April 23, 2014

Eating Out

The $21.95 Gluten Free Breakfast

The $21.95 Gluten Free Breakfast

The $21.95 Gluten Free Breakfast

How does that commercial go? What money you bring to Vegas, stays in Vegas?

Whatever it is, finding a quick gluten free breakfast at the Last Vegas convention center turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Today’s option was the buffet at the Hilton Last Vegas. Filled with a variety of potentially gluten free option (meats, pork chops, fruits, cheeses, eggs, omelets, and breakfast meats) this buffet was surprisingly difficult. It was nearly impossible to get any straight answers about how individual things were prepared. See “How to interrogate your server” for details.

So I settled on what’s usually a safe bet. Scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon. Oh, and just for fun a few pieces of Buffalo Mozzarella.

The eggs were awfully fluffy though. Perhaps a little Bisquick for texture?

We’ll see soon enough.

A Celiac’s View of Gluten Free Convenience Store Food…

A Celiac's View of Gluten Free Convenience Store Food

A Celiac's View of Gluten Free Convenience Store Food

More adventures in gluten-free restaurant dining…

More adventures in gluten-free restaurant dining...

More adventures in gluten-free restaurant dining...

We just wanna make dough!

We just wanna make dough!

We just wanna make dough!

Gluten Free Breakfast at McDonald’s

Gluten Free Breakfast at McDonald's

Gluten Free Breakfast at McDonald's

Sounds a little scary doesn’t it?

As you may know from previous posts, I am an ultra-sensitive celiac and apparently have been blessed with amazing gluten detection superpowers. So when it comes to eating any kind of food in any kind of public establishment, I’m positively skeptical.

It turns out that McDonald’s Eggs and McDonald’s Breakfast Sausage are both gluten free. So are their burgers (minus buns of course) but we’ll cover that in a separate post. It goes without saying that their biscuits and english muffins are not. Neither are the hash browns.

Over the years, I have found and fine tuned easy ways to order things that I know to be gluten free without going through the whole explanation of celiac disease, gluten, food allergies, and twenty minutes worth of medical science explanation. One of the shortcuts I used to use at McDonald’s was to order a Big Breakfast meal without the biscuit. I like to order a coffee so paying the combo price while throwing away the biscuit was not that bad a deal. Also, almost always, the hash browns are served in a separate paper hash brown baggie, so there was little risk of cross contamination there. The gotcha in this plan was that far to often (for me anyway) someone in the kitchen would see “Big Breakfast” on their monitor, assemble it complete with biscuit, and then notice the “no biscuit” modifier. So my biscuit would be removed from the platter while leaving a trail of poisonous crumbs of doom for me to eat with my eggs and sausage. Bad plan. My gluten free breakfast was not so gluten free anymore.

So here’s the trick. Every McDonalds that I have encountered allows you to purchase side orders of both eggs and sausage. There’s a button on the cash register for it, and so far, no one has even given me a puzzled look when I ask for it. Maybe I’m the only one that didn’t know that little secret (highly likely) but it sure does make gluten free eating at McDonald’s easier and safer.

You see, when you order eggs and/or sausage as a side item, you reduce the risk of someone just ‘removing’ a biscuit and/or hash browns from the plate. That’s where I’ve gotten into trouble in the past. In the hustle and bustle of a morning rush kitchen, things tend to get lined up and its easy to fill an order for a Big Breakfast without biscuit by simply removing the biscuit from a regular order. And these leaves crumbs and a high probability of cross contamination.

If you order the side item, yours is prepared special – just eggs and just sausage. Most of the time my eggs and sausage are delivered in separate burger boxes. Once in a while, they are put together in the same tray normally used to serve a big breakfast. I don’t really care either way, as in any case I always look for crumbs or other evidence that mine was a modified and fully biscuitted meal.

Enjoy your fast food! More or less.

Being Opportunistic – Traveling Gluten Free

Bear Grylls, Man vs. Wild, Opportunistic Guy

Bear Grylls, Opportunistic Guy (img: Discovery Channel)

Although it frequently grosses me out, I like watching Man vs. Wild on the Discovery Channel. It never ceases to amaze me how Bear Grylls is so incredibly resourceful, and more importantly, opportunistic. He’s always taking advantage of something he runs across at the moment, whether he needs it right then or not. Like water in the desert, food from just about anywhere, and shelter even in the most inconvenient of places. Bear is an opportunistic kind of guy.

I’ve learned similar skills, although mine are far less disgusting, about surviving with a strict gluten free diet while traveling. The key to survival is what I refer to as being opportunistic. When you spot food items that are known to be safe, scarf them up. It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry or not. It doesn’t matter whether the food is ‘time appropriate’ or not. If you pass a grocery store that has steamed rice in the deli, and it’s only 7am, grab it! Carpe diem and all that stuff.

Maybe if I share a typical day of being opportunistic from a recent road trip it will help illustrate my point…

  • 6:45am – There’s a soda machine 20 feet down the hall from my hotel room. I know because I’ve heard it making noise all night long. Grab a Mountain Dew for now and a Doctor Pepper for later. Stuff the Doctor in my briefcase.
  • 7:50am – Bananas on sale at the hotel coffee bar. Grab 2. Store in briefcase. They will age and rot in some sort of briefcase induced accelerated time warp. Later today, I will eat at least one of them regardless. Pick up a 4 shot Latte in case I am not able to find food for a week or so. The caffeine will keep me alive in almost any emergency scenario.
  • 7:51am – Pass hotel gift shop and grab a Hershey bar. My briefcase is full of bananas so I have to eat it now. Really, I’m only eating it now because of the banana storage issue. And I need my vitamins.
  • 8:05am – The hotel has a breakfast buffet with an omelet station. Made-to-order omelets are one of the safer gluten free restaurant options. I eat 2 bacon and cheese omelets with 19 slices of bacon. I don’t pig out like this because I like it – it’s just an obligation I have to eat opportunistically where and when I have the chance. It could be hours before I find other safe, gluten free food options, so I am filling up now.
  • 12:15pm – Out to lunch with clients and co-workers. They choose a restaurant I’m not familiar with – Atlanta Bread Company. Apparently this place is in the business of poisoning Celiac’s or something. Being opportunistic, I order a Coke and get 7 refills. Oh, and I hurl insults at the kitchen. I feel much better after that.
  • 1:15pm – Time to retrieve one of the bananas and the Doctor Pepper from my briefcase. The banana is already completely brown. I eat it anyway and am happy about it.
  • 3:45pm – I pass out at the conference table. I have not had bacon in hours. My forehead has a semi-permanent imprint of my laptop keyboard.
  • 5:55pm – Meetings for the day are over. I’m hungry. And anti-social. I stop at a grocery store on the way to the hotel and get food. By this time, it’s been almost 10 hours since I have had bacon. I am weak and barely able to walk. I stock up on medium sharp cheddar cheese, a package of Hormel Pepperoni, and a large bag of Kettle Fully Loaded Baked Potato chips. This is dinner.
  • 10:20pm – I’m hungry. My briefcase still has a banana, but it appears to be growing a new form of penicillin. I pass on that. The hotel gift shop is closed, so no more Hershey bars. I suffer until I pass out from malnutrition.

See? Eating gluten free on the road is all about taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. And spare bananas. And bacon.

Go be opportunistic!

Another fine Celiac friendly meal on the road…

Celiac Travel meals

Sometimes a grocery store is the only way to go

I figure on average I get sick about 50% of the time I go on business trips. Not this time. Albertsons is my friend…

Yes, Virginia, you can eat at a restaurant.

I hate going to restaurants. Especially when I’m traveling on business.

There you are with a bunch of peers from the office, partners, or customers and you get to interrupt the order taking process with a 17 minute grilling of the server.

Are your steaks marinated?

What else do you cook on the grill?

Am I going to die if I eat here?

What else is on the plate? Onion straws, fried items, sauces, condensed gluten dust?

Do you have any reason to want to harm me?

How exactly are your mashed potatoes prepared?

Is any pan coating spray used in preparation?

Are your sauteed vegetables prepared with oil, real butter, or a plastic facsimile of butter?

What seasonings are added to grilled items?

Have you sterilized your hands since last handling bread?

And so on…

Meanwhile, your business associates have either fainted from malnutrition or quietly left via the back door to find another restaurant.

But sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. This evening for instance. My hotel in Salt Lake City is right across the street from a Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Yep, a pasta place. Brilliant Tom. Let’s go try to eat there without getting sick. Maybe for dessert I could hit an Atlanta Bread Company or something.

Anyway, as there were no other choices within easy walking distance, I poked my head in and asked if by chance they had a gluten free menu. And yes, I was embarrassed to ask this question at a pasta place.

As a matter of fact they do – and it’s very well done. Unlike many companies who are more concerned with writing endless disclaimers than useful information, Romano’s offered a factual, current, and quite useful gluten free menu. In fact, their web site offers a PDF guide that covers about 8 different food sensitivity categories. You can find it here.

To make a long story short, I ordered a great meal and felt quite safe doing it. Check this out:

Macaroni Grill Gluten Free

Eating Gluten Free at Macaroni Grill

Strip steak.

Lightly sauteed spinach.

Roasted garlic cloves.

Fresh rosemary just for fun. And it smelled pretty.

Mmmmm.

I was impressed.

Kudo’s to Romano’s for doing a great job of communicating useful information about the food they serve and making it easy for us celiacs and other food sensitivity sufferers.

I’ll be back!


This sux.

Gluten filled dessert

Are YOU lying to ME?

I only wish I was smart enough to have used this dying, I mean dining out technique before. But I’m not. I stumbled onto it purely by accident with the help of one very skeptical Dairy Queen employee.

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen

My family and I were driving home from one of Tennessee’s largest cities – The Gaylord Opryland Hotel. In case you haven’t been, it’s big. Like Texas big, only its not in Texas. Unfortunately I was not able to catch a performance by the Binkley Brothers’ Dixie Clodhoppers or the Gully Jumpers.

We were there for a big-time Oireachtas. An Oireachtas is an event where thousands of screaming and stomping Irish Dance competitors, and their moderately intoxicated parents, gather to compete, yell, scream, and squeal. But mostly it’s screaming and squealing.

Anyway, about half-way home, we got a hankerin’ (that’s southern speak for finding something intensely desirable) for a Dairy Queen stop. One of the great things about life as a Celiac is that Dairy Queen ice cream is gluten free. And healthy. OK, maybe just gluten free.

I decided to get  a Blizzard with vanilla ice cream and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Mmm. Those of you who have read Celiac Bites before know how skeptical I am about eating in restaurants – not that one would normally refer to Dairy Queen as a restaurant. So you won’t really be surprised by my next request of the Dairy Queen dude. I asked him (very politely) if he would mind cleaning the Blizzard machine before making mine as I have a food allergy. Yeah, I know, celiac isn’t an allergy, but it’s much easier to explain that way. He said sure, no problem, and went about his Blizzard making business.

About half way through the process, the Dairy Queen dude got a puzzled look on his face and loped back up to the counter to ask me a question.

“Are you lying to me about the allergy thing just to get me to clean the machine?”

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