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.”

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie

Flashback Tuesday: I’m enjoying the holidays with my family as I hope you are. This post appeared last year. The appetizers from my friend’s party were a hit. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays to you and your family.

It took another Amy–my friend Amy Brown–to teach me it’s okay to serve your nonallergic guests allergy-friendly foods.

Maybe it comes from having a husband who has yet to embrace gluten-free, dairy-free foods (to be fair, he doesn’t have to) that makes me think everyone else will feel the same way he does: Not going to try it if  I don’t have to.

So I often go to the trouble of serving “regular” food at our social gatherings. A few years ago when we moved into our new home, I hosted a potluck open house where everyone brought an appetizer.  As you might guess, there was very little for me to eat.

Then last year I hosted a holiday cookie exchange. I figured this was a fun way for my kids and my husband to get treats without me having to touch a stick of butter or sift flour. Ironically, it was over Christmas break last year that my younger son realized gluten was making him sick and my oldest son gave up everything dairy.

So when this holiday season came around,  I decided to skip hosting a party. With our sons home, I just didn’t want to have foods around that they couldn’t enjoy.  And frankly, I didn’t want to do all the work of preparing both allergy-free and regular foods.

Then I went to Amy Brown’s party.  Take a look at this table of yummy appetizers:

Delicious appetizers for an allergic foodie

Photo by Amy Brown

 

The food was incredible!  Amy and her husband, Brandon, follow a “Whole30” diet, eliminating grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes. This made many of the appetizers free of  gluten, soy, and dairy!  They did include some macaroni and cheese the kids devoured and deviled eggs that my husband devoured.

My favorite appetizer was incredibly simple: A BLT on a toothpick!

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomatoe Appetizer

Photo by Amy Brown

 

Then there were these adorable olive penguins.

Gluten-free treats

And the zucchini wrapped around sausage with pesto and olive oil were fabulous.

Delicious sausage/zuchinnin wraps

Photo by Amy Brown

 

Amy also made several types of dips, including one with eggplant and red peppers that she found at She Cooks . . . He Cleans  (recipe follows). I’m not a big fan of eggplant, but I’ll be making this dip soon.  I eat a lot of veggies and hummus, so–cover your ears, Amy–I wasn’t that excited to try the black bean hummus. But I did, and it was delish!

And who wouldn’t want to eat their veggies when presented this way?

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Amy also served the gluten-free crackers on a separate plate and labeled them!

None of the guests seemed to notice the appetizers were “different” or “allergy-free” or “gluten-free.”  The food was just good . . . actually, better than good.  And oh so cute.

Roasted Egg Plant and Red Pepper Dip

(Note this recipe includes sesame seeds)

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded
  • 4 garlic cloves, whole, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (to start with…)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • juice of one lemon
  • lots more good extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the eggplant up into 1-inch square pieces.  (Before cutting, I like to take off some of the skin in stripes around the eggplant.  Up to you.)   Cut the red bell peppers into 1 inch strips.  Toss the eggplant, peppers, and garlic in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and several grindings of pepper.

Spread the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing once during cooking, until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place the vegetables in a food processor; add the tahini, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, and another glug (or two) of olive oil.  Process in pulses until blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Try to avoid over-processing or it will become paste-like in texture.)

Drizzle with more olive oil on top, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic FoodieRoasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Dip originally appeared at She Cooks . . . He Cleans.  Thank you to Amy Brown for sharing these treats and photos.

TSA Took My Lunch! Airports and Food Allergies

As I watched TSA swab my jar of peanutbutter, I thought back to the good old days–not the days before Sept 11 when airplane security was less rigorous, but back to the good old days when I didn’t have food allergies and celiac disease.  My biggest concern before becoming An Allergic Foodie was what shoes to pack. Now, I begin hyperventilating while making an airline reservation. What will I eat it? Where will I eat? What if I have a reaction? Should I just stay home with the dog?

I made many ignorant mistakes in my early days of traveling through airports with allergies.  Let me share a few.

Mistake #1. “Surely, I’ll find something in the airport to eat.”

Wrong. I’ve wandered through some of the largest airports in the U.S. and come up with zilch. Too many times I’ve drooled over my husband’s burger or pizza slice while eating a bag of potato chips and an overripe banana. On occasion I’ve hit the jackpot and found a restaurant with a menu I can eat off, but this is like finding a four-leaf clover in a field of dandelions.

Now I always carry a lunchbox with me and keep it by my side as if it’s full of diamonds. The plastic salad bowls with built-in ice packs are great for chicken salad and quinoa salad. I fill snack-sized bags with carrots, sliced peppers, and apple slices to replace the standard airplane pretzels.

Snacks for the airplane

Mistake #2:  “Peanutbutter is not a liquid.”

My husband travels every week for business and he even thought peanutbutter wouldn’t count as a liquid.  But it did.  Because it was the only protein I had with me, we allowed TSA to swab a spoonful. Now I know that if  I want to take peanutbutter, or applesauce, or yogurt, it must be under 3.4 ounces and placed in a plastic bag.

Mistake #3: “I’m starving! I’ll take a chance.”

It was midnight and there was only one restaurant open. Having to use sign language wasn’t making me feel too confident that the waiter understood “no dairy, no soy, no wheat.”  In retrospect, being hungry for another few hours would have been better than what happened next.

Mistake #4: “It’s a short trip; I’ll eat when I get there.”

Yeah, how many of your short trips have turned into 12-hour ordeals? And being irritable from low blood sugar and a grumbling stomach does not help one negotiate with the ticket agent. Don’t just bring one ham sandwich on gluten-free bread–bring two.  Statistically, you can pretty  much count on a flight being delayed.

United Snackpack

Snackpack from United Airlines: The only food An Allergic Foodie could eat was the hummus

Mistake #5:  “I ordered a special meal.”

We were going to Italy and I ordered a gluten-free/lactose-free meal, thinking there’d be something I could eat. What I didn’t know is that airlines can only put one code in for a meal: GFML for gluten-free meal and NLML for non-lactose meal.  There may have been a vegan option too, but those always scare me because I’m allergic to tofu (soy).

Somehow I got neither meal–maybe the two codes cancelled each other out? The flight attendants felt horrible and kept bringing me apples and bananas.  Fortunately, I had frozen some allergy-free turkey and ham with me that I nibbled on throughout the long flight. Beware:  You’ll have to throw away any food you take with you when you enter another country so eat it before you get off the plane.

Mistake #6: “Sure, I’ll have a second glass of wine.”

Hey, I got upgraded and the wine was free. I just couldn’t eat any of the foods in the snack pack. Actually the hummus was allergen-free for me, but my seat mate gave me the evil eye when I tried squirting it into my mouth. Eating wine on an empty stomach is never a good idea.

I’ve been traveling for six years now with food restrictions and it has gotten easier. Airports are offering healthier options including gluten-free menus, though I’m not sure how confident I am about the service folks being aware of  cross-contamination issues. Allergy-friendly snacks have started appearing in the convenience stores, too.

At the recent Food Allergy Research and Education conference, I had the opportunity to hear Kim Koeller of  Allergy Free Passport, share some tips for airline travel, staying in hotels and dining out with dietary restrictions.  She says, “There are three keys to safe travel and dining out: education, communication, and preparation.”

To learn more about traveling safely with celiac disease and food allergies, visit Kim’s website: Allergy Free Passport and check out her popular series “Let’s Eat Out Around the World Gluten and Allergy Free.”

TSA Took My Lunch! Airports and Food Allergies first appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

The Masters and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

I went to the Tuesday practice round of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA this week.  It was exciting to see a few of the players I’ve been watching on TV for years as well as the notable and beautiful golf course.

And I’d read and heard so much about the food.

You had to know this would be about the food and not the golf, right?

Concessions at The Masters

Augusta National is famous for its $1.50 egg salad sandwiches and pimento cheese sandwiches served at the tournament. (I wonder if they charge so little so you won’t feel so bad about forking over $100 for a golf shirt later on?).  Having celiac disease and being allergic to dairy, I knew I wouldn’t get to eat either of these sandwiches and I bought along my own gluten-free ham sandwich.

Here’s the thing that surprised me though: The only healthful and non-wheat food choices were bananas and fruit cups (and I couldn’t even eat the fruit cups because they contained pineapple!).  The one food I could eat was a trusty bag of Cape Cod potato chips with this impressive packaging.

The only food an allergic foodie could eat at The Masters

For Eaters of Everything, there were mini moon pies, cookie sandwiches with Georgia peach ice cream in the center, caramel popcorn, and lots and lots of candy.

Hard to eat at The Masters if you have celiac disease and/or food allergies

Yup, it was all junk food. (I’d use another word but my  husband is afraid we’ll be banned from future tournaments if I do.)

Doesn’t it seem odd that an athletic event only served junk? Even baseball and football stadiums are offering gluten-free hotdogs and buns and salads these days.

DSC00173

I’m guessing at Augusta National, it’s all about tradition. People expect the pimento cheese sandwich and the mini moon pies. I get it.

But at an event that requires miles of walking and hours of standing, most of the spectators could probably use a little protein pick-me-up instead of a sugar rush.

Here’s the other thing that surprised me: I didn’t feel like I was missing out–even when my husband said the egg salad was really good. The old me would have been sad and maybe a little angry that she didn’t get to taste it. The new me really could care less.

Somewhere along the way, a switch has flipped.

I’m okay with “missing out,” especially when I know the food will make me sick. Really, really sick.

This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked something besides a bag of chips.

After being a men-only golf club for 80 years, Augusta National invited two women to join, so maybe, just maybe, adding a salad with grilled chicken to the concessions isn’t too far off.

The Masters and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

From an Allergic Foodie

To Eaters of Everything from an Allergic Foodie

Dear Eaters of Everything,

I remember what it was like to be you.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I sipped my Starbucks soy latte while nibbling on a blueberry muffin, waiting for my kids to finish their guitar lessons. On shopping excursions, I picked up a fast-food salad without worrying about the croutons or the shredded cheese or the dressing with soy oil.  During football games, I ate deep-fried chicken wings not once considering what else had been fried in the fryer.  At movies, I shared buttered popcorn with my husband.  I even munched on prepackaged cookies–without reading the label!

From an Allergic Foodie

Some people can eat whatever they want.

Once upon a time, not so long ago,  I was also intolerant of people with “food issues.”

(Please don’t hate me my dear readers who have very real food issues, but it’s time I come clean.)

I, An Allergic Foodie, once rolled my eyes when my girlfriend passed on the bacon-wrapped melon appetizer because melon made her “tongue feel funny.” I believed people who were lactose intolerant just didn’t like the taste of milk. I thought my sister-in-law who ate only organic veggies and fruits and grass-fed meats was a pain in the neck.  I thought my friend who was constantly running to one doctor after another for stomach pain was a little bit of a hypochondriac.

Payback is hell.

Dear Eaters of Everything, while I certainly don’t wish you any harm, someday your stomach may betray you just as mine did.  I was well into my life when I developed multiple food allergies, celiac disease, and eosinophilic esophagitis. On top of that, my youngest son also developed celiac disease and my oldest son started reacting severely to dairy.

I had to learn a whole new way of grocery shopping, preparing foods, ordering out, reading labels.  I studied nutrition, the gastrointestinal system, and naturopathic medicine.

Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is tough when your allergic of wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, corn, etc. (Photo credit: Bruce A Stockwell)

As I said, payback is hell.

But as I became informed, something wonderful happened.  I became empathetic to those with food issues. And that’s why I am writing to you, Eaters of Everything.  I don’t want your lack of information to cause you to be  intolerant to those with food-related illnesses.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Please recognize and accept that some foods make some people sick.  And so, when we take ten minutes to order in restaurants, we are being picky eaters for a reason. When we eat in your homes, we are not trying to cause you extra work in the kitchen–we’re just trying to stay healthy. Sometimes, we are trying to save ourselves or a family member (or you)  a trip to the emergency room.  Don’t be afraid to ask us questions. We don’t expect you to know all the ingredients where allergens hide, or how to keep foods from being contaminated.  We don’t mind explaining our special food needs; we want–no, we need–you to understand.

Eaters of Everything, thank you for taking the time to read this.  I wish you continued good health.

Happy Eating!

An Allergic Foodie

Some of my other posts you may like:

Celiac Disease Wasn’t a Part of the College Plan

I’m a Picky Eater. And Proud of It!

Living Life with Food Challenges

To Eaters of Everything from An Allergic Foodie originally appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Friends gathered for Friendsgiving

Friendsgiving without the Turkey

Last weekend I hosted my first Friendsgiving. According to Urban Dictionary, Friendsgiving is “the celebration of Thanksgiving dinner with your friends. This usually occurs on the Wednesday before or the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, since Thanksgiving is usually reserved for family gatherings.”

I’m sorry but who wants to eat turkey and stuffing before Thanksgiving?  And personally, I don’t want to serve my leftovers to my friends.  Maybe when I was in my twenties, but not now.

Thanks to an idea from Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, I hosted a Friendsgiving with untraditional Thanksgiving dishes.  In part, this was because I used the wonderful Udi’s foods  mailed to me in a meal for a bedridden woman with celiac disease.

Friendsgiving

Thank you Udi’s for helping a woman with celiac disease this Thanksgiving!

Of course, being an allergic foodie, everything I served was free of gluten, soy, dairy, and corn–and if I do say so myself, it was all delicious!

Friendsgiving

I had as much fun researching the recipes as I did following them!  Thank you to Oprah and Rachael Ray for the Pomegranate Martini Recipe, Garnish with Lemon for the Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese recipe, Simply Blissful Life for the slow-cooked carrots recipe, Udi’s Thanksgiving Recipes for inspiring the Cranberry Granola Crisp, and for my husband for picking out the wine.  I’ll be posting my slow-cooked short ribs recipe next week as it’s one of my family’s favorites.

I think Friendsgiving will become a new tradition in our house (thank you, Udi’s!).

Friendsgiving without the Turkey first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Aside

A Rash Decision

Yesterday I decided to take care of this annoying rash on my face and neck that’s been plaguing me for quite some time.  Why now?  Well, I’ll be attending the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference this weekend and I didn’t want to look like I’d forgotten to take off my Halloween mask.

The ironic thing is this conference is full of people with ALLERGIES.  A rash looks perfectly normal to them.  But you know, a girl likes to look good.

Went to the doctor’s and got a prescription. First pharmacy didn’t have the ointment in stock so had to drive across town to another pharmacy and wait an hour.

Then the lady at the counter looked me in the eye and said, “Did your doctor tell you how much this was going to cost?”  Never a good sign.

Image

Yep, you’re reading that right.  $166 for that tiny little tube that’s the size of cement glue!  By the way, I have “good” health insurance;  makes you wonder what I’d pay if I had “bad” health insurance.

Next I headed off to Walgreens to replace some old makeup that might be irritating my skin and to take a look at some recommended sensitive skin products. Anna at Walgreens was incredibly knowledgeable.  $100 later I was back in my car.

Image

Good news is my face is already looking better. Bad news is I spent more than the airline ticket to Las Vegas cost.

If you’ll be at the conference, please introduce yourself!  If you’re not going, I’ll be live blogging during and after the sessions … after all, I have no money left for gambling.

Related Post from An Allergic Foodie

A Tribute to Food Allergy Bloggers

“A Rash Decision” originally appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.