Monday, July 12, 2010

American Airlines stops gluten-free meals on domestic flights

I just got back from a trip to Alaska, which was fabulous!  There was one blemish on my flawless experience; American Airlines does not serve any special dietary meals on domestic flights to save costs. I was fine since I had called ahead and travelled with my customary bag-o-food on the the 6-hour-long flight, but it would have been a nasty surprise if I hadn't been expecting it.

When I called American, they were sympathetic, as were the flight attendants on the aircraft, but they said this was a purely financial decision.  They no longer provide kosher, diabetic or vegetarian meals either. If you think this is unacceptable, I encourage you to email or call the airline.  Either way, be prepared with your own snackage!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Miraculously delicious Mrs. Crimble's Cheese Bites

I saw these Mrs. Crimble's sour cream and onion cheese bites at Central Market today and thought I'd give them a try. They are flaky, delicate and quite tasty. Sort of filo dough meets Cheez-Its. Also, they are baked and not incredibly terrible for you!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rocky Mountain Popcorn - Gluten free and delicious

On a recent late-night drive from Austin I stopped at a truck stop to find some snackage to help me stay awake. To my surprise, I came across Jalapeno flavored Rocky Mountain Popcorn. It sounded too good to resist. I bought it and ate it at lunch the next day.

Clearly, I thought it was good enough to write home about! If you see it in stores near you, give it a try.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gluten Free at the Food Shark in Marfa, TX

On a recent road trip, I was bemoaning the fact that I never got to eat at "cool" restaurants like a normal person. Well, I'm not sure how "normal" it was, but I was definitely accommodated at the Food Shark in Marfa. Since they operate out of a truck, they only fry one thing in their oil, gluten-free falafel. They hooked me up with three falafel on a bed of lettuce with some GF dressing and hummus. Quite a feast and worth a stop!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Baatar in Bedford

Baatar - 1925 Airport Freeway, Bedford, TX

Last night I ate at Baatar for the third time and felt no gluten symptoms, so I feel confident in recommending it even though a shared grill is a risky situation. Baatar calls itself a Mongolian BBQ, but it's one of those places where you put whatever you want in a bowl and they stir fry it on a huge griddle for you. I was able to go on their website and figure out which sauces are gluten free.

I've eaten their Sweet and Sour sauce and Peanut Sauce. Whenever I go there, I tell the cook that I have a serious food allergy and that the grill needs to be cleaned before my food gets put on there. For simplicity sake, I tell them my problem is soy sauce.

Then, I watch while they clean it. They are always very nice about it. They also have some vegetarian options, which is nice.

The buffet, which costs about $8 also includes a salad bar, fresh fruit and Blue Bunny ice cream for dessert. On the Blue Bunny website it says all Blue Bunny products are GF unless they contain an obvious wheat-containing ingredient like cookie dough or cookies and cream.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BJ's Restaurants

BJ's Restaurant Brewhouse offers good food in a fun atmosphere and, most importantly, has an easy-to-read allergy menu that will quickly point you in the right direction to a satisfying meal even if you have multiple allergies.

I had a stuffed baked potato with grilled chicken and it was quite tasty. There are BJ's in the DFW area and they are popping up across the country!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Starbucks - the new Gluten-Free plan

After a fairly unsuccessful attempt at launching a gluten-free line of baked goods mainly consisting of a packaged piece of sponge cake soaked in orange flavoring, Starbucks has made what I think is a brilliant decision to carry a wider array of prepackaged gluten-free snacks including 150 calorie packs of Lucy's cookies.

I've written about Lucy's before and I think they are one of the best bang-for-your-calorie-buck, gluten-free cookies on the market. I am very pleased that Starbucks is now carrying them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Eating Gluten-Free in Thailand, Part 3

If things go awry...

Hopefully, this will not happen to you. I did not "get glutened" except by my own fault one time when I ordered an american-style hamburger in Thailand without double-checking the ingredients and on my way home when I ate a questionable dessert at the Tokyo airport and then on the plane, I ate some cornflakes.

However, here are some things that are helpful to know about bathrooms.

  • Always bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer if those items are important to you.
  • Do not throw toilet paper away in the toilet, most facilities will have a trash can for that purpose.
  • If you are using a more rural toilet that has to be flushed manually make sure you scoop a good amount of water from the barrell next to the toilet for that purpose into the bowl or porcelain hole in the ground as the case may be several times.
  • If you are on a train, do not go to the bathroom when the train is stopped. All of the waste is voided right onto the tracks. You'll get yelled at if you go at a station.
  • Train toilets are some times flushed with a foot pedal.

Eating Gluten-Free in Thailand, Part 2

Eating in restaurants is different in Thailand in a few, notable ways.

  • Learn to say hello - sounds like So-wa-dee-ka if you're a woman or So-wa-dee-ha if you're a man. Thank you is Ka-poon-ka if you're a woman or Ka-poon-ha if you're a man.
  • Most parties share food so splitting the check is unusual. You can avoid a lot of headaches by figuring the money out amongst yourselves.
  • Often service is very slow by American standards. Imagine the worst service (time-wise) you've ever had and then multiply it by 3. The food is often worth the wait, but eating out is a leisurely affair. Don't wait until you're starving to sit down and order.
  • Bring your patience. You are probably making some special requests. Be polite to the waiter even if there is some initial miscommunciation. Your future gastrointestinal happiness is in his or her hands.
  • Tipping is expected in Thailand. Tip generously, especially if they have checked ingredients for you.
  • Don't expect everyone's food to be served at the same time. They usually just bring it out when it's ready.
  • Although most places will automatically give you less-spicey food, you can ask for mild by saying "Mai Ped Ka" if you're a woman or change the Ka to "Ha" if you're a man or ask for it to be even spicier by saying Ped or "Ped, Ped."

Eating Gluten-Free in Thailand, Part 1

I was intimidated to try travelling to SE Asia for the first time on my own, so I signed up with GAP Adventures because they promise to cater to special culinary needs. I had travelled with them to Peru and hiked the Inca trail and been blown away when they made me quinoa pancakes from scratch on the trail.

I was similarly accomodated in Thailand, even on a 3-day hike into the hill tribe region when our guides packed in all of our food. Although at first, my tour leader tried to talk me out of it.

"Are you sure you can't have soy sauce? Maybe just a little?"

I was pretty firm that I was not willing to try that. Frowning, she asked me, "What do you eat at home?"

Flabbergasted I answered, "Thai food!"

I ended up eating copious amounts of green curry on the trip because that and sweet and sour chicken wer often the only things we knew for sure were gluten free.

Here are some tips I learned about eating safely in Thailand while still getting to experience the local flavor.

  • At restaurants you can almost always have green curry, yellow curry, masaman curry or sweet and sour. Also, coconut lemon grass soup with chicken (Thom khao gai.)
  • Fruit shakes with or without yogurt are a delight and are offered on many street corners and also at restaurants.
  • Fresh fruit is readily available almost everywhere and quite tasty.
  • Rice porridge is a traditional SE Asian breakfast dish that is normally gluten free. You can get this with or without chicken.
  • You can make a good breakfast out of two fried eggs over white rice with butter and jam. It's better than it sounds.
  • If it's hard to tell at a street market what you can eat, look for fried eggs, white rice and fruit.
  • Mango sticky rice is often available on the street or at a restaurant and is a wondeful GF dessert.
  • Grilled bananas on their own or swimming in sweetened coconut milk make a great snack and are sold on the street.
  • If you are going to take an overnight train, your best bet is to get food ahead of time to take with you. The only thing I could find that was gluten free was the green curry and it was lackluster and expensive.
  • Convenience stores routinely carry a variety of gluten-free snacks including pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, nuts, the Original Lays Potato Chips, Fritos, dried fruit, etc.
  • 7-11s in Thailand are a treasure trove of gluten-free eating. They almost all carry ready to eat boiled eggs in two or four packs. Just don't eat the soy sauce included in a small packet. Also, there is the most wonderful yogurt in the world. It has small cubes of young coconut in it and is incredibly rich. When you get to the checkout, they'll give you a small plastic spoon to eat it with.
  • I had cards from Select Wisely printed in Thai and they worked fairly well, but lots of people aren't familiar with hidden sources of gluten. For instance, one cook didn't know soy sauce was an ingredient in plum sauce.
  • Bring any protein bars you want to have, I never found any the whole time I was travelling.
  • I always poke my head into any food store just to see what they have and one day in Ao Nang - in the southern tip of Thailand - I found a tourist specialty store that sold gluten-free cereal and peanut butter. What luxuries! So, keep your eyes open.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Eating Gluten-Free in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I admit I was somewhat terrified to travel alone to Siem Reap, Cambodia because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to figure out what I could eat that is gluten free. I special ordered some cards explaining what I could and couldn't eat in Khmer from Select Wisely and kept one copy in my pocket and one copy in my money belt.

I had done some research ahead of time by looking through some regional cookbooks. It appeared that I would be safe in general, but that some dishes might have soy sauce in them. Khmer cuisine seems to be similar to Thai and Indian food in the best ways. It features lots of fruits and veggies and many of the dishes have simple sauces.

I hired a driver for my first couple of days and asked him to help me find food in addition to his other duties. This turned out to be important because he could read the card and some of the food vendors didn't seem to be able to do so. My card was written in Khmer and English. I picked out items on the menu that sounded likely to be gluten-free and then he'd double check. I was only going to be in Cambodia for a few days, so I decided I'd just memorize my order and if I liked it, I'd eat that for the rest of the trip!

This didn't turn out to be necessary, but it would have worked. In Siem Reap, there were several Indian restaurants with familiar gluten-free staples that I could eat and then a fellow-traveler told me about the Cambodian specialty Amok, a coconut-based dish. Bad for the diet, but great gluten-free eating!

Also, a friend from Laos had told me breakfast should be no problem. One traditional Southeast Asian breakfast staple is rice soup with or without fish or chicken. Rather bland, but gluten free and widely available. Also, it was likely that I'd be able to find fried eggs, fruit, yogurt and steamed rice. This was all true. Also, the coffee was fantastic.

As far as eating on the street, there was plenty of fruit and I'd brought a pocket knife so I could slice up dragon fruit and eat it. There were some packaged foods available, but I was glad I'd brought some bars and single-servings of peanut butter which I ate on apples.

In general, I had much more success eating tasty, flavorful food on a regular basis in Cambodia than I do in the states!

Flying Gluten Free to Thailand

Recently I flew from the Dallas/Fort Worth area to Bangkok. I flew to Tokyo on American Airlines and then connected on Thai Airways to Bangkok. The first flight was 13 hours long and the second was about 6 hours.

Whenever I fly anywhere I bring extra food. Just in case there is an unscheduled stop, bad weather or the plane gets stuck on the runway for some other reason. Since airlines have responded to the peanut allergy folks, they no longer have peanuts on board which means there is a scarcity of gluten-free food on board. Certainly any gluten-free food with even a modicum of nutritional value.

So, when embarking on basically 24-hours of travel, you can imagine the type of food I had with me. Single serving containers of Jiff peanut butter (which were allowed on the flight out but confiscated as a liquid on the ride home), protein bars, Glutino's breakfast bars, Quaker snack cakes, etc. I was more likely to eat myself to death than starve.

I had called American Airlines months in advance and booked my flight with frequent flyer miles. I dimly remember the agent telling me to call and confirm my gluten-free meal, which I guess I forgot to do. Ack.

I realized there was a problem when the first meal was served and no "special" meal was brought out to me. The flight attendants were horrified. "It's not like we can turn back and there is no gluten-free meal on board at all!"

OK, really? On big giant plane flying to another continent they don't load up with a couple of extra "special" meals just in case? No vegetarian, Kosher or other specialty meals? Maybe this should be S.O.P.

However, that doesn't change the fact that I should have remembered to double check and I didn't. Lucky for me, my seatmate was sympathetic and he and I traded food from our meals, he gave me his cheese, I gave him my bread, etc. Also, two awesome flight attendants scrounged food for me from business class and first class and I was probably on calorie overload for much of the flight. As my seatmate said "You have to survive."

My protests that I was unlikely to starve to death in 13 hours with 3,000 calories in my carry on were ignored.

When I got to Tokyo, I was excited to find a cafe that served edamame, yogurt, milk and some snack food with the ingredients in English including Peanut M&Ms. There were also so kelp-covered rice balls that I probably could have eaten.

Then came the best surprise of my life. I boarded my Thai Airways flight after making sure my gluten-free food would be on board at the check-in counter. "Of course" they said in a way that made me doubt my sanity in asking the question.

Thai Airways served two wonderful meals including rice-based rolls that if I could get them in the states I would eat every day. OK, maybe not really, but they were very good. The food was excellent and way better than I ever would have hoped for.

On the way home, Thai Airways succeeded again, but due to the timing of my flight, I only got breakfast (which included gluten-free toast) and a snack - a mandarin orange. Still, not bad considering the only snack available on American Airlines was a packet of asian-style chex mix that seemed to hit every major food allergy group except for dairy. It warned of crab, shrimp, peanut, wheat and soy contamination. Interesting.

Feeling tired from traveling and wanting to get to my flight, I went straight to the Tokyo Airport concourse my flight on American would be departing from. This was a bad call. I needed to do lunch in the Tokyo airport and the only place that sold food within a few blocks of my gate mainly specialized in hamburgers, hot dogs and what looked like a variety of Ramen Noodles. Some of it might have been gluten-free, but I couldn't be sure. I had been hoarding my protein bars, a bag of chips and an apple, so I bought some water and another gluten-free looking snack and had a picnic at the gate.

There were several vending machines at the gate, but they didn't accept credit cards and only took yen.

I got onto the American Airlines flight and relaxed, looking forward to my gluten-free dinner in a few hours. The dinner did come and it was gluten free, but it was fish, which I don't like. I KNOW, beggars can't be choosers, but I did have another protein bar with me, so it was all good.

Around 2 AM I was brought a snack, which I thought was kind of odd, but it was very tasty. I think there were some kind of potato pancakes involved, it's all kind of a blur now.

But by the time breakfast rolled around, I was definitely hungry. There, on my tray was a box of Kellog's corn flakes. Now, I know, in the states that these are not gluten free. However, I thought, maybe the Japanese version is. Also, I couldn't read the ingredients because they were in Japanese, so I ate them.

They were not gluten-free. Happily, there was not that much of the flight left. Although there was not a huge amount of wheat in them, I dealt with a cranky stomach for the next 48 hours. I'm sure the matter was not helped by all of the random food I had been eating in general and adjusting to the new time zone.

I sent all of this - the helpful flight attendants and the unfortunate cereal - in a note to American Airlines. They were very nice about it all and said they would talk to their caterers immediately. Also, they generously credited my frequent flyer account 10,000 miles.

I guess the lesson is always have back up food, confirm your gluten-free meals on airlines and always be responsible for making decisions on whether to eat what people bring you.

I intend to write more posts in the following days about eating Gluten-Free while traveling in Cambodia and Thailand.