Over the River

Visiting family is wonderful. Well, mostly. They may be our biggest fans as well as our biggest critics. And nothing can go against the grain more than having different habits. Whether it’s a food preference or aversion, a life-style change,

religious considerations, or food allergies, visiting family can put pressures and set expectations that you don’t face in your day-to-day routine.

I remember when I decided I was eating too much salt. I was in my early twenties, and I had cut out added salt on everything. When I visited my mother on vacation, she simply wouldn’t hear of it. She had made salted nuts. They were almonds that were coated in salt. Not just a sprinkling, but a thick shell of salt. She thought they were wonderful, and simply would not accept the fact that I had not eaten salt in months. She was able to pressure me like no other person. I finally gave into her constant demands and had one. Just one. It was such a shock to my system that I promptly threw it up. My mother was not amused, and never did understand.

I’m sorry to say that her passing before my allergy diagnosis was a blessing. She would not have understood it. I don’t remember anyone having food allergies when I was growing up. The closest thing were people that were diagnosed with diabetes. My uncle was one of those, and his wife became an expert of cooking without sugar. She learned to make delicious desserts that everyone was excited to eat. Grocery stores carried several types of cookies and sweets, but for the most part they were dry and tasteless. People were so desperate and unable to learn much about diabetic cooking, that they were willing to put up with it.

That is still an issue today for people dealing with allergies. There are some wonderful products available, with more appearing all the time. But there are also many products that just don’t live up to the hype. You need to have the patience to sort through items, try different things, and listen to your friends and people like you. It’s possible to make delicious meals that are safe for your allergy sufferers that will be enjoyed by the entire family. Don’t feel the need to make separate dishes.

Which takes us back to relatives and your food allergies. The first line of defense is speaking honestly with anyone in the immediate family about not being shamed into eating. You may hear the line: “One bite won’t hurt you”. Of course, depending on the severity of your allergies, one bite may kill you. So you need to emphasis that it’s okay to say “no”.

If it’s some place that you visit often, consider storing an air-tight tote there that contains non-perishable foods and snacks. A safe, welcome treat is a wonderful thing when you first arrive, and it’s nice to know that you don’t need to stop at a grocery just before arrival. People are happy to store games and toys for nieces, nephews, and grandkids, but may feel uncomfortable doing the same with foods. Make it easy for your relatives – create and stock your personal food locker that can stay in the pantry or closet between visits.

One thing I prefer is doing the cooking. While I may be in a strange kitchen, they only way I feel safe is to either bring my own food or to prepare the meals. Most hosts are happy to have someone else take on the responsibility of cooking. Don’t be afraid that you are diminishing the hospitality of your hosts. Think of the consequences if you have an allergy reaction.

So the next time you travel over the river and through the woods, grandmother will be equipped to entertain and feed your family without the drama. And that’s a good thing.

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Happy Trails

Traveling with food allergies is always a challenge and it’s been made even more so with Covid restrictions. Covid or no Covid, the key to having an adventure and not a disaster is pre-planning. As an example, traveling by car offers a ton of choices and challenges. For our situation, we normally don’t travel by car more than a day’s worth. Part of that is dealing with Covid, and not wanting to find a great place to spend the night. Luckily right now, most of our business and family interests are within our state, so our travels are within a day’s worth of driving. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes spend the night with friends or family, but that’s a story for another day.

Variety is key to happiness. I may not be able to have a cheeseburger or taco but having food choices is important. I select both savory and sweet options. I’m not usually a desert eater, but I do enjoy sweet options when I travel. I begin with premade items. Beef sticks and jerky are on my list. I carefully check the nutritional labels for allergy triggers, in my case wheat. Then I turn to my goodie box. Chips of some sort. I can do generic potato chips and tortilla chips. I just have to watch if they have some sort of coating. I also enjoy dried fruits, and those are generally okay for me. Then I add some other types of sweets. I can have dark chocolate – it doesn’t contain milk – so there arealways several choices in my box.

While you might think a snack box is the end of it, the bigger challenge is the drive through delight when my husband gets hungry. Yes, certain drive throughs offer salads as an option, but that has a limited appeal for me. If I have salad dressing with me, then that might be okay, but I only have a limited interest in salad – especially if my husband is eating a cheeseburger. Don’t misunderstand me, I want him to enjoy a burger. Ninety percent of the meals he eats are limited by my allergies, so I encourage him to eat something different when we are out. If I feel needy, I may get some french fries. These are usually okay, as long as they are not coated. If it looks like there is some kind of coating, my husband call tell with one bite, and then I just have to say ‘no’.

That’s where a nice hot meal comes into play. It’s time to pull out the thermos. One of my favorite travel foods is Daiya Cheezy Mac – or as I like to call it – not Mac nor Cheese. It is one of the few dairy and gluten free options available. I cook it different ways. Add taco ground beef and I have a cheese burger mac, add smoked salmon and fresh herbs, and I have an upscale meal. Other thermos options are soups, curries, and casseroles.If I plan the night before, I can make extra dinner servings that will fit into my thermos.

I always take real utensils. A sandwich sized Ziplock will hold the dirty items until we return home. Paper towels are a must. I can have coffee if I bring my own non-dairy milk, I don’t like the way most non-dairy options offered taste. Not sure why that is, but what I bring from home is just so much better. Or maybe it’s just what I’m used to. Besides my milk, I also bring butter, mayonnaise, salad dressing, and cream cheese. Also some bread, just in case. All dairy, gluten, and egg free of course.

These are some of my tricks for car travel. Being prepared allows me to focus on enjoying the views and our destination, and not the limitations of the food options along the way.

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Becoming a Hunter Gather

fruit

When I plan my food shopping morning, it gets complicated. It used to be easy. Go to any major chain and buy some food, take it home, and make dinner. Then if you want to go out for dinner, the sky’s the limit. Anything goes.

Not so with food allergies. Plus with multiple allergies, it’s extremely rare that we eat out. And it’s not as easy to shop. I live in a community large enough to have multiple grocery outlets, so here is my usual routine.

I begin my morning at the big box store. You know the one. It’s great for large items and household items, such as paper towels and, yes, toilet paper. And I love their rotisserie chickens. I consider them to be a guilty pleasure. If I’m making a chicken pot pie, I just cut off a breast and add it to the pie. Stir fry is easy, and I also enjoy a great chicken curry. Additionally, I get my frozen vegetables

there. They come in a very large bag, but it’s easy enough to grab a handful. I usually steam them, but sometimes they go right into to the pan, such as when I’m preparing my curry.

My next stop is the regular grocery. I have two that I choose from. This is where I get my fresh produce. Also the smaller sized processed foods, such as salad dressing, canned beans, and salsas. Part of my decision in choosing a store is whether or not I need non-dairy butter. One store has it in stick form, while the other has tubs. When I asked one of the stockers their response was: “It’s all the

same product.” While this is true, it’s simply easier to measure sticks when baking.

Additionally, one of the two stores has become a big winner as they carry a large selection of locally produced foods. Everything from jelly to artisan breads, to gluten-free mixes. They also stock many varieties of allergy free foods. I have taken the time to personally thank the store manager for stocking so many great choices for allergy sufferers.

I visit both the big box store and the local grocery once a week. My other shopping is on an as-needed basis.

I use a restaurant supply store a few times a year, that’s where I buy my meat. It comes in giant pieces, so I need to schedule time to do some butchering and then then they go into Food Saver bags. They last for many months in the freezer. I also buy a giant tub of minced garlic there, as well as some snack items – such as nuts.

There is one other trick to be found at the restaurant supply. I buy sleeves of to-go coffee containers. For the price of two cups of coffee on the road, we can buy fifty empty cups and lids and enjoy our own coffee with our preferred milk substitute.

We are a large enough community that we can support small specialty grocers where I purchase many varieties of non-dairy cheeses. Most are local or regional, and they are delicious. So far, the hard cheeses need some improvement, but the soft cheeses offer wonderful combinations of flavors and possibilities. This is also where I get my gluten-free pie crusts, seriously one of my guilty pleasures.

Finally, there are a few items that I must order online. When I compare when I started this adventure to now, this has been the biggest change. I used to order so many products online, now it is very few. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love the freedom of online shopping. But it’s also wonderful to be able to get most the special things I need locally.

It’s all about time. When I know I can go into the store and be back in an hour it is easy. Online is an entirely different process that requires more planning since I order now but it comes in a week.

There are so many wonderful products available to experiment with and enjoy. Gluten-free flours and grains, egg-free breads, dairy-free delights. Don’t be afraid to try new products, but when you find a perfect product, embrace it!

So when I’m asked where I shop, I have to respond: It’s complicated.  

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