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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

A Hurricane Hit Home

I was a hurricane neophyte. That’s why last Tuesday I was shopping at Home Goods on Hilton Head Island, oblivious to the reports that Hurricane Matthew was heading our way. When I called a friend from the parking lot to see if she wanted to take a walk on the beach later, the tone of her voice told me I needed to take this category-four hurricane seriously. Trying to remember what I’d read about hurricane preparations, I headed to Whole Foods for food. After all, I am a foodie.

Try to think of allergy-friendly foods you can eat that don’t need an oven, a stovetop, or a microwave. Now think of some that don’t require refrigeration. Not easy, huh? I came home with a bunch of perishables and canned goods. I forgot the water. I would have been really hungry and thirsty after a few days.

By the time I unpacked my canned tuna and apples, the South Carolina governor was ordering mandatory evacuation My husband was away on business so it was up to me to secure our outside furniture, pack our clothes and our dog Zoe’s food and toys, load up the car with our computers and important papers, and turn off the gas and water. Wanting to avoid traffic, Zoe and I left at 5 a.m. on Wednesday (evacuation was 3 p.m.). My heart raced a little when I saw how many cars were waiting in long lines at gas stations. This was the real thing.

During the five and a half hour drive to Atlanta I thought of all the things I should have packed and questioned whether I’d locked all the doors. Should I have unplugged all the appliances? I kept thinking about the rotisserie chicken I’d forgotten in the refrigerator that would spoil and smell should the power go off.  But I told myself not to worry: I was certain I’d only be gone a few days.  Hurricane Matthew  would stay off the coast and pass by our beloved island  as so many other hurricanes had over the years.

I was a hurricane neophyte.

My husband met me at a hotel in Atlanta (we couldn’t get reservations any closer). Ever the optimist, he reserved three nights.

Thinking this was an opportunity to review some Atlanta restaurants, I messaged a fellow foodie from Atlanta for some recommendations (reviews to come). Truthfully, after watching the Weather Channel 24/7 and seeing the devastation Hurricane Matthew was causing to Florida coasts, we weren’t all that hungry. I bought some peanut butter and bananas for my hotel breakfast and Zoe and I nibbled on turkey and ham throughout the day.

Our vacation home is in Sea Pines, the oldest of the Hilton Head communities founded in 1957.  Our children learned to ride bikes on the packed sand of the five-mile beach and to swim in the pools of the houses we rented. After many years of summer vacations there, we took the plunge and bought a house.  Over a year ago, with our children now adults and retirement approaching, we sold the first and bought another closer to the beach. We’d just finished remodeling and decorating and were looking forward to Colorado friends arriving on October 12 for our member-guest golf tournament. They anxiously watched the Weather Channel, too. “Hilton Head has been lucky so far,” I told them.

Sea Pines Beach: Before Hurricane Matthew

Sea Pines Beach: Before Hurricane Matthew

Our security system notified us we lost power at 4:05 a.m. on Saturday, October 8.  We learned later that morning that Hurricane Matthew, downgraded to hurricane-2, hovered over Hilton Head from about 2  a.m. to 5 a.m.  While the Weather Channel reported on Savannah and Charleston, no reporters shared news about our inaccessible island. By Saturday afternoon, folks who’d stayed hunkered down during the storm shared photos on social media of massive pines, palmettos, and live oaks crossing roadways like a child’s game of pickup sticks. Soon we’d learn Sea Pines had been hit the hardest. The worst had really happened.

Of course we were concerned about our house, but ours was newer and built to withstand a hurricane’s wrath. Ours was a second home and didn’t contain our cherished belongings or irreplaceable keepsakes (except for the preserved and mounted shark my husband and children had caught). What we did worry about was our older neighbor who had stayed in a ground-level house without a cell phone. We worried about our beloved landmarks, including the “Liberty Oak” in Harbour Town where our children heard Greg Russell sing and where the founder of Sea Pines Charles E. Fraser is buried.  The golf courses and the piers could be rebuilt, but not that tree. We worried about our friends who had to stay evacuated while we returned to our primary residence.

Live Oaks line the roads in Sea Pines

Live Oaks lining a Sea Pines road before the storm

On Saturday evening we took a direct flight back to Colorado Springs. Not knowing if it would be two days or two weeks for cleanup, we didn’t want to stay in a hotel room watching the Weather Channel any longer.

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I’m posting this on Tuesday, October 11. It’s amazing what the first responders, the cleanup crews, law enforcement, the community organizations, utilities, and others have accomplished in three days. Evacuees have returned to the island. While not encouraged to go back to Sea Pines because of the safety risks, residents are now allowed back on. According to our security system texts, our power has gone on and then off again several times.  We still don’t know if we have water, nor do we  know anything about our home’s condition. What we do know is our neighbor is safe, and the Liberty Oak is standing strong among massive amounts of debris. We’ve seen heart-wrenching photos of enormous trees on roofs, of golf courses and parking lots under water, and we’ve seen the worried faces of distraught people, including a boat captain whose boat was destroyed. How will he make a living now?

We’ve been told had Hurricane Matthew stayed a category-4 our beloved island would be gone. So while we incurred massive destruction, we are fortunate to have an island to return to. My husband and I along with Zoe will return as soon as it’s safe (I’m particularly worried about the alligators and the snakes who were displaced!). While we are sometimes referred to as “part-timers” by the locals and the full-timers who have retired on Sea Pines, I have a feeling we’ll come together to restore the island we all love.

And I’ll tell you this: I’ll always pay attention during hurricane season. I am no longer a hurricane neophyte.

You may also enjoy a previous post about Hilton Head.

A Hurricane Hit Home” originally appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Allergic Foodie Goes to the Farmers’ Market

For the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging, beaching, biking—as well as food shopping, cooking and dining–in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, one of my favorite places in the world. If you’ve never been here, close your eyes and imagine expansive blue skies, long sandy beaches, and breathtaking sunsets.

Sunset at SPCC

Now picture yourself hopping on your beach bike–mine is bright pink–and joining me and my friend Edna as we pedal down to the local famers’ market in Sea Pines Center.

You should know by now that this allergic foodie never passes up a local farmers’ market!  Never know what you’ll discover. . . like this guy wearing the lobster hat!

lobster guy

Yes, I know, there’s wheat in those lobster rolls he’s serving, not to mention I overheard “Joe” from Joe Loves Lobster say he dribbled butter on top of the lobster. Just those two ingredients would send me to bed for a week.

However, I can guarantee you my husband will be stopping by Joe’s next Tuesday. We don’t get lobster rolls in Colorado. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can reinvent the lobster roll—free of wheat and dairy, of course.

After passing on the handcrafted goat’s milk soap (ingredients include soybean oil!), Edna and I spoke to a talented artist named Nancy Mitchell who happens to be the mother of not one but two local musicians we’ve followed for years, Steppin’ Stones and Luke Mitchell.  How about that!

Never know what you’ll discover . . .

At the end of the shopping plaza, we met Matt Frommer, the owner of Frommer’s Natural Foods.  Okay, so the cool guy in sunglasses wanted to know why this not-so-cool lady was taking photos of his booth.

Wasn’t it obvious?

Frommer's Natural Foods

I asked Matt why no gluten, expecting he or someone in his family had a wheat allergy or celiac disease.  Matt said he simply wanted to make the healthiest product he could.  (A side note:  Matt uses Bob’s Red Mill GF Oats and wasn’t aware of the recent brouhaha concerning Bob’s GF products being tested and containing gluten. He knows now.)

Matt Frommer

Matt Frommer of Frommer’s Natural Foods

Since the granola bars contained vanilla, one of my oh-so-many allergies, I set them aside for my GF son who’s coming to visit next week.  The GF Orange Agave Granola sans vanilla will probably have disappeared by then.

It’s a pleasure to meet someone like Matt, a young chef and entrepreneur with a desire to make simple healthful food. The food allergy/celiac disease community need more like him.

Never know what you’ll discover at the local farmers’ market.