Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gluten Free Camping

Let's face it. My idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel that doesn't offer room service; but sometimes a Mom's gotta do what a Mom's gotta do. In this case, that meant a camping trip with my husband, two kids, and both dogs.

A side note -- my dogs are huge. I mean really huge. The weigh 85 pounds each and are taller than any other dog at the dog park. And did I mention that they are still puppies? Once the van was loaded up with kids and dogs, there wasn't room for anything else. As a result, we took TWO cars for a one night camp out. I long for the days when Mark and I could pack an overnight bag in less than 15 minutes and head out for the weekend on a whim.

One good thing about camping, though; there's no problem finding GF food. I just bring it with me. For lunch the day we arrived, I brought deli turkey and a loaf of Udi's sandwich bread. Now Udi's bread is darn good, but it still really needs to be toasted for optimal enjoyment. Since that wasn't am option, I brought along some butter and spread it liberally on my sandwich. Not only was it tasty, but also helped keep the bread from crumbling. I also had Cheetos and K-Too cookies (a sort of gluten-free Oreo made by Kinnikinnick). This was not one of the healthiest meals ever, but I feel that if you are going to eat outside, you might as well eat Cheetos. Cheetos are banned inside our house for fear of covering the walls in little orange fingerprints, but in the great outdoors... bring on the Cheetos! I did bring blackberries in an attempt to make this meal healthier, but my son ate both pints. At least someone had some nutrients during this meal.

Dinner on Friday night was hot dogs, which I wrapped in another slice of Udi's bread, mostly to have a way to hold onto it. We also had carrots and fruit cups, which the kids ate reluctantly in order to earn their s'mores.

Now the kids ate theirs on regular graham crackers, but I brought along some S'morables and had my first real s'more since going GF. They hold together really well, which is good because the structural integrity of a s'more is key to getting it into your mouth instead of all over your fingers. I managed to get only minimally sticky, while my daughter had chocolate all over her face and both my son AND husband had a sweet marshmallow coating.

Breakfast in the morning was a greater challenge. We have a portable electric griddle, so I wanted to make pancakes; however, Mark wasn't keen on my bringing along eggs which are both breakable and perishable, so I went looking for a "just add water" GF pancake mix. I didn't have a lot of success, so I bought Ener-G Egg Replacer and added that to Pamela's pancake mix. I have a cool little Blender Bottle, which has a whisk-like ball in it. You add the pancake mix and water then shake, then pour the batter out of the spout directly onto the griddle. Neato! I have to say, though, I think I'd rather have brought the egg for the batter -- the pancakes cooked up nicely, but the Ener-G left a bit of an after-taste.

I also bought Oscar Meyer pre-cooked bacon and put those on the griddle as well. The only time I had tried pre-cooked before this, I heated it in the microwave and wasn't impressed; but cooking it on the griddle was actually great. It was all crisp and sizzle-y like bacon should be.

The camping trip was a success -- the weather was perfect, the dogs behaved well, and the kids had a ball. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting. Still, I think I'd rather have room service.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gluten Free in Austin

Well, Texas lost miserably to OU, but at least the food was good...

We spent the weekend in Austin with my brother Alex and his girlfriend Allison. On our way into town, we had planned to stop at Chuy's, but we saw a billboard that said "Salt Lick." There is now a Salt Lick in Round Rock!!!

The Salt Lick is one of my favorite places in the world. It's huge, rustic, beautiful, and fun. There is frequently live music. I have dreams about the slow-smoked brisket, heaps of tangy sausage and world-class potato salad and barbecue sauce. As you walk in the huge pit to your right assaults your senses with the aromas of roasted meats. We recommend the "family style", which means all-you-can-eat and if you order anything else, well heck partner, you've come to the wrong place. Unfortunately this lovely oasis is a good 35 minutes from Austin, in Driftwood, Texas. Literally the middle of nowhere. And it's a dry county. And they don't take credit cards.

But, joy of joys! There is now a Salt Lick in Round Rock, just off I-35. They have recreated the rambling ranch-like building in the middle of suburbia, and if you don't look out the window, you can pretend you're out in the country. Unlike Driftwood, they take credit cards and serve margaritas.

Best of all, nearly everything they serve is gluten-free. They say that the only gluten is in things that are obvious, such as the bread and the cobbler. Sauce is GF, dry rub is GF, and most importantly, the potato salad is GF. Oh, Salt Lick potato I love you. If I were having my last meal, I'd want that potato salad.

After eating enough to cause physical pain, we left the Salt Lick in Round Rock and swung over to Chuy's to pick up chips and salsa for the game. Chuy's will not guarantee that anything they serve is GF, as they have a high chance of cross contamination (they are making their own flour tortillas back there). However, the chips are fried in a dedicated frier [at some locations] and they are very good about making me burritos without the tortilla. (Note: I get the Ranchero sauce. The Tex-Mex sauce is thickened with flour.) Anyway, I am willing to take my chances on the salsa and queso since they contain no gluten ingredients and aren't likely to be cross-contaminated (unlike the corn tortillas which are warmed on the same surface as the flour ones.) [Update: Chuy's queso contains gluten.]

So we were good to go: chips, salsa, and a Texas-OU game. Too bad we sucked.

At half-time, we consoled ourselves with a trip out to Rita's, a short walk from Alex's West Campus apartment. Alex was originally under the impression that the place was called "Ice Custard Happiness," which I think would be a GREAT name. However, it turns out that the store is called Rita's and their slogan is "Ice. Custard. Happiness." A quick check of the ingredients confirms that the custard and ices are gluten-free. They had the list of ingredients handy, which is nice since it makes it easy to check. The star here is the gelati -- a layer of custard, a layer of ice, and another layer of custard. I chose vanilla custard with black cherry ice. The ice is made with real fruit and had a few chunks of cherry to prove it. Sooooo good.

The next morning, we had a quick room service breakfast at the hotel (the Renaissance in the Arboretum), where I ordered a poached egg and fresh berries, a pretty safe bet to be gluten-free. Then we went on a short hike, followed by brunch at Guero's on Congress Avenue, another of Alex's favorite places. They do have an official gluten-free menu, but it's a bit confusing because it lists the GF items, but not their descriptions, so I had to keep going back and forth between the two menus to figure out what I was going to order. In the end, I chose a Senorita Plato -- a chalupa, chicken taco, guacamole, queso, and beans. It comes with rice too, but that is not GF. Since it was brunch, they let me substitute their breakfast potatoes.

The food was very good, but their staff is clearly not trained regarding gluten. After hearing that I was GF and that I needed to substitute out the rice, the waitress then asked me if I wanted corn or flour tortillas! I explained again that I was gluten-free. She seemed surprised that the flour tortillas were not gluten-free. I explained that flour IS gluten. She said "what about whole wheat?" Argh! So my confidence in their staff is not high.

All in all, I remain convinced that Austin is the best place in Texas to be if you are a foodie, and doubly so for a gluten-free foodie.