Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gluten Free Cruising

We boarded the Pride of America on Saturday, after our day at Pearl Harbor.  We wouldn't be eating with all 45 people again for a few days, but we still had a large group.  The eight of us (my brother's family and mine) usually ate together, and we were often joined by Mom and the others in our immediate family. On board the ship, finding seating for a big group was not usually a problem.  Finding gluten free choices was another story.

When we arrived in our stateroom, there was a letter waiting for us that said they knew we had a dietary restriction and asked us to call the Dietary Needs Manager.  I called and spoke to him, and he basically told me to ask to see the chef in each restaurant and to remember that the menu changes daily, so the ingredients one day might not be the same as the next, so we need to see the chef before every meal.

This is what I do anyway, so I'm not entirely sure a "Dietary Needs Manager" is much of a benefit.  My travel agent had spoken with someone from the cruise line that promised we could get a gluten free box lunch to take to shore with us.  The DNM didn't know anything about that, but said he would look into it and get back to me.  He never did.

Our first dinner on the ship was at the Aloha Buffet.  The non-gluten challenged people just started helping themselves, but Mom and I had to flag down someone to take us through the buffet.  We were very lucky in that the first person I grabbed turned out to be the Executive Chef in charge of all the restaurants on deck 11.  He was very helpful and took us through the buffet himself.  Mom and I got lamb and beef from the carving station.  I had asparagus and mashed potatoes.  Suprisingly, the broccoli was not safe, as it had a butter sauce that contained wheat.  I would probably have assumed that was safe, so I'm glad he was there to steer me clear.    The food was good, standard buffet fare.  Not extraordinary, but nice and relatively fast.

Breakfast the following morning, however, was a different story.  The fellow from last night was not on duty yet.  He had instructed us to find someone with black buttons, if we couldn't find him.  These are the chefs (as opposed to the cooks or servers).  The lady I found was not particularly knowledgable, so she went to go get answers for me.  I stood around for quite some time before she came back and told me what I could eat.  I had scrambled eggs and a grilled tomato, as well as some skillet potatoes.  The hash browns, the bacon, and the sausage contained gluten, though, so those were off the menu.  She also brought me some gluten free blueberry muffins.  The problem was, as she explained to me, that she didn't have a gluten free oven to warm them in, so she tried heating them under the lobster broiler.  Creative, but not particularly effective as the were warm on the top and cold on the bottom.  She also said she had GF bagels and toast.

Rather than endure that long wait again, I decided I would just eat the same thing every morning, but two days later I showed up to get my grilled tomatoes, and they had bread crumbs on them.  Just as the Dietary Needs Manager warned, they had changed the menu items. (Note: Mom says that she was told that the tomatoes had panko crumbs, so it may just have been that I got incorrect information, not that it changed.)

One of the best parts of breakfast on the ship was the fresh fruit.  The pineapple and watermellon were both Maui grown and were sweet and delicious. 


Monday, June 27, 2011

Gluten Free in Oahu

Our 45 person family reunion in Hawaii continues...

Pearl Harbor Day

As I mentioned previously, it's somewhat difficult to find a place to eat in Oahu that can seat a party of 45, is affordable, and can accomodate gluten free, but The Schooner restaurant near Pearl Harbor fit the bill.  For $15 a person we had a choice of four lunch items plus soda.  None of the preset entrees were gluten free, but they promised to make a gluten free alternative for me and Mom.

My feelings about the Schooner are mixed.

1) Inexpensive
2) Beautiful view
3) Very convenient location right next to Pearl Harbor
4) Food was very tasty
5) They did feed us our gluten free meals

1) I am happy with the meal I got, but I wish they had been a little more upfront about what they could and couldn't provide.  When I made the reservation, I was promised the moon... whatever you want, we'll make it for you, send us a recipe if you want, etc.  All I really wanted was a gluten free version of two of the entrees that everyone else was getting.  The only thing that would have been required to make that happen was a gluten free bun and gluten free soy sauce.  When we got close (about a month out) I reminded them of our request and they hemmed and hawed.  I said I could mail the soysauce and hamburger buns to them.  They said they couldn't do that but they would look into buying it.  When I inquired again, a week prior to our reservation, they said they couldn't get the buns and sauce, but they could offer prepare a gluten free version of the salad with fish (one of the entree choices for everyone else in our group) or make a stir fry of chicken and veggies in olive oil.  Mom and I had one of each and they were very good.  If we'd been offered that in the first place, I would have counted it as a win, but the failure to deliver on the promise soured the experience. 
2) The waitstaff was woefully underprepared for us.  They had one poor girl out there trying desperately to get all the drink orders and bring people's food to the table.  Mind you, we pre-ordered our meals and they were already being plated when we arrived, but there was just no way she could keep up.  People who got their entrees first were often finished eating before their drinks arrived.  My husband was one of the last to be fed.  It was nearly time to leave and at least three-fourths of our party had already finished eating.

I would eat there again, if I were dining in a small group, but I can't recommend them for a catered group as they either don't have the staff or don't have the experience to know how to staff for events. 


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gluten Free in Hawaii

It was a massive undertaking.  We had to get 45 family members from all over the United States to Hawaii to board the Pride of America cruise ship.  Fortunately, it all went off without a hitch.

One of the issues I had in the planning process was finding places that could serve 45 people AND accommodate gluten free for my mother and I. 

On the day of our arrival, we went to the fabulous Hilton Hawaiian Village, a gorgeous hotel right on Waikiki Beach.  We had a stunning view of the ocean from our rooms in the Tapa Tower.  For dinner, we went to Benihana's Japanese Steak House.  If you haven't been to a Benihana's (or similar Teppanyaki restaurant), you are missing out.  The food is prepared on the table in front of you, with the chef doing little tricks to entertain you, like spinning an egg on his spatula, or making a flaming volcano out of onion rings. 

The problem, of course, is that Japanese food = soy sauce.  Everything Benihana's serves is loaded with it.  However, I have always found them to be very accommodating IF YOU BRING YOUR OWN SOY SAUCE.  In this case, we had called ahead and they knew we were coming.  Our party was divided into 5 tables, because each table only serves 8.  The chef they assigned to our table is a Celiac himself, so he was familiar with the diet.

Since everyone at our table was family, we agreed to ask the chef not to use gluten in any of our entrees, which he accommodated.  (If you are dining with less than 8 people, this could be a problem.)  It is actually very reassuring to watch the food made in front of us, since it gave us confidence that no gluten was sneaking it's way in. 

Mom and I couldn't have the soup, and the salad came without salad dressing, but we enjoyed the shrimp appetizer, the fried rice and stir fried veggies (zucchini and onions) and our entrees (Mom had shrimp, I had Hibachi Chicken).

We were very pleased with the dinner and their willingness to accommodate us.  Yea, Benihana!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gluten Free in Frisco

Frisco is a suburb north of Dallas, near Plano.  This is a great place to raise kids.  There are tons of kid friendly things to do, and the one my kids like best is to go to one of the many cupcake bakeries and get a cupcake.  (This is an interesting phenomenon.  When I was a kid, we just called these places bakeries.  I don't know when cupcakes started rating star billing.)

Until recently, only the kids could get goodies though, unless we drove all the way down to Dallas to go to Sprinkles, which has a gluten free red velvet cupcake.  Yesterday, I was leaving the parking lot of Hobby Lobby when my good friend Debi called me and said "I'm at the grand opening of a new cupcake place and they are giving out free samples of gluten free chocolate cake."  Naturally, I said "I'll be right there."

The Frost It Cafe is on Warren Parkway, off Preston.  (Next to Polished Nail Salon.)  The cafe has a number of sandwich-y and breakfast-y type items.  I didn't ask about those.  I was there for cake.  The samples were of their flourless chocolate cake, a moist rich dessert most celiacs are familiar with.  For some reason, these cakes are often either too sweet or too rich.  This one was perfect.  It had that rich chocolaty flavor with lots of nuance that wasn't overpowered by too much sweetness.

They also have gluten free chocolate chip cookies, so I had one of those as well, and a cup of tea.  The cookie was tasty, definitely comparable to any "normal" chocolate chip cookie; but the real winner was the flourless chocolate cake.

I look forward to going here often, and working my way through their interesting assortment of hot teas.


Date Night in North Texas

My husband and I have a standing "date night" once a week.  Date night is, of course, complicated by the fact that "dinner and a movie" is limited greatly by where I CAN eat dinner.  

Lately, our favorite spot is Top Golf, in Allen.  This huge complex has dozens of "bays" overlooking a golf green with numerous "target" holes.  A machine dispenses golf balls to you, each with a little microchip that relates the position of your ball back to a computer which automatically keeps score for you.  It's a fun, addictive game with no walking or sand traps.  You just whack balls onto the green and watch where they land.  

Some of you, who know me well, may now be wondering if I've been taken over by space aliens.  It is well established that Sandy does not like sports of any kind; BUT, Sandy does like outdoor patios, good food, and funky drinks.  Basically, I get to sit outside and drink, and occasionally take out my frustrations on a poor defenseless ball.  

The gluten free items on the menu are clearly marked with a "g" and the food is very good, although the selection of gluten free items is not extensive.  I typically get chips with guacamole and a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad.  I haven't tried them yet, but the Spinach Artichoke Dip and the chili are also gluten free.  The drink menu includes a killer Tropical Sangria with white wine and fresh pineapple juice.  

It's a great place for a date night.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Knapp's Restaurant

It's been a long time since I went to Knapp's Restaurant in the Finger Lakes, a beautiful spot with an arbor covered patio overlooking the vineyards of the winery. It used to be one of my favorite places to go before I found out I was gluten intolerant. That, and the fact that they no longer serve dinner, only lunch, had put a damper on my going there. I heard that they had very nice salads though, so I decided to try them out. As it turned out, they do have incredible salads, but I didn't have one. What I did have was a very nice salmon in a limoncello beurre blanc with some garlic/herb mashed potatoes. The salmon was supposed to come with orzo, but the potatoes came with the chicken, so the kitchen did not actually have to make something special.

The day that we went was very cold and rainy – it may have been in the 50's – in June! – so we sat indoors. There was a lot of nice art around the walls, all for sale. I was sorely tempted by a beautiful photograph of a bird on a branch. In earlier times at Knapp's the music in the background had been light classical, but this time it was 60's rock. If there had been no one else in the restaurant I would have gotten up and danced. Who needs gluten?! It was a great day.