A round of applause, ladies and gents, because I? Just survived my first *real* vacation gluten-free.
All it took was a little prep work, some tears, a lot of understanding on the part of my sisters, a few trips to Whole Foods and more luck than I should probably ever expect to have in my life at one time.
I was apprehensive (shocker) about this trip for a while, but after Em and I went down last year to see our middle sister, Kady, we knew we wanted to make the trip again. Since Labor Day weekend worked well for everyone, we booked the flights and hotels, and I panicked my little booty off (okay, it's a large booty) about every. little. thing. that could go wrong. I'm a nervous traveler when I'm NOT worried about gluten. We started out strong: a mid-morning flight meant I got to eat breakfast at home (okay, at the airport - thank you, Udi's bread for toasting so well), and much like a kindergartener, I had a back pack full of bars and fruit snacks to tide me over until we landed. When Kady picked us up at the airport, one of the first stops we made was Whole Foods, so I could stock up on "safe" foods (safe, not nutritious. I'm looking at you, Justin's Peanut Butter Bars). The next stop? Starbucks. Mama needed an iced coffee, stat.
We got to spend the rest of the afternoon visiting with Kady and her fiance, Kyle, and doing all the things we needed (like hanging out at the mall, because we are like '80s teenagers). We selected P.F. Chang's for dinner, and they were pretty good about the GF thing. I am both embarrassed and proud to admit that I took down a whole order of spicy chicken myself (usually it's a two-meal dish. Oops).
We checked into the Hampton Inn, and I have to say, I've stayed at a lot of Hampton Inns, and they are always clean, friendly and accommodating, and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a mid-range place to stay. The downside is that neither the one we stayed at in Chapel Hill, nor the one in Wilmington, had a hot tub. Wah waaaaaaaah.
I knew from my experience this summer to be prepped for feeding myself breakfast, and sure enough, I had a yogurt and banana from the buffet, but everything else was off limits. It's a good thing I stocked up on Udi's muffins at Whole Foods.
Day 2 was head to the beach day, and Wilmington is about a two-hour trip from my sister's place, so we coffeed-up for the trek. When we got to Wrightsville Beach, parking was a nightmare, but thanks to the parking gods above, we found a fairly close spot. I had planned on bringing a cooler of snackies and letting this tide me over until dinner, because let's face it, I'm bad at planning lunch in the best of situations. Plus, I figured, the less I ate at restaurants, the better my chances of not getting sick. And when this is your hangout, you really aren't thinking about food.
The water was the perfect temp, the waves were gentle enough to play in, and I only got slightly sunburned. Win for me. And yes, that bag is full of nutritionally devoid snacks like Pirate's Booty. But I also brought fruit, so that counts. The only downside was that we were a ways away from the bathrooms, and they were pretty gross. I kept my fingers crossed I wouldn't have to spend much time in there.
We were hungry pretty early, so we opted for a late lunch on the way back to the hotel. Kady told me about Mellow Mushroom a while ago, and it was on Marlow's list of recs for me, too, so we gave it a go. We went to the location right off of the beach, and because it was so tiny, I was instantly terrified. Not to mention, everyone seemed like a bit of a beachbum hippie, which, no offense to said hippies, doesn't inspire confidence in cleanliness or responsibility. But my GF pizza came out tasty, so I ate up, and while I waited for the next two hours for a situation to, um, arise, it never did. The pizza was pretty yummy - they make their GF crusts out of bean flour, so it had a really interesting texture. The veggies were fresh, and it wasn't real heavy on the sauce. And I was starving, so even if it tasted like a shoebox, I would have snarfed it down willingly. The only downside was that their GF crust only comes in medium, so while I did a fair amount of damage, I couldn't finish the whole thing.
After some showering at the hotel, we went into downtown Wilmington to walk around and get some fro-yo. The downtown area is adorable, with lots of little boutique-y shops (and a ton of tattoo parlors?), so we spent some time browsing before heading to the Fuzzy Peach for dessert. I had done my homework ahead of time, so I knew most of their flavors were gluten free, but it was still nice to see this sticker by the yogurt dispensers. Also, they had Nutella in a vat, with a pump, so I could have pretty much spent the rest of my trip in that store.
Beach day two was a little less successful, because rain moved in in the early afternoon. It was fine, because on the way back to the hotel, we stopped for some Italian ice, and I had one of the most hilarious encounters I've had regarding gluten.
Me, to kid behind counter: Hi! Can I please see your allergen menu?
Kid: Sure (goes to get it). What are you allergic to?
Me: Wheat - gluten.
Kid, staring at me like I am an alien: Um, wheat is in BREAD. Water is in ice.
I debated going into my schpiel about artificial flavorings and what not, but instead just trusted my instincts (and the Interwebs) and got the dang cherry ice. And no, my hand is not that gigantic, the cup was just eensy weensy.
After hosing off the sand, we headed out to do some shopping (yeah, we shop a lot) and get dinner. We picked Bonefish Grill, in part because of their gluten-free menu and in part because Alec Baldwin does their commercials. Once again, I was starving by dinner time, so I had no trouble taking down my steak. It's not in the picture, but they had a house salad that was AMAZING. It had artichoke hearts and the dressing was fabulously citrusy. And the sangria? Win. It had little bits of mango in it, and it was mixed with pomegranate juice. Lovely. I liked that Bonefish listed right on their gluten-free menu that all their wines, martinis and rocks drinks (which they considered the sangria) were all gluten free. I capped myself at one. But I probably could have had two. Or eight. Fantastic.
Monday was the last full day of our trip, and it was back to Chapel Hill for some more quality time in my sister's adopted town. We had more shopping (I know!) and I even risked lunch at Jason's Deli. We have them here in Illinois, too, and I am glad that I gave them a shot, because several of their soups are gluten-free, plus their chips, and their ice cream (very important). Some locations even have GF bread to make sammies with. I opted for their vegetable soup with tortilla chips (they gave me a sealed bag) and finished off with some yummy swirly ice cream. I forgot to take a before pic, but I think the after gets the point across, too. I did get a little squeamish after talking to the manager (accidentally, actually). He said he hated that they did the whole gluten-free thing, because it was a lot of pressure for the workers to do it right, and it created a lot of hassle, and people could still get sick. I told him that it meant a lot to folks like me that restaurants were willing to take that responsibility, and he seemed to take the compliment to heart.
Dinner Monday night was sort of the white whale of my gluten-free life. We went to Maggiano's, to have dinner with my sister's friend. A little background: I used to LOVE Maggiano's. There are a couple locations in my area, and it was kind of a go-to restaurant for family functions. Plus, they give you a boatload of pasta to take home, so eating one meal there gets you like 3 more. I had heard they were good with the gluten free thing, but I was terrified, because as long as I didn't try, it wouldn't make me sick. And if it didn't make me sick, it wouldn't ruin the restaurant for me. Flawed logic, I know. But Kady wanted to give it a try, so we went. They don't have a gluten-free menu, per se, but they do have the chef come out and tell you what he can make for you. I had already decided what I wanted converted (their aglio pasta, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, yum), so he assured me that he could sub in gluten-free pasta. I was convinced, it was delicious, and it didn't make me sick. Hooray! It also didn't hurt that the only gluten-free dessert was creme brulee.
Let me tell you, when my plane touched back down in Chicago last Tuesday, and I had made it through the entire trip without getting sick? I did a little happy dance. Looks like another first I can successfully check off of my list!