Saturday, March 19, 2011

5 Months Gluten Free

How time flies! Fortunately, I think time has gone by quickly because I've been feeling so good. It's good timing because I've been working 12 hour days at work/school all semester, but miraculously I have the energy to keep going, even after giving up caffeine!

Let's see... to recap, I have ventured into restaurants since the 3 month mark. First I treaded carefully, ordering only from places that have very good gluten policies and special gluten free menus. Slowly, I've been moving into other restaurants, with some more successfully than others. I had In N Out Burger a few weeks ago, and was amazing! I ordered the "protein style burger", which is bunless and wrapped in lettuce. I told them I had a wheat allergy and they announced it to the staff, who carefully separated my order and changed gloves before preparing it. Recently, I've been re-incorporating dairy into my diet, which makes me very, very happy. In fact, I had my first gluten-free pizza last night! We went to Barro's, whose owner has family with Celiac disease. Gotta love the influence family can have on a business. It was pretty good! I was just happy to eat anything resembling pizza. The patience with dairy seems to have paid off, because at least in small amounts, I have no problem whatsoever. I never could have thought I'd be so improved after less than 6 months.

We just got back from Maui for our (very) belated honeymoon. The best advice I've heard about traveling is to either pack lots of food just in case or to stay in a condo with a kitchen. We opted for a condo, which saved us a lot of money in addition to reducing stress because we didn't need to buy prepared meals 3 times a day. I think the best meals we had were those we just threw together using local fish or beef from the island and grilling it. We enjoyed mahi mahi, ahi tuna, sweet okinawa potatoes (they're purple... my favorite color AND my favorite food!), and tons of fresh papaya, mango, pineapple and apple bananas. As for restaurants, we opted for inexpensive places, which are notoriously more difficult and clueless. So I'd suggest paying extra to eat at the fancy restaurants to get safer food, and calling ahead, which would have been smart!

The first night, we went over to Beach Bums in Ma'alea, which was a couple blocks from our condo. According to my husband, they had delicious BBQ chicken. Sadly for me, they had no clue what ingredients were in the BBQ and the person who actually makes it wasn't there that night. So I ordered a salad with grilled Mahi Mahi, and asked that they check the ingredients in the salad dressing. What I FORGOT to do was ask them to grill the fish on a clean pan and not to season it at all. I ended up with some cross contamination symptoms the next day, but fortunately for me that ended up being just some moderate stomach pains.

The places where I had successful experiences were at a sushi restaurant (I brought my own soy sauce packets) and Vietnamese food (I had pho, which is supposed to be naturally gluten free if made traditionally). We tried going to the Kahului Ale House, which was one of the few places on the island with gluten free options (pizza crust, wraps, etc). When we walked in, we asked the hostess about their gluten-free options. She looked at me like I had two heads. Turns out the restaurant is under a new owner and no longer even knows what gluten is. Such a shame. I tried to plaster the internet with comments about the restaurant that it is no longer gluten free.

 Our last full day there, we went to Cheeseburger in Paradise in Lahaina, which said they could serve me a gluten free meal if I ordered a cheeseburger without the bun, and fruit salad instead of fries (apparently most fries on the island use seasoning mix that includes flour to keep them crispy). Again, I sort of made a silly mistake. They served me a side of thousand island dressing, which comes spread on all the hamburgers. My guess is there were plenty of crumbs in the dressing from all the knives spreading it on buns over and over again. Like clockwork, 12 hours later I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night with stomach pains and a racing heart. Similarly to many people, my body gets sort of amped up when it's exposed to gluten. It feels as if my immune system is calling "all hands on deck!", which isn't exactly convenient at 1am. Nonetheless, it's tolerable, and seems to pass in a few hours. I think I'll survive.

Our last day, we went on a 6 1/2 hour snorkeling/whale/dolphin cruise through the Pacific Whale Foundation. I called ahead (the only time I did this the whole trip, silly me!), and they assured me they would ask the caterer for a gluten free meal. They served breakfast and lunch on the boat, and I was skeptical they would have anything I could eat. I was partially wrong, fortunately. For breakfast, they served fruit, bagels and muffins. So I ate the fruit and some rice cakes I packed. At lunch, I told them I was the gluten free person and they excitedly pulled out freshly grilled chicken breasts. Turns out the caterer sent them 15 breasts for just one person! The staff were happy because they got to eat the extras. They grilled the meat separate from the other food, and called me down first to get mine before they opened up the buffet. I ate it with sliced veggies, which was pretty good. Although I was sad that the only side they had was pasta salad. Oh well. Avi tasted some of mine and said mine was actually better than the regular grilled chicken. They were the only people on our trip who seemed to handle the gluten-free situation appropriately. To be fair, though, it was probably the only time I handled the situation appropriately as well...

So I was glutened twice on the trip...and yet I barely noticed. Being exposed to gluten wasn't as nightmarish as I thought it might be. In fact, it didn't get in the way of any of our plans. That said, I don't plan to go eat a slice of bread anytime soon. But it's good to know I can at least work on being better at ordering in restaurants and be "normal". It's certainly a steep learning curve. I think the hardest challenge for me is being okay with taking a lot of time to explain exactly what I need to my server. I hate being difficult, but I guess I can always make up for it with good tipping.

The next venture to prepare for might be a little more challenging... going to a conference in Montreal. My guess is it's a very gluten-free-friendly city, but I'll be busy and with other people the whole time. I requested a fridge for our room and will either find a grocery store once I get there or pack some of my own bread, etc. for the trip. That will be a good test. Fortunately, I'm getting more confident and healthier every day.

1 comment:

  1. This is probably too late, but if you go back to Montreal with a few people, you should check out L'Appartement Hotels. They are pretty affordable and the suites have a full kitchen and dining table (plus separated bedrooms). Also, the city's Chinatown is chock full of pho. Glad to hear you're feeling healthier and venturing out!