The hiatus in my blogging this Fall was the result of several trips: ones to San Francisco and Phoenix in October and the mother of them all— a 10-day Mediterranean Cruise in November. The photo above is yours truly at Santorini, a Greek Island.
I thought since my last GF travel blog sparked some interest that I would update it with my more current experiences. Most of them were good—some not so much. My little weekend jog to San Francisco for a Naginata seminar was easy and good as I stayed with my sensei and she and I prepared gluten-free pasta salad to take with us to the seminar for lunch. It was such a hit that we shared it with several other people (also we made way too much!). Breakfasts were rice cakes with peanut butter as we stayed with yet another friend in San Jose where the seminar was and there wasn't much time for food prep. Dinners were at Chinese and Japanese restaurants in San Jose. I approached the Chinese one with trepidation, fearing all I would eat was a bowl of rice and steamed vegetables sans sauce. How wrong I was. This little hole-in-the-wall place (Bo Town) was wonderful. They didn't have wheat-free soy sauce, but they made several suggestions about things I could have which included a corn-egg soup, a whole steamed fish with vegetables, etc. There was one other person in our group who needed to eat gluten-free and we certainly did not starve. Similar situation at the Japanese restaurant in San Jose's Japantown (I think it was Minato). No wheat-free soy, but a friend ducked into a grocery store nearby and grabbed some bean sauce that was wheat free that we used as a substitute. Then I did sushi and rice for the rest.
Phoenix was even better. We were staying in a resort that had condos so I could have a kitchen and we discovered the Phoenix Whole Foods right away and stocked up on fruits and veggies, tofu, soy milk and a couple of things to make dinners. Breakfasts were tofu scrambles for the most part or cottage cheese fruit and brown rice bread. I also brought a little GF rolled oats with me to make oatmeal. We didn't eat in the whole time, though. I discovered a great restaurant in Scottsdale: Bloom. Fantastic food and service. The decor is very contemporary. Fusion cuisine. They went out of their way to make sure I had not only safe, but delicious food. Would definitely go back.
We were staying near a JW Marriott Hotel which has 5-6 restaurants and we tried 3 of them: Blue Sage Cafe where we had lunch a couple times and Meritage Steakhouse and Ristorante Tuscany. They were all good and all were happy to deal with my gluten and other food issues. The best of the three was definitely the Tuscany. We saved it for our last night and the chef, Brian Archibald came out to meet me and go over my food sensitivities with me. Everything there is made to order and they really took care of me. This was one of the best experiences I have ever had dining out gluten free. They even had warm GF bread for the bread basket (from a local GF bakery - Gluten Free Creations) they made GF pasta with a fresh tomato sauce for a pasta dish and I had shrimp scampi to die for. My entree had sauce too...no naked food that night. It was like being a normal person again and for that I thank them from the bottom of my foodie heart. For all the Marriott restaurants, I booked online and told them ahead of time about my gluten issues, so they were well prepared. I also used my restaurant card with my food allergies listed on it.
Ok., so that was the good, or most of it, anyway. Having had such wonderful experiences and after my previous good experience flying American Airlines and ordering a gluten-free meal, I was expecting a similar good trip to Europe, especially since we flew in Business Class this time. Unfortunately, my good luck did not extend to the trip on AA. Business Class is definitely nice and the seat, the leg room, all the pampering...no complaints there. Imagine my heartbreak while everyone else was dining on their choice of three entrees, starters, salad, etc. I am served an overcooked overseasoned (to the point where it was inedible) but gluten free meal. It was more like spicy mush, to tell the truth. If if weren't for the seasoning, I would pass it off on the flight attendants overcooking it, but even proper heating wouldn't have saved the slop I was served. Mush that was supposed to be quinoa, canned green beans (which I am allergic to) and overcooked chicken pieces that someone dropped a bottle of chili powder on). I took a couple bites and then pushed it away. I starved and then dug out my reserve rice cakes and peanut butter. It seemed to me that a couple of things on the regular menu would have been ok, so on the way back, I cancelled my GF meal and took my chances. It was a smart move. I had a fine meal and no problems. I know enough about how things are cooked and what to avoid that I can pretty much manage on my own. It must also be the case that a little cross-contamination does not cause symptoms in me.
We stayed in a Starhotel in Genoa, Italy for a couple days before departing on our cruise and the waiters in their restaurant were fantastic. They brought out GF crackers for me, made GF ravioli, and several wonderful dishes with sauces and everything! One dish was duck breast with pears and a wine reduction sauce. Another was sirloin steak with asparagus and cheese. No bad food, no reactions. The way it should be. I wish I could say the same for the food on the cruise. Unfortunately, Costa Cruises, while making sure no one gets sick, does not seem to care whether people with gluten or food allergies have the same level of food as the rest of their guests—which, by the way, also wasn't that great. They go as far as to reserve a section of the kitchen for dealing with food allergies, which is great, but they seem to be afraid to go any further. I had boiled potatoes and vegetables and naked meat and fish for 10 days. I was a very unhappy camper. I was also hungry most of the time because we tended to eat lunch early because of our schedule (we were on a MacMania cruise and had seminars all day) and then we had the second seating for dinner, which meant that I ate lunch at noon and dinner at 9 p.m. The only food in between was either the pizza buffet or high tea (gluten-laden cakes, etc.), which I couldn't eat, a side salad with no protein or ice cream. Guess which I chose. We were forbidden to bring any outside food onboard so things were bleak for me. Luckily I disobeyed that rule as I suspected they wouldn't have rice cakes on board and I brought a box of GF crackers and my handy individual serving sizes of foil wrapped natural peanut butter with me. I hid them in my lingerie drawer!
Thanks to Costa Cruises and our weird schedule, I ate a whole lot of ice cream and gained 5 lbs despite the naked food and boiled potato fare. It was either that or get a headache from not eating for so long. I choose ice cream over a headache any day.
Breakfasts we ate at the buffet most days. Having just started eating eggs again, I really pushed it eating eggs every morning, but that or salty bacon were the only protein I could have. One morning we ventured into the dining room for breakfast. I had to sit at the GF table (the leper table, as I called it). I had high hopes of getting GF french toast or pancakes. No deal. They had GF bread, they had eggs, but taking that last step to put them together and make GF French Toast was impossible. So more eggs but at least I had toast. Sigh.
So now I am home and cooking for myself again and dealing with the excess weight. After I lose the 5 extra lbs., I am making French Toast for sure...and writing a long ugly letter to American Airlines. Here's hoping your travels are all good ones. Comments appreciated.