Ben and I returned home to Portland on Tuesday around midnight. We were greeted at the door by our three cats, sleepy and squinty-eyed, happy to have us back. They rubbed up against our legs until we could manage to free our hands of luggage to pick them up. It felt great to be home.
We had a successful week of a number of firsts: first extended vacation together, first lengthy visit with his family, first meeting of some of his extended family, and first gluten free travel experience.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. But, thankfully, it didn't feel like a lot. In fact, it went ridiculously well.
We made gluten free coconut pancakes, gluten free macaroni and cheese, turkey, wild rice, cranberries, white chili, and gluten free sugar cookies. On Christmas day, we invented a cranberry dish to use the dried cranberries his mother had bought. She couldn't find fresh cranberries in any of the grocery stores, so the dried version became a substitute. In a large saucepan, we cooked about a cup and a half of dried organic cranberries, two diced apples, about half a cup of cranberry juice, some freshly grated nutmeg, a good dose of cinnamon, and a sprinkling of allspice. We simmered it on low until the apples became tender and the cranberries plumped up with the juice, then removed the lid to allow it to cook down a bit. It turned out delicious!! On another night, Ben's brother made the most amazing barbecue ribs I have ever eaten (he makes his own sauce and cooks them all day long) - and he made sure I could eat them, even calling from the grocery store to check the gluten status of ketchup (Heinz is GF, by the way) and enlisting mine and Ben's help to check on the other ingredients he had on hand.
Oh boy did we eat well - and all of it was gluten free. Even during our visits to Ben's extended family, I ate safely. I felt very well taken care of and insanely grateful.
The airports, however, were a different story. I went prepared with an abundance of gluten free snacks - rice crackers, lara bars, hazelnuts, and applesauce cups (which, by the way, became the topic of controversy at the security checkpoint and were almost confiscated!). I didn't even want to try to find something in the airport to eat. And the snacks provided in flight are helpless to anyone with food allergies - we were offered a choice of peanuts or shortbread cookies. Peanuts and wheat - two of the most common food allergens!
On our way home, I still had a lot of left-over snacks, some GF muffins Ben's mom had baked, and a few GF sugar cookies we had baked. But, we were at the airport for several hours and I felt I needed a real meal, something with vegetables, since my snacks were mostly starchy. We decided to test out the Chilis restaurant there, because I remember reading online that this chain restaurant had an allergy friendly menu (like the Outback steakhouse and PF Changs). I asked our hostess regarding allergy friendly menus, and she indicated they didn't have one. I asked about gluten free options and she looked even more confused, even stumbling over the word "gluten" when she repeated it back to me. It was clear she had never heard of the word before.
The server was equally uninformed, so I asked for one of their salads with no chicken (she couldn't guarantee me a "naked" grilled piece of chicken without marinade or seasonings), salad dressing, bread, or croutons. It ended up being a bed of lettuce with black beans, pico de gallo, and corn. It wasn't ideal, but it worked. When you don't have a server or a restaurant (like a small, independently owned one), who is willing to work with you, sometimes this is the best you can do. Non-chain restaurants will almost always be more willing to work with you because they have real ingredients; chain restaurant food often comes somewhat pre-prepared with marinade and the like. In hindsight, I would have asked for a hard-boiled egg in place of the chicken, for some added protein. But, hey, I'm still learning, and I'm finding out that with each new experience, I learn something else to add to my proverbial "box of tools."
It feels important to me to get out of my comfort zone here and there (read: leave my own kitchen) in order to develop both more trust in other people's cooking and more tools in dealing with situations like the Chilis restaurant. Each time gets a tiny bit easier.
I certainly appreciated getting to know Ben's family better over the course of the week, and we celebrated the holiday just as it should be - relaxing with family, enjoying one another's company, and sharing good food.