to family members why they couldn’t double-dip, becoming  “the weird person who can’t eat anything” is like being a foreigner in a new land–yet the doctors don’t offer any counseling.

I think the women were kind of tired of me by then. They wanted to get back to talking about preschools and camps. But this conversation opened my eyes to how some people may view adults with food allergies.  Will a waiter or chef who thinks I’ve managed celiac disease all my life  have a false sense of security that I know what I’m doing when ordering my food? Will my co-workers and friends not believe me when I become sick from food; after all, shouldn’t I know how to eat by now? My own mother doesn’t understand my health issues because I didn’t have food allergies as a child, so how can I expect strangers to understand?

Fortunately, there are those out there who do get it. The next few blog posts will focus on resources for teens and adults, starting with Erica Brahan’s “A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions: A Practical Guide to Keep from Going Crazy.” Gotta love the title.

Please be sure to let me know of any resources I miss. And remember, I do know how difficult a later-in-life diagnosis is–I am here to help.

We Didn’t All Grow Up with Food Allergies first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Sorry, Took a Few Sick Days

I came back from the 2014 Food Allergy and Research Conference armed with so many blog topics. I even started a post on the airplane ride home. I just couldn’t wait to share all the information from the presentations and the new products and resources from the vendors.

Then I got sick.

But not from food! Just a summer cold. But one that knocked me off my feet for three days. Have you noticed since food allergies/celiac disease that your autoimmune system doesn’t fight those germs off the way it used to?

It’s so hard to find cold medicine without gluten, dairy, egg, soy and corn, too.

Because I strive to be a helpful blogger and not just a whiner, here are two helpful websites for allergy-friendly medicine:

Gluten Free Drugs

Corn Free Drugs

The problem I have, like many of you reading this, is I have other allergies–soy, dairy, and egg–too. Couldn’t find lists for those; if you know of any, add them to the comments below.  I have to read the tiny labels on the back of the bottles–and when your head’s pounding like a Congo drum reading 4-pt type is impossible. The clerk at Natural Grocers was helpful at first, but then she kept backing away every time I sneezed. 

I came home with some weird sounding “meds” with even weirder sounding ingredients. I was so loopy from my cold that I drove into the garage door (don’t tell my husband). Guess I can get “brain fog” without ingesting gluten.

Anyway, the weird herbal stuff upset my stomach. So I sipped my Ginger tea with honey and that seemed to help.

And I slept and slept and slept. In between napping, I caught up on Orange Is the New Black, so my time wasn’t completely wasted. I can now admit I love Orange Is the New Black because Katie Couric says it’s one of her favorite shows, too.

My mom kept telling me to eat chicken soup–but our refrigerator was empty because I’d been at a conference all weekend! Where’s Mom when you need her? In Vermont, thousands of miles away.

I’m feeling much better today. So don’t give up on me–I’ll be sharing all that great info in the days to come.

I just needed a few sick days. Plus, as my husband likes to remind me, a few days off isn’t going to impact my paycheck. What a funny guy.

Sorry, Took a Few Sick Days first appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.