Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cooking Gluten Free on the Road

After many years of minimal traveling due to health problems and stringent food needs, my daughter and I took a road trip together. In the last few years I had traveled by car to Maine for weeklong vacations by the ocean. With practice I mastered the art of packing the car: Kombucha tea into its special box, loaves of home made bread, frozen Highly Digestible Beans, vegetables from the garden, water kefir, milk kefir, grains, nuts, dried fruit and olive oil. I had the packing pattern down pat.

This trip was going to be different, however, as we were traveling by plane. Some people, when faced with a flight across the country followed by an 8 day road trip ending with a family wedding, pack lots of clothes and shoes. I, on the other hand, pack lots of food and equipment. I packed an Elite Rice Cooker with steamer attachment, a small toaster and a few plastic containers for soaking and storage. In the suitcase I used clothes for cushioning around the equipment.

The day before we left I baked 3 loaves of gluten free sourdough chia bread and sliced it into 30 slices. My chia bread recipe is extremely long lived so I knew it would last the week. I packed it in a plastic container lined with wax paper. (My daughter is also allergic to gluten so I packed enough for her) I also packed dry rice and lentils, rice cakes, nuts and a homemade amaranth/teff mix for breakfast which is simply a 50/50 mix of whole grain amaranth and teff. I brought 2 Ziploc screw-on containers to soak the grains and lentils.

I also packed provisions for the full day of traveling:
I cooked extra bluefish the day before mixing the leftovers with olive oil, salt, lime juice and a Cajun pepper mix. I added some lightly steamed broccoli and layered it over bed of rice. I also packed a bag of fresh cut celery and carrots. For snacks I toasted 6 thick slices of bread right before leaving the house to have with Applegate Farm sliced chicken.

A few days before the trip I cooked a pot of Highly Digestible Beans putting some portions of it immediately into the freezer. One portion had rice so it was almost a complete meal. I also froze 2 portions of cooked amaranth/teff hot cereal. My plan was to have 24-36 hours of prepared food so I wouldn’t have to think about cooking until I had a good rest. The only thing I would have to do was soak nuts before bed.

When it was time to go I packed the frozen beans and amaranth/teff in the bottom of the lunch bag. These would defrost slowly keeping the fish, chicken and veggies cold.

The food worked better than I had hoped. The toasted bread was great for snacks and was even great without anything on it! My fish lunch was perfect. Satisfying and unusual. When we had a midday stopover in Detroit we bought nori rolls at a Sushi Restaurant in the airport for dinner later on the connecting flight. This worked perfectly with the cut veggies. We arrived a little weary but well fed.

In the hotel room I began unpacking and realized that I had a minor luggage malfunction. There was brown rice scattered all over everything. No big deal. It could wait till morning. The frozen food had defrosted but was still very cold. They went right into the mini refrigerator. I made up 2 portions of nuts to soak for the morning.

As we were wired from our trip and unable to sleep my daughter and I went out for a walk in the cool San Francisco evening around Fisherman’s Wharf and unexpectedly found some colorful plastic plates from the Rain Forest CafĂ© that we could use for our meals.

In the morning I dug out the rice cooker from the suitcase, pouring off the scattered rice. I heated water in it and reheated the cold amaranth/teff mixture. I mixed it with the soaked, drained nuts and had a normal breakfast minus flax oil and cinnamon but I was very happy with it.

We would spend one full day in San Francisco and move on. I soaked some lentils for the next day of traveling. I gathered some more of the scattered rice and soaked some of that, as well. I would cook later in the day, probably when I needed a rest from jet lag.

My regular diet includes beans nearly every day. They are an excellent source of protein and add variety to my meals. My Highly Digestible Beans cause me no intestinal distress whatsoever whereas if I eat beans without my usual preparation I have a lot of discomfort. I didn’t want to give up beans but I knew that the cooking time would be difficult in a hotel room so I decided on lentils because they soak and cook more quickly than other beans. Usually I add a fermented liquid to the soaking water and cook my beans with seaweed but I was able to cut those steps out without any intestinal distress.

Using the steamer I planned to steam veggies during the last part of the cook time. We could make a few meals and store them in the lunch bag with ice in a Ziplock screw top

With my lentils and rice happily soaking I began a bit of sightseeing. My daughter had already begun catching up with friends so I was on my own. I was concerned about having bouts of sudden jetlag fatigue. The last time I traveled to California, pre-gluten and food sensitivity diagnoses, it took seven days to recover from the jet lag. Huge blood sugar swings, huge fatigue, huge hunger. After I finally recovered I only had 3 days of vacation time left only to begin the jetlag process soon after arriving home. It is a testament to the power of a body to heal because on this trip I only had one hour of jetlag in both directions!

I began walking along Fisherman’s Wharf and saw an enormous seal lounging on a dock. Then I took a trolley to the Ferry Building which now houses unusually beautiful shops and artisanal food markets including an organic farm store where I bought some veggies for the big hotel room cooking experiment. There was also a push cart selling gluten free breads and treats by Mariposa. So beautiful!

After a few hours I felt the fatigue set in and headed back to the hotel. After a short rest I began my cooking adventure. The cooker has two settings, “cook” and “warm” which translate as really high and really low. I brought the lentils to a boil on cook and turned it down to warm. This probably works well for slow cooked rice but resulted in barely simmering lentils so I turned it up to cook again and kept my eye on it for about an hour, stirring often with a small wooden spoon. This worked well. Using my pocket knife I cut up the veggies from the organic farm store, swiss chard and turnip, and steamed them during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. I realized I couldn’t cook the rice in time to eat dinner because the rice cooker was full of very hot lentils so I toasted a piece of multigrain bread and had that with the lentils. Dinner was really excellent. When they were cool I stored the leftovers in lunch containers and stored them right next to the little freezer in the mini fridge.

The next morning I cooked the rice and had it for breakfast. It was nice break from amaranth/teff and helped me continue rotating my food.

As we began our road trip down the coast we happily ate our leftovers for lunch. We had some meals out, carefully questioning our servers but by day five I wasn’t eating my own food any more and began to feel sluggish and spacey. I repeated the soaking and cooking routine again and got myself back on track, feeling much better.

After driving past many mountains and elephant seals we arrived at our family event, the wedding. I had already sent my food requests to the hostess who forwarded them to the caterers. Turns out the groom was gluten intolerant as were a handful of others! Our little gluten free club included some vegetarians, some sugar-frees and some dairy frees. The caterer did a fantastic job of accommodating us with beautiful food of great culinary height. There were gluten free challah rolls, (egg bread) that I hesitated to eat, being sensitive to eggs, but decided to take a chance after being off of eggs for 3 years. They were very nice and doughy. The “wedding cake” was a tower of gluten free cupcakes! I scraped off the sugary frosting after having a little taste of it. The cake part, which had walnuts in it, was a beautiful texture with very delicate spicing. It also probably had eggs in it so I got to test myself a little further. I did have a moderate reaction the next day and now feel sure that eggs should stay out of my regular diet.


It was a blessing to go to an event and receive such good care around our food needs. I also have tremendous gratitude for the many advances in alternative medicine and gluten free awareness which has made it possible for me to regain my health and travel again.

4 comments:

  1. You write beautifully, so breezy and fun to read! Lots of great ideas to think about for my next trip. Thank you! All the planning and packing and timing of your food preparation sounded worthwhile in the end, since it kept jet lag at bay and allowed you to feel vibrant and clearheaded rather than sluggish and spacey (on the Standard American Diet). Food rotation was a good point to bring up; I have to remind myself to do that. I like the sound of amaranth-teff-nuts for breakfast. And I LOVED the sound of your spicy bluefish-broccoli-rice dish!! How clever to bring some handy equipment and containers, and nutrient-dense foods that travel well. What a bonus to arrive at a gluten-free wedding. That really was the icing on the cake of your trip!

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  2. Thanks for your comment. I feel seen and understood by your comments!

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  3. I totally understand where you are coming from and what it is like to have to travel gluten free. It takes a lot to prepare food for a trip especially if you have multiple food allergies. I am amazed at how many places are becoming more aware of the food allergies issues and am grateful when there is at least one dish on the menu I can have. It sounds like you got your system down. I give you a lot of credit. Hopefully one day, we can travel easily from one place to another without having to give any thought to food because gluten free will be the norm.

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  4. Thanks for your comment, Sweet Pea. I, too look forward to the day we can travel easily without major preparations. Thing of all the time that will be freed up!

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