Saturday, February 3, 2007

Traveling gluten-free

Our family has always loved to travel. Our kids each got their first passports when they were younger than a year old, and we've used them, culminating with a 5 month trip around the world a couple of years ago. So we are bound and determined not to let being gluten-free stop us from having adventures.
Our first trip post diagnosis was a week in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, skiing. We had booked this trip before we knew about Emily's diagnosis -- fortunately, it was a condo with a full kitchen. Thanks to the internet, I found out that there was a well stocked health food store right in the town that carried a wide range of gluten-free food, so we were able to buy bread and some frozen meals there. Even so, we packed almost a suitcase full of supplies and provisions as well - just in case - including gf crackers, a couple of bags of Tinkyada bags pasta, muffin and brownie mix, peanut butter, some packets of Carnation instant breakfast, Break bars and Bumble bars, a colander and a frying pan. (We packed the pans because we didn't know whether the frying pan in the condo would be teflon, and possibly scratched -- as it turns out, all the pots were teflon so we ended up buying a saucepan as well.) We also brought lists of companies such as Kraft, which label for gluten, to make food shopping in the supermarkets easier. We knew that it wasn't going to be a time to experiment with new products, and we were able to buy all of the mainstream products that we usually use at the regular grocery store. We brought lunch to the mountain in a cooler, which we would have done anyway even without dietary restrictions -- we ate better, and certainly more economically that way. We cooked simple meals at the condo just about every other night -- again, we would have done this most nights anyway even if we weren't concerned about gluten.
The other challenge was the plane ride itself -- we knew that we couldn't count on getting food at the airport. We were traveling around Christmas time, right after people had gotten stuck for days in the Denver airport due to storms, so we wanted to have enough with us to tide us over if necessary. We packed a pasta dish for dinner, and took hard boiled eggs, wrapped cheese sticks, crackers, Bumble bars, fruit leather and fruit in hand luggage. Actually, these days a lot of people are packing their own meals for airplane travel, so we didn't stand out at all.
We spent the first and last evenings in Denver, at an Embassy suite which had a microwave and small fridge in each room. The hotel also provided breakfast, and although there were some gf options such as yogurt, in the end she opted to eat what we had brought. Still, it was useful to have access to some basics such as milk and little packets of condiments such as butter.
We ate at restaurants twice, once at a steak house in Steamboat (Ore House at the Pine Grove), and once at Abruscis in Denver. The steak house was our first restaurant meal since learning that Emily had celiac, so we were all a little nervous. I had been told that steak houses could often accomodate a gf patron, and this turned out to be the case. Emily had a plain steak, with no sauce, and a plain baked potato. I had called in advance to make sure that the restaurant could make a gluten free meal, and we reminded the person seating us when we came in. It turned out that her mother had celiac and ate at the restaurant, so that was a good sign. She talked to the chef for us, but at our request he also came out and spoke with us personally and put our minds at ease about how the steak and potato would be prepared. The restaurant also served Hagaan Daaz ice cream, which would have been fine, but we were too full for dessert.
Abuscis is a gluten free dining mecca in Denver. It is a family run Italian restaurant with an EXTENSIVE gluten free menu, including pasta, pizza and bread. It was really a pleasure to be able to order off the menu -- and many people around us seemed to be doing the same -- and all of the food (gf and non gf) was really good as well. It is definitely worth going out of your way to eat here if you are ever in Denver.
All in all, this was a good first vacation for us -- it wasn't the type of trip where food or exotic dining was ever going to be the focus, so we didn't feel that it was limiting not to eat out frequently. I do feel that our research before hand paid off -- I had checked the listings of the celiac support groups in Denver to get some restaurant suggestions, which is how we found Abruscis, and knowing that we could purchase gluten free staples in Steamboat itself was reassuring.

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A teen and her family's experiences living gluten-free.