Thursday, April 26, 2007

Trip to Arizona and Grand Canyon

I've already posted about the backpacking portion of our trip -- we also spent a couple of days in transit in Arizona, as well as a day in Las Vegas. We're finding that traveling gluten free isn't as difficult as we had anticipated, although it does take some planning.

Before our trips, I've tried to research food options at our destinations. I usually check the website of the celiac support group, and use the invaluable posting resources at Delphi and I look at the sites of fellow bloggers. I also print out the latest gf menu options from chains in the area, including chains that I don't plan to go to like Wendy's, but might need to turn to in a pinch. We have a list of gluten free candy and drinks that we take with us. We also take a list of companies that disclose gluten (e.g., Kraft, ConAgra). When we grocery shop on these trips, we have always been able to find what we need through one of these companies.

It turns out that Las Vegas is a mecca for gluten free options. There are lots of grocery store options, including Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Trader Joes. There are also a lot of restaurant options. A number of the national chains wih gluten free menus have sites in Las Vegas. We had dinner one night at PF Changs, which has a gluten free menu. We had a great lunch atMagiannos (Italian) in the Fashion Strip Mall. They don't have a gf menu per se; instead, a chef came ou and spoke with us, and asked us what Emily wanted to eat. They have gluten free pasta, and he made a sauce for her from scratch. He was very aware of cross contamination issues, and was proactive about reassuring us that he would be careful. I had made a list of lots of potential options, but of course there was one night when the timing wasn't going to allow us to get to any of them. We ended up having dinner at the Studio Cafe at the MGM Grand Hotel, where we were staying. Coincidentally, our server had celiac. Emily was able to order a fresh mozzarella/ tomato salad.

Options between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon were somewhat less abundent. We were happy to eat at In and Out burger twice (once in Las Vegas, and once in Kingman Arizona). I wish they had this chain in the East Coast! You can get burgers "protein style" (wrapped in a lettuce leaf) and the fries are fried in a desiganated fryer. They also have gluten free ice cream shakes. In both locations, I let the person taking our order know that the protein burger was for someone with a "wheat allergy" and both times they went to the area where the burger was prepared to alert the person making the burger to take special care. (Although I know that celiac is not an allergy, and that some people frown upon it being described that way, I have found that sometimes this is a good shorthand for getting the point across that the restaurant needs to be really, really careful not to let our food come in contact with forbidden foods.) We also stopped at a Dairy Queen in Kingman Arizona.

I had heard that La Tovar at the Grand Canyon could accomodate gluten free. Unfortunately, when I looked at the menu on line, I realized that the food served was going to be more sophisticated than our kids really wanted. We ended up at the Bright Angel restaurant. I had looked at the menu online, then spoken with the manager by phone a week earlier. There weren't too many options, but it turned out that they could make a chicken ceasar salad, and could broil the chicken separately instead of grilling it. We brought our own dressing in packets -- I have found that dressings in restuarants tend to be one of the more unpredictable items.

Another nice meal was at Rod's Steakhouse in Williams, Arizona. Someone on a message board had posted that they had had a good gluten free meal there. Again, I called this restaurant about a week earlier to see what options were possible. There were many -- just about all of the steaks and prime ribs were fine -- they didn't have sauces and were grilled on their own grill. Emily had a steak with an uncut baked potato.

I also checked out in advance what brands of dairy products were generally available. For example, in Arizona many places rely on Shamrock Farms dairy; here in the East we use Hood. I was able to get a gluten free list from Shamrock, and could confirm that items such as chocolate milk and ice cream were gluten free. Dreyers was another ice cream brand that was readily available, and I printed their gf ice cream list as well.

Several of the motels we stayed in served breakfast. It turns out that they served Yoplait yogurt and fruit, so Emily could have actually eaten from the breakfast. We brought a batch of muffins with us, along with packets of instant breakfast, some hard boiled eggs, and individual serving mayonaise packets (to make egg salad) just to be sure.

We are still at the stage where we bring way too much food with us, especially for plane trips. I'm always a little worried that we will be stuck on a plane or in an airport for an excessive period of time, with little access to other food, so we overpack. I usually bring crackers (in the plastic cracker containers, so they don't get crushed) or corn thins, some cheese sticks, some hard boiled eggs, some fruit leathers, Instant Breakfast packets, energy bars such as Bumble Bars or Zone bars, and muffins in a hard sided container. I don't worry about bringing drinks or candy, as these are readily available at airport shops. I bring some packets of mayonaise, ketchup, salt, and salad dressing (due to carry on restrictions, these packets now have to be checked rather than carried on). We also bring meals for the plane -- either sandwiches or pasta in a disposable container.

What are your travel tips?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


We just returned from a wonderful 3 day, 2 night, backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. This was our first camping trip gluten free. We decided to have all of our food be gluten free for the trip, including snacks for the gluten eaters in the group (e.g, no power bars), because of the extra challenges dishwashing in the wild -- it worked out surprisingly well!

We treated ourselves to a new set of lightweight camping cookware. This set will also be handy when we travel and stay in condos, because one can never predict in advance whether the cookware will be nice, clean stainless steel -- or grotty, scratched frying pans!

Lunches -- I baked a loaf of Pamela's Amazing Wheat Free Bread at home the Sat morning before our plane left. I sliced it, stored it in a plastic zip lock, then put the bag and bread in a half-gallon plastic container (the kind used to store ice cream). I was able to transport the bread in our hand luggage and it stayed relatively uncrushed and fresh. [I also brought a batch of muffins with us, for motel breakfasts, which again held up surprisingly well.] We used it for sandwiches on the trail on both Monday and Tuesday. We also brought corn thins to use for the last lunch -- they are thinner than rice cakes, seem to crumble less, and are bigger than crackers. (Corn tortillas was another option, but we aren't a big fan of those.) We brought peanut butter and jelly (stored in light plastic containers) and cheese for the innards of the sandwhiches.

Snacks -- a huge batch of gorp (peanuts, raisins, M & Ms), Stretch Island fruit leathers, dried apricots, dried strawberries, chocolate bars, Zone perfect bars (several of their flavors do not have ingredients containing gluten), Bumble bars, some fresh fruit.

Dinners -- Individual packets of Thai kitchen rice noodle soups were an excellent replacement for the Ramen we used to bring, along with tuna from a packet and beef jerky. We also brought fresh string beans for the first night. We never use the entire flavor packet from the noodles -- we should have saved it to spice the second night's meal which was rice (actually boil in bag rice, very easy clean up for camping) along with tuna and beef jerky.

Breakfast -- Chocolate chip pancakes -- I premeasured the ingredients -- Pamela's brand mix, chocolate chips and Simply Egg Whites (instead of fresh eggs) -- and transported it in a zip lock. We also brought a small container of oil for frying. The second morning we had Bobs Red Mill hot cereal -- we brought a small amount of brown sugar, and some dried milk powder, to add to the hot cereal.

Drinks -- Capri Sun has small packets of electrolyte powder that you can add to water -- this was very refreshing on the trail. And, of course, hot chocolate.

So, as you can see, we weren't gourmets, but we ate well and we certainly weren't hungry. We brought some of the food from home, and purchased most of the rest in Las Vegas because we weren't sure how extensive the grocery store in the Grand Canyon would be. Las Vegas (especially suburban LV where we spent the first night), however, seems to have every store imaginable!

The Canyon was awesome, although I am amazed that anyone hikes there in the dead of summer. And I am certainly glad that we took a pass on the mule trip. Happy trails!

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