On the Road With Daphne Oz

Last October, I was excited to find an excellent article on Oprah’s website about gluten intolerance. The author was Daphne Oz, daughter of Oprah’s favorite health expert, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Daphne, who graduated from Princeton in  2008, is an author in her own right: in 2006, she published The Dorm Room Diet, which is being re-released in an expanded and revised edition this September; in 2007, she wrote The Dorm Room Diet Planner. She is also co-author of the bestselling books You: The Owner’s Manual, You: The Smart Patient, You: On a Diet, You: Staying Young, and You: Being Beautiful. Last year, after experiencing health issues that ranged from sleep problems to weight fluctuations, Daphne followed the advice of a naturopathic, Ayurvedic doctor who recommended that she cut gluten from her diet. While tests have shown that she doesn’t have celiac disease, Daphne noticed her health improve on the gluten-free diet. She’s currently at work on a self-improvement book about conscious living.

How often do you travel? I am a total gypsy. In October and November, I was living in Chicago, but now I’m back in New York. Recently I’ve also traveled to Florida, Philadelphia, Maine, California, and England.

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? There are some staples that I always bring with me, like pistachio nuts. My dad has really drilled home the nuts issue! They’re a great snack. I also bring apples and soy crisps. Generally, I prefer to eat food I’ve brought with me, rather than what’s served on a plane.

What other things do you always bring with you? I’ve assembled a travel pack because I’m on the road so much. I bring hand sanitizer, facial moisturizer, lip balm, and a full-size pillow — those tiny pillows they give you on planes just don’t work for me. I bring my iPod and a bunch of magazines, like Oprah and Vogue.

Any favorite restaurants? I absolutely love a New York restaurant called Peasant. They serve fresh fish with just a little olive oil and sage. There’s no gluten-free menu, but the food prep is so simple that many dishes are naturally gluten-free. There’s another place in New York, Fatty Crab, that I really like. They serve Malaysian cuisine and have amazing coconut-milk broths. In Los Angeles, I always go to the Newsroom Café, which does great vegetarian food, and the LA Mill, a coffeeshop that serves food, including gluten-free crackers. In London, I just had brunch at Baker & Spice, where they had wonderful Mediterranean salads, like peppers and feta cheese, and roasted sweet potato.

Any favorite hotels? Staying at the Penninsula in Los Angeles was probably the most luxurious experience of my life.

Favorite city or destination that is not your hometown or current home base? I love Istanbul for many reasons. I have family there, the food is wonderful, and the city has this amazing union of Byzantine architecture and modern skyscrapers. I also love London, even though the weather is terrible.

What’s your dream destination? The place that immediately comes to mind is Thailand, because of the history and culture. I’d also love to see Bora Bora.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? When you’re traveling, one of the best things to do is to visit a local market, where you can get fresh fruit. Not only is that good for you, but it teaches you a bit about the culture of a place.

Photograph provided courtesy of Daphne Oz.

The Best of 2009 for the Gluten-Free

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One of my favorite things about the last week of the year is that it’s a good time to take stock of what’s happened over the past 360+ days. In 2009, I found that some posts got a great deal of feedback from readers — and I learned that sometimes it’s impossible to predict which ones will spark the most interest. Below are the posts that garnered the greatest responses, and if you missed them the first time around, you can still read them (and comment) now.

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to e-mail me, follow me on Twitter, join the Facebook group, or make a comment on the site. I deeply appreciate your support, and look forward to hearing more from you in 2010. Happy new year!

Vacation Planning for Celiacs: Cruises

The irony for me was that, after researching different cruise options, I ended up going to Las Vegas instead. But my research wasn’t wasted: because I looked at the gluten-free options onboard different cruise lines, I was able to share what I’d found about Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, MSC and other companies. Better yet, so many readers contacted me about their cruise experiences (mostly with positive reports about dining gluten-free) that it inspired another post.

New York City Day by Day… for Celiacs

When I wrote the New York City Day by Day guidebook for Frommer’s, I was a newly diagnosed celiac. Fortunately, the book didn’t require full-length restaurant reviews; since it was intended as a cheat sheet to the city, and mostly filled with walking tours, I could get away with short mentions of favorite eateries. Of course, that list included many great spots for the gluten-free, such as Rosa Mexicano, Rice, Blue Smoke, and Pure Food & Wine. The book is now available as a download from the New York Public Library; for details, check out the original post.

Philadelphia’s Great Gluten-Free Initiative

Bravo to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness for training so many Philadelphia chefs via its Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) program… to the wonderful chefs who took part… and to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation for being savvy enough to recognize this as a terrific tourism initiative.

Smart Businesses Support Celiacs

This was inspired by Starbucks’ “now you see it, now you don’t” gluten-free Orange Valencia Cake. Remember it? But the post was about much more than Starbucks. It was about making smart choices to support businesses that are responsive to their customers’ needs. One of the things I wrote last July was, “At a time when we’re all watching our budgets, I’d like to make a case for spending even more carefully. If a major corporation isn’t serious about serving the gluten-intolerant, I see no reason to support them.” I stand by that position.

Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Toronto Eaton Centre

This post was an accident. While I was in Toronto last June, working on the Frommer’s Toronto 2010 guidebook, a business lunch was canceled at the last minute. Since I was stranded near the Eaton Centre, my hometown’s famous shopping complex, I decided to explore the fast-food options there. The response from readers was overwhelming. It turned out that just about everyone wanted to know more about celiac-safe fast food. This post had an unexpected result: a Toronto reader wrote to tell me that the Druxy’s Famous Deli in Commerce Court had gluten-free bread. When another reader saw that, she contacted Peter Druxerman, Druxy’s vice-president of marketing, to ask if the company could make gluten-free bread available at their outlet inside Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. In the blink of an eye, Druxy’s responded, adding gluten-free bread to its offerings at PMH. Remember what I said earlier about supporting businesses that are responsive to their customers?

On the Road With…

I love finding out the secrets of great travelers. Both Alice Bast, founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and Sloane Miller, who writes the delightful Allergic Girl blog and runs Worry-Free Dinners in New York, were kind enough to share many of theirs.

Mail-Ordering Gluten-Free Groceries

First and foremost, the Gluten-Free Guidebook is about travel and dining out. But even if you’re on the road a lot, as I am, you need to buy groceries sometimes. I’m lucky to have some great spots near me in New York, but there are also some companies that I order from online. And it still surprises me that Amazon consistently offers some of the best prices on gluten-free groceries.

A Celebratory Gluten-Free Lunch in New York

For those of you who know me mainly as a travel writer and celiac advocate, it came as a shock that I have a dark side. My debut crime novel, The Damage Done, will be published by Forge in October 2010. I have been publishing short stories for a while, but I’m still happily surprised about my two-book deal with Forge. What I didn’t expect was that some criminally minded fiction types would be interested in the Gluten-Free Guidebook, too. David Cranmer, editor of Beat to a Pulp (one of the best places to find contemporary crime fiction), asked me about both my novel and my gluten-free travels when he interviewed me. Jen Forbus, the book blogger behind the wonderful Jen’s Book Thoughts, was kind enough to ask me to take part in her Six-Word Memoir project, in which she asked crime writers — including Dennis Lehane, Linda Fairstein, Joseph Wambaugh, Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, and Mary Higgins Clark — to sum themselves up in six words. Have you read mine yet?

On the Road With Allergic Girl

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When I started the Gluten-Free Guidebook in March 2008, one of my role models was Sloane Miller. I admired her Allergic Girl blog for its charming style, thoroughly researched posts, and sense of adventure. Many people with gluten intolerance or food allergies focus on what they can’t have; Sloane’s writing inspires me with the sense of what’s possible. A tireless advocate for the food-allergic, Sloane has been featured in many national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN.com, New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, and ABCNews.com. A New York State-licensed psychotherapeutic social worker since 2000, Sloane founded a private coaching practice, Allergic Girl Resources, for the food-allergic community in 2007. Part of her practice includes Worry-Free Dinners, an NYC-based dining club for adults and children with food allergies and intolerances. Here’s what she had to say about her recent travels.

How often do you travel? Not often enough. I fly 2-4 times a year domestically and I get away on weekends throughout the year.

Where have you traveled since going gluten-free? I’ve been gluten-free since 2004, and since then all of my travel has been domestic: Florida, Long Island, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Eastern seaboard mainly.

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? As someone with food allergies (tree nuts, salmon, some fruits and veggies; and I’m dairy- and wheat-intolerant) my family has been traveling with food for as long as I can remember. My standard complement includes: boxes of juices, packages of applesauce, dried organic fruit (raisins, apricots, dates), granola that I make at home (recipe here), rice crackers and organic cheese, fruit, Enjoy Life cookies and chocolates. Most of my bag is actually food when I travel. I also shop when I get to a new place. I find the local grocery or greenmarket and stock up on allergy-friendly local goodies.

What other things do you always bring with you? Medicines for environmental allergies, food allergies and allergic asthma, always in multiples, and all up to date. A travel pillow, check. Tea, check. (I like PG Tips from England so I always make sure to have some on hand when traveling. Also if I feel wheezy because of a new room, space or hotel, some caffeine helps to calm it down.) Magazines that I never have time to read otherwise: The New Yorker, Oprah, Lucky and Real Simple. Music and movies although I rarely get to those, too. There’s a lot of packing in my world that’s for a just in case scenario. Just in case there are delays and I need food or entertainment, just in case there are feather pillows only and I need something to sleep on. Clothing is always secondary to food because what’s better than shopping for new duds in a new place?

How do you prepare for a trip? Homework, homework, homework.  All the advance work makes getting there and being there so much more relaxing. Of course, you also need to prepare for the unexpected by remaining calm and flexible and that’s where your just-in-case provisions come in handy. I recently traveled for work to Boston and I had brought enough food with me for three days (dinners, lunches and breakfasts). Very quickly, I made friends with the hotel chef who cooked all of my meals for me, allergen-free. So then I schlepped all of the food home again. There were unexpected train delays because of a bomb scare. Was I concerned? Nope, I had enough food to feed half the line.

Any favorite restaurants? My favorite NYC safe restos are listed here. Now ask me, where do I think I and my dietary needs will be welcomed with open arms, delicious food and excellent service? I have that dream list too: Alinea in Chicago, IL, Per Se in NYC, Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, to name a few.

Any favorite hotels? I love small boutique hotels, ones that take an interest in each and every guest. I especially love returning to a hotel year after year, having a favorite room and overlook. The Standard Miami (room 32) is one fave. So is the St Thomas D’Aquin (room 15) in Paris. I’ve been invited to stay at the Winvian in CT for work. The property looks wonderful and like it may be a new favorite.

Favorite city or destination that is not your hometown or current home base? Drat. I do love New York. It is my hometown, my current home base and my favorite tourist spot. I love Paris and London, and Oxford, cities I’ve spent considerable time in. I also love the English countryside, I’d like to see more of it. I love the ocean; ocean towns are some of my faves.

What’s your dream destination? When I was little my dream destination was Hawaii. Probably because of too many reruns of the Brady Brunch goes to Hawaii eps. However, I think I’d still like to go there for maybe a month and explore.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Don’t be afraid to travel because you believe you may not be able to eat safely. There are many valuable resources out there to help you. Seek them out and use them. Here’s an article by Conde Nast Traveler that may help you get on your way. And of course, Gluten-Free Guidebook, which is an invaluable resource. Thanks, Hilary!

Photograph of Sloane Miller: copyright Kenneth Chen.

Reader Reports on Gluten-Free Cruising

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Ironically, after I researched several possible cruises and cruise lines for my vacation, I ended up picking a desert location instead. But my research wasn’t wasted: I heard from several readers who had considered taking a cruise but had been worried about doing so because of their gluten intolerance and, in a couple of cases, their food allergies. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that many cruise lines are sensitive to these issues.

Others responded to the post by sharing their own experiences with cruising. Janet Rinehart, the Chairman of the Houston Celiac Support Group, had terrific things to say about the cruise lines she’d traveled with, and also some good advice for anyone taking a cruise:

I have found from years of experience that Holland America also does gluten-free very well. Holland America has tours from Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe, New Zealand/Australia, and more. Also, Vantage and Viking Tours in Europe are excellent. We have traveled on the rivers from Amsterdam to the Black Sea on various legs of river boat trips with Vantage. The sightseeing (all included) is excellent and they do gluten-free very well. It helps to have translated restaurant cards (laminate several to have with you) in English and the country’s language in which you are traveling for both the ship’s chef and off-shore restaurants.

For language cards, I recommend one of my favorite sites, Celiac Travel. For some guidelines about dealing with celiac disease in a foreign language, check out this post.

Another reader, Alice, had a particularly terrific experience to share:

I went on a cruise with the Norwegian Cruise Line last March & experienced first class service.  I was presented with the menu a day in advance & the Assistant Maitre D’ would assist me with choosing items that could be made gluten free by the chef.  If he had any doubts about anything he would communicate with the chief chef.  The Assistant Maitre D’ would serve me personally; he would make sure that no one would make a mistake with my meals.  I was astounded by the degree of care & attention my meals received.  People were jealous of the personal service that I received.  I was treated like some royalty.  It was the most relaxing holiday I ever had since being diagnosed with celiac disease. The only restriction was that we had to eat in the 2 main dining rooms in order to obtain the meals I had ordered the previous day. Otherwise, it was like going to any other restaurant — studying the menu & discussing the different items with the waiters & deciding on a safe meal.  The Norwegian Cruise Line has several restaurants on board & one can eat at any of them.  There are no restrictions as to sitting times, etc.  I’m going on another cruise this winter with the Norwegian Cruise Line.  I would highly recommend it.  I hope this is of help to your readers.

Thanks so much to Janet and to Alice for sharing their reports. As for me, I’m hoping to have some new restaurants to share — when I get back from Las Vegas!

Vacation Planning for Celiacs: Cruises

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It turned cold very early this fall in New York, as it has in much of North America. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking of taking a vacation somewhere warm. One thing that I’ve never tried is a cruise. I’ve taken day-long boat trips in places like Newfoundland and Chile, but that’s just not the same thing.

My daydreaming may have been inspired by a reader, Barbara Collins, who wrote to me in July to share her fantastic experience onboard a Holland America cruise ship. You can read her letter in this post. It was extremely encouraging to hear that a cruise line would go above and beyond the basics to take care of a wheat-allergic and gluten-intolerant traveler.

What I’ve discovered so far is that many cruise lines seem willing to accommodate people on gluten-free diets and other special diets. Each cruise line seems to have a different policy on the subject. Most seem to have a special requests form that you must fill out, often weeks in advance of your cruise. While I haven’t tried any of the following cruise lines — yet — all of them sound pretty great.

Carnival: “Guests with special diets can be accommodated on Carnival Cruise Line,” boasts the company’s website. In addition to gluten-free, Carnival offers meals for a range of special diets, including vegetarian, low sugar, and low fat.

Disney Cruise Line: While advance notice is required to accommodate special diets — at the time of booking the cruise is strongly recommended — Disney is able to prepare meals for an incredible range of special diets. Vegetarian options are widely available on its ships, as a matter of course.

MSC Cruises: Given that Italy is a world leader in celiac awareness, it’s no surprise that this Italian cruise line takes special care of its gluten-free guests. However, there are different offerings on its different vessels. According to MSC’s website, “MSC Cruises works closely with the AIC-Associazione Italiana Celiachia (Italian Celiac Association) to provide gluten-free menus in the restaurants of MSC Fantasia, MSC Musica, MSC Orchestra and MSC Poesia cruising in the Mediterranean and in Northern Europe. On MSC Splendida, MSC Lirica, MSC Opera, MSC Sinfonia, MSC Armonia, [and] MSC Melody, guests can find pre-packaged gluten-free products like snacks, biscuits, croissants, plumcakes and muffins.”

Princess: This cruise line emphasizes “personal choice dining” so there are plenty of options. Gluten-free, dairy-free, salt-free, MSG-free, and vegan meals are all available — when arranged for in advance of sailing.

Royal Caribbean: Special diets this line accommodates include gluten-free, low-sodium, and low-fat. They are also happy to accommodate those with food allergies. These meals should all be arranged in advance. Note that vegetarian meals are also available without any advance notification. As Royal Caribbean says, “We make every effort to accommodate our guests’ dietary requirements whenever possible.”

I’d love to hear about your cruise experiences. Please let me know how well you were able to eat while at sea.

Roundup: Gluten-Free Summer

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I’m always grateful when the Gluten-Free Guidebook gets coverage in the media, and so it was a thrill when the site got a mention in the July issue of the JourneyWoman newsletter. If you travel solo, for work or for pleasure, JourneyWoman is an amazing resource (and while some of its tips are certainly geared towards women, many apply to men, too; just sign up on the site to receive the free newsletter via e-mail).

I heard from several people as a result of JourneyWoman’s coverage, and wanted to mention a tip I got from Barbara Collins, who had a fantastic experience with Holland America:

I read about your site in JourneyWoman Newsletter.  I recently got back from a cruise to Alaska with the Holland America cruise line.  When I signed up for the cruise, they had the possibility to indicate special dietary needs.  In fact, I am not celiac, but do have a severe allergy to wheat and a lesser intolerance for gluten.  But I am even more complicated in that I am also allergic to dairy and eggs.

Holland America took this very seriously and every day gave me the menu for the following day from which I made my choices.  They then prepared that menu specially for me not including any of the ingredients to which I was allergic or intolerant.  In fact, I was surprised one evening when I ordered something Asian and my dining partner had the same thing, but hers had a drizzle of soy sauce and mine didn’t.  It was then that I found out that soy sauce contains wheat!

They had quite a good selection of gluten free products as well (bread, muffins, pancakes, etc.). I would definitely recommend this cruise line for anyone with any special dietary needs.

In other news, GF Patisserie, which I’ve written about before, turns one this month. I haven’t had the chance to visit this dedicated gluten-free bakery in Cochrane, Alberta, but I’ve heard only wonderful things about it. If you happen to be in the area (it’s a short drive from Calgary), you’re invited to the bakery on Saturday, August 8th for some celiac-safe birthday cake with founder Victoria Edlinger and her husband, Peter (who writes the Celiac Husband blog).

If you’re in Los Angeles, you might want to check out the SunPower Natural Cafe in Studio City. It’s an organic, vegan raw-food restaurant where all of the desserts are gluten-free, including the tiramisu, cookies, and the “un-cheesecake.” And if you’re near Hackettstown, New Jersey, stop by the Donaldson Farms roadside stand, which my friend Charlie just told me about. The stand is open daily from 8am to 6pm from May 1st to November 26th, and its offerings include fresh fruit, fresh-cut flowers, and fresh-baked gluten-free treats.

Do you have a favorite spot that I should include on the Gluten-Free Guidebook? Please let me know about it.

Conference Dining for Celiacs

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I just spent four days at the ThrillerFest conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York. If you’re a fan of mysteries, crime novels, or thrillers — or if you aspire to write them — you may have heard of it. Best-selling writers such as Lee Child, Steve Martini, Lisa Gardner, David Baldacci and Meg Gardiner all spoke at the event (along with many others). It was a fascinating scene.

And yet, what I was really thinking about was lunch.

When I registered for the conference a couple of months ago, there was a place on the online form to add any special notes. I mentioned that I have celiac disease, and that I would need a gluten-free meal for the luncheon on Thursday (other meals weren’t included in the conference, so this was the only one I needed to arrange in advance). I didn’t really expect to hear anything back from the organizers, so 10 days before the conference, I e-mailed them. I told them what I needed, and asked them how I would go about arranging it. They responded promptly and assured me that they would look into it. And so I waited… and waited.

After a couple of reminder e-mails, I got a message from one of the organizers. This is what it said:

I never got an answer back on my question about this. What we have done in past years for the banquet is that you tell your waiter your special requirements when you are seated. If I learn something different, I’ll let you know.

At this, alarm bells went off for me. While a restaurant can come up with a gluten-free meal with no notice, it’s tougher at a catered event. My worst experience on this front was at a conference I attended in Chicago five years ago, just after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I’d told the organizer what I could and couldn’t have, and she told me I’d be fine. Then, at dinner the first night, I discovered that our meal consisted mainly of pizza. When I cornered the organizer, she was indifferent. “You can eat the toppings on the pizza,” she told me. “You don’t have to eat the crust.”

That was an eye-opener for me. And however ill-informed that conference organizer was, she forced me to realize that even when you explain to someone else what celiac disease is and what you need to avoid, they may not take it as seriously as you do. It was an important lesson.

In the end, my luncheon problem was easily solved, because I got in touch with the catering staff at the Hyatt directly. As with every Hyatt property I’ve visited — from Toronto, Canada to Santiago, Chile — they assured me that it would be no problem to get a gluten-free meal ready for me. And they meant it: I was served a main course of chicken with steamed broccoli and carrots. (Several people I’ve interviewed, including Alice Bast and Vanessa Maltin, have mentioned how helpful and accommodating Hyatt is on the gluten-free front.) But it reminded me that sometimes you really do have to take matters into your own hands.

On the Road With Alice Bast

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Alice Bast is passionate about her mission to educate people about celiac disease. Diagnosed with the disorder in 1994, she founded the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in 2003. As its executive director, she has worked with leaders in the medical, business, and media communities to raise awareness of the disease. She has also worked extensively with the public to get the word out. The NFCA is based in the Philadelphia area, but its best-known programs may be the Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees, which have taken place across the country and have introduced many to the joy of cooking without gluten. The latest NFCA initiative — training chefs at 28 Philadelphia-area restaurants in its Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) program — has been another huge hit. Alice has also participated in strategic conferences and workshops shaping programs to advance celiac initiatives nationwide, including the landmark NIH Consensus Conference on Celiac Disease.

How often do you travel? I’m a serious road warrior — I’m in a couple of different cities each month.

Where have you traveled since being diagnosed with celiac disease? I’ve gone to so many cities around the country for Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees: San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles — it’s a long list. I also travel to attend medical conferences; I was just in Chicago. Internationally, I’ve been to Australia, Amsterdam and Istanbul.

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? Travel can be really wearing, and I don’t like the idea of eating junk food to keep going. I think about health and nutrition when I’m packing. A gluten-free power bar goes right into my purse. I take crackers with me, and a nut mix with raisins — it’s basically trail mix. Also, I keep small gluten-free soy sauce packages with me as part of an “emergency” kit.

What other things do you bring with you? In my briefcase, which is always with me, I have my journal, iPhone, and computer. I take my vitamins with me. If you’re checking luggage, it’s important to have your essentials in your carry-on. I have what I call my “carry-on purse,” which is a big bag that has food, a toothbrush, and other essentials. I have an inflatable neck pillow for flights, and wherever I go, I have something to read.

How do you prepare for a trip? I always do research in advance to find out where I can go in a city. It’s important to be proactive. I look at the Gluten-Free Guidebook, and at the Triumph Dining guide and the Gluten-Free Passport. I’ll do Google searches. But I also challenge myself to find places that haven’t been written about. Sometimes I go to places that aren’t gluten-free to educate; that’s part of my personal mission, to educate and train wherever I go. I carry brochures in my purse. We have a program at the NFCA to train your favorite chef.

Any favorite restaurants? I can’t pick one restaurant in Philadelphia. The restaurants we’ve worked with are passionate about cooking gluten-free; they’re not just making an accommodation. When I go in they want to show off what they’ve learned and what they can do. It’s just amazing. I love Maggiano’s. I had dinner a couple of weeks ago at their Chicago restaurant. I was with a group and we told the chef to surprise us. He really went to town. Maggiano’s has embraced gluten-free, it’s like a challenge to do something really special.

Any favorite hotels? Hyatt has been incredible. They’ve hosted Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees. Their chefs are truly interested and have really worked with us.

What’s your favorite place to visit? My favorite business destination is San Francisco. I love going there. The food is amazing, and they’re really thinking about health and wellness. My favorite personal destination? It’s hard to pick one, but it would involve hiking. I loved hiking in New Mexico, and I’ve spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains.

What’s your dream destination? New Zealand. I’ve been to Australia but haven’t been to New Zealand yet. Also, I would love to visit Egypt.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Make sure you know the words for “wheat” and “starch” before you travel. Always carry a cheat sheet in the local language. Whatever you do, don’t feel that you’re alone; find other people and ask for help. When you’re traveling, listen to your body. Sometimes people think they got “glutened” when they get sick on the road, but the problem was caused by other issues. You have to pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. Even if something is gluten-free, it’s not good for you if it’s junk food.

Photograph of Alice Bast provided courtesy of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

Planning for Gluten-Free Travel

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On the weekend, I came up to Toronto on a research trip for a Frommer’s guidebook (I’m currently at work on Frommer’s Toronto 2010, my eleventh edition of that book). Visiting Toronto isn’t a stretch for me — it’s my hometown, and I know it has plenty of places that can serve up a good gluten-free meal. Unlike my trips to Peru or Turkey, I don’t need to stress about learning new words for “wheat” and “starch,” or packing enough celiac translation cards. Still, this seemed like a good time to talk about how to prepare for any trip you make.

  • Do some groundwork before you leave home: The good news is that it’s getting easier to find information. My long-time go-to sites, such as Celiac Handbook and Celiac Travel, have been joined by newer sites such as Gluten-Free Maps and the Gluten-Free Registry as reliable sources of information. Also, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Gluten Intolerance Group have great information for travelers to, or within, North America. Don’t overlook local blogs — these can be invaluable.
  • Think of your worst-case scenario… and plan for it: As someone who has had to resort to eating potato chips for dinner at midnight while waiting for a long-delayed flight, I want to warn you to be prepared. Wherever you’re going — even if you think it’s a short trip — pack a gluten-free protein bar… or two. They’re easy to carry, won’t cause problems with airport security (unlike, say, yogurt), and if you don’t need them, you can store them till your next trip. I’m particularly fond of the Organic Food Bar for Vegans. It contains 14 grams of protein, and among the gluten-free bars that I’ve tried, it stands out as the most delicious.
  • Never count on an airline to feed you: This is not to say that I’ve never had a good gluten-free meal on a plane. LAN comes to mind for doing a great job, as does British Airways. On the other hand, I’ve been promised gluten-free airplane meals that never materialized, and one time a flight attendant plopped a wheat roll on my dinner tray (in fairness to her, she was trying to be helpful and thought that I had been shortchanged on dinner). I’ve learned that it’s best to be pleasantly surprised by the appearance of a celiac-safe meal on a plane.
  • Celiac dining cards aren’t just for foreign travel: When I interviewed Beyond Rice Cakes author Vanessa Maltin a year ago, I was surprised that she used celiac cards when she dined at new restaurants. I swore by them for travel — especially when you don’t speak the language — but hadn’t tried the cards at home, or in an English-speaking destination. As it turns out, it’s a great idea: you don’t need to repeat your dietary restrictions to each member of the restaurant staff, and the card can be kept in the kitchen for reference purposes.
  • Keep the spirit of adventure: New experiences are good for mind, body, and spirit. Whenever we step outside of our comfort zones, we have the opportunity to learn something new — not only about the world, but about ourselves.

Roundup: Celiac Disease in the News

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Have you noticed an uptick in the number of news items about celiac disease this week? May is Celiac Awareness Month, so organizations such as the Gluten Intolerance Group and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness are promoting their message in the media. But I’m also chalking up the sudden flurry of stories to the celebrity effect: Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the hosts of ABC’s “The View,” has just published a book about celiac disease, which she was diagnosed with in 2002. The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide is filled with advice about living with the disorder. There’s not much that’s new here for celiacs already familiar with the gluten-free diet and with potential non-food pitfalls (such as lipsticks that contain gluten), but this is a good resource for the newly diagnosed celiac/gluten-intolerant person who is still coming to terms with the diagnosis.

Also, the book’s introduction is by Dr. Peter Green (author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic), and it’s terrific. In it, he addresses the issue of gluten-sensitive people who don’t test positive for celiac disease, but whose bodies are sickened by gluten nonetheless. I’ve met Dr. Green in person, and he speaks convincingly about the fact that many people are negatively affected by gluten, not just the 1 in 133 who have celiac disease. Food for thought — and an issue everyone should read about.

The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America is celebrating Celiac Awareness Month in a special way: its Chef to Plate International Awareness Campaign has restaurants in 30 states offering gluten-free menu options. Some of the participating eateries are chains, including Cheeseburger in Paradise, Garlic Jim’s Famous Gourmet Pizza, Outback Steakhouse, and P.F. Chang’s. In some states, such as Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas, the only restaurants listed are chains (GIG’s list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive listing of celiac-friendly restaurants, just ones that are participating in this particular program). In New York, most of the participants — including Bistango, Nizza, Lilli & Loo, GustOrganics, Friedmans Lunch, Sambuca, and Opus — are independent operations. One of the most impressive lists of Chef to Plate participants is for Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. I haven’t visited lately, but remember The Noodle Box and the Canoe Brewpub from a while back.

One more thing: a new resource called Gluten-Free Maps caught my eye on Twitter. It’s a smart site that blends Google Maps technology with user-generated suggestions. You can go there to check out what’s in your neighborhood, or you can map the location of a restaurant you’ve dined at successfully. If you’re searching for a gluten-free meal at home or while traveling, it’s another place to look.