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.”

Cookies from Goldilocks Goodies

An Allergic Foodie Finds a “Just Right” Cookie

It’s not often an allergic foodie gets to eat a treat. Not often at all.

If I’m eating out, a restaurant may offer me sorbet–please no mango or pineapple or I’ll break out in hives–or a bowl of berries. A dessert cup of berries costs more than a pint at the store, so I usually smile sweetly and say, “I’m too full for dessert.”

I am never too full for dessert.

So imagine my happiness when these allergy-friendly cookies arrived on my doorstep!

A Sweet Treat for an Allergic Foodie

They arrived two weeks before my birthday, so I decided to save them for a birthday treat.

This was hard. Really, really hard.

But here’s the thing. Not only do I have celiac disease and allergies to dairy, soy, and corn, I also cannot eat vanilla, nutmeg and guar gum. Oh and yeast seems to be a problem lately. (Actually, yeast has been a problem for a long time, but I have a tiny bit of a problem with denial.)  All these allergens are common in gluten-free and “allergy-friendly” processed baked goods.

For an allergic foodie, the words “No Top 8” does not mean the cookies are “Allergy Friendly.”

Goldilocks Goodies Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip cookies have FIVE ingredients. FIVE!  I didn’t have to scan the package for words like “maltodextrin” or “food starch.”  (Do note, however, if you have a peanut allergy, these aren’t for you.)

So I thought, how can a cookie stay together and taste good with just five ingredients?

I ate one. Okay I ate them all–it was my birthday. OMG, these are so gooooood.  I’m a Vermont girl, so I love the maple syrup flavor. The Himalayan sea salt gives the cookies a grown-up taste. Of course, I don’t know any kids who wouldn’t like them, too.

Lately, my husband has been into eating chocolate bars with almonds and sea salt while I drool, so I am really thrilled to now have something I can moan over and not give him a bite (we have issues; see my last post).

Besides having awesome cookies and other baked goods like Whoopie Pies, Goldilocks Goodies is a really cool small company. Emily Robins, the chief baker and founder, comes from a long line of bakers including her grandmother who singlehandedly rolled out nine pie crusts during harvest season to bake pies for the farm hands. Wow.

A Sweet Treat

Founder and Chief Chef of Goldilocks Goodies Emily Robins (right) with her mother

Emily went gluten free six years ago to help with the symptoms associated with Lyme Disease (celiac disease also runs in the family).  While going gluten free helped her feel better, she couldn’t find a cookie that wasn’t “grainy, too processed, and full of artificial ingredients.”  Like Goldilocks, Emily searched and searched for a cookie that was “just right.” Emily and I have a lot in common.

Discouraged, Emily began baking her own gluten-free cookies. She says, “My passion for baking was started because of my love of eating.”  Did I mention Emily and I have a lot in common?

As an allergic foodie, I believe it’s important for those of us with food restrictions to support the small companies like this one who are dedicated to making food we can eat safely. Without them, there’d be no cookies for an allergic foodie, and that would be sad. Really, really sad.

You can read all about Goldilocks Goodies here. The business is in Lancaster County,  PA but baked goods–did I mention they have WHOOPIE PIES?–can also be found in Virginia, Maryland and the DC area.  Some baked goods can be ordered online, too.

An Allergic Foodie Finds a “Just Right” Cookie originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.