I’ve moved

December 18, 2016

Please come visit my new website allermenu.com. I’ll be restarting this blog there.

MDW-IAD by air, DC-Philly by train, Philly-DC by train, and IAD-MDW by air over four consecutive days in August got me thinking about how different my travel life is today than in the years before my allergy diagnoses in 2005. It used to be when I travelled all I had to do was make sure I had some cash on me to get some food on the run if a short flight was delayed or if I wanted a snack or a meal on a train. No matter how much money I have on me now there’s really not a single thing I can eat in the sky or on the rails. Trust me. I’ve looked at all of the options offered on board all the major travel carriers and there is simply nothing that is milk, wheat, gluten, corn, AND soy free. 2 out of 5? Yup, you can find gluten free (wheat free) options. Not sure you could even hit 3 out of 5 unless you find a flight that’s offering nuts; something almost none of the airlines do anymore (and even if you do find nuts, you better watch out—I’ve seen airplane nuts for sale with wheat starch and/or soybean oil).

For short trips my hardship (if that’s what you’d call it) is minimal. Eat a big breakfast before the flight takes off and have a late lunch at my destination. Skip the in flight snacks and save some calories for later. It all seems pretty reasonable. ¬†And most of the time it works out ok.

I’m in the early stages of making arrangements for a work trip to Paris in March, on the other hand, and a whole host of travel issues I haven’t faced before have emerged. Trans-Atlantic flights even by 21st century high speed flight standards are still in the 7, 8, 9 hour range. There isn’t breakfast big enough to hold you (or me, in any case) for that long so I asked the people making travel arrangements to see what kind of special meal they could order for me. You keep Kosher? Not a problem, there’s a meal for that. Vegetarian? Not a problem, there’s a meal for that. Gluten-free? Not a problem, there’s a meal for that.

Allergic to more than one thing that can’t be solved by Kosher/Vegetarian/Gluten free alone? Problem. BIG problem.


Bring my own food. But what do you bring for an 8 hour flight that doesn’t require refrigeration and can last 8 days since I’ll need to bring food for my return flight at the same time? I have some non-perishable food in a bag items I’ve found at Whole Foods and I thought I’d come upon the perfect solution. My favorite of these is a bison chili that is so good you can’t believe it came out of a bag. I mean people on the plane will be jealous of me when they see it and that’s fine with me. My turn and all, right?

Except I’m getting conflicting information from the airlines on the likelihood the flight attendants will microwave my meal. And, since there’s no way in advance to guarantee this will happen, I’ll need to bring the meal I want plus enough snacks to get me through in the event microwaving isn’t option. They’ve told me a doctor’s note will help. And for extra measure, I’m ordering the gluten-free meal in hopes that there’ll be something on the tray that works for me.

Anyone with multiple allergies fly across the Atlantic recently? Very interested to hear your experiences.


After my food allergy diagnosis, I spent a couple of years in a bread free world. I hadn’t been a huge bread eater pre-diagnosis but I did miss it. Eventually I discovered some of the what can best be called bread substitutes. Looks like bread, sort of tastes like bread…if you have been living with food allergies you know the brands I’m talking about. I call the sandwiches I made with them 4-biters ’cause the bread is so small the sandwich could easily be cut into a max. of 4 bite size pieces.

In more recent years, I’ve started seeing better looking breads pop up on the internet but when I’ve looked into the ingredients there’s always just a little something I can’t have. In one they’ve added corn, in another milk or soybean oil. I think it’s awesome how many gluten free (and more importantly tasty gluten free) products are out there but for people like me, those products work about 25% of the time. In late June I saw a post on twitter from @LeGardenBakery that offered an opportunity to win a case of their gluten free bread. I LOVE contests so I had to retweet the post and to my great delight I was the winner.

The bread came last Friday and you can see 5 of the 6 loaves I won in the pic above. More on the 6th loaf later. The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was how SOFT the bread was. It looked and felt a lot closer to my memories of the real thing. Thanks to the folks at Le Garden Bakery for double checking my allergies in advance. I’m happy to report that all of the bread they sent (yes ALL) is not only gluten/wheat free but also free of corn, soy, milk, nuts and any GMO ingredients.

First up on the weekend of bread (as it will forever be known)—-french toast.

I can’t remember the last time I had french toast. I’m sure it was years before my diagnosis. The Le Garden Bakery bread made for the most delicious french toast. Despite my best effort, I could not make the french toast last long. A divine breakfast indeed. Over the course of the weekend, I made grilled cheese (I am fortunate to be allergic to cow milk ONLY and can tolerate goat and sheep cheese) using a sheep cheese called Rustica that has flecks of red pepper (you can find it at some Whole Foods). I also did a roast beef sandwich and was thrilled to find a bread that could be eaten without the warming or toasting I’d come to think was a requirement of gluten free breads. As for the rest of the week, I’ve been enjoying peanut butter toast, regular toast, toast with jelly, and my old favorite cinnamon toast.

The folks at Le Garden Bakery suggested putting some in the fridge and freezing the rest so I’m looking forward to months of great bread.

As for the 6th loaf, I gave that to a friend who has celiac disease and he ate the entire loaf over the weekend.

I love Chicago and all the festivals that happen around the city every summer BUT I am always disappointed at how little I can eat and drink. Chicago needs to take a page from the Milwaukee Summerfest handbook. I was there on Saturday and could not believe all the choices that worked for me.

Best of all was glutenfree beer on draft. Yes, you heard that correctly—ON DRAFT.

I cannot begin to explain how nice it was to walk around with a cup that held the same beverage as all of my friends. I mean there are only so many times you can get excited about drinking cheap white wine while all your friends are throwing back cold beers. Summerfest doesn’t dissapoint on food either. Not limited to straight fried festival food, there was food from a HUGE array of ethnic restaurants including greek and thai—two of my allergy free (MOST of the time) stand-bys.

Have to give a shoutout to stack’d burger bar as well. I read about them on twitter recently so we stopped there for lunch on our way out to the ‘fest. What intrigued me about the bar was that they had a gluten free hamburger roll and a designated GF french fry fryer. The roll didn’t work for me (milk and mozzerella added in but 100% GF for those of you who are celiac or just gluten free) but the fries were delicious and I can never turn down New Grist in any of it’s forms (bottle or draft).

There are only so many breakfast options when you’re allergic to milk, wheat, corn, and soy and I’m tired of most of them. I thought for sure my days of butter soaked nook and cranny English Muffins were behind me until I recently discovered gluten free (and milk and corn and soy free) english muffins by Food for Life at my local Whole Foods.

To be honest, it was almost good enough that they come in a package that looks just like the English Muffin package the non-food allergic buy in the REGULAR bread aisle. But it just gets better. They are the same size as regular English Muffins. Again, to the non-allergic maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal but after five years of eating ALTERNATIVE bread that’s twice the calories at half the size, the fact that these match the regular version almost exactly was nothing short of miraculous.

But then, I’ve saved the best for last. They pretty much toast up and taste just like the real thing. Check out the nooks and crannies.

I used goat butter which for me takes care of my dairy allergy but for those who can’t do any dairy, these would be great with any kind of spread.

Now if they could just make an allergy free cracker that tastes like a Ritz.

I just got back from 5 days in Cancun.

This was my first resort stay since being diagnosed with food allergies five years ago. I was thrilled to find that the buffet at Riu Palace Las Americas had so many options for me. Eggs to order each morning with plenty of fresh fruit and crispy bacon. A huge salad bar at lunch with lots of grilled fish and chicken and the ingredients for a delicious do it yourself taco salad. A little harder at the a la carte restaurants, but I can’t complain, my options were way better than I thought they’d be. And, I’m not going to lie, I was jealous of my friends who had an endless supply of chips and guac and a huge assortments of desserts to choose from each evening but I gained less than a pound on the trip so maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I couldn’t partake.

For me, the hardest part about traveling is usually NOT what I’ll eat when I reach my destination but eating while traveling, (known forever more as EWT). When you have food allergies you think a lot about EWT. What will I find to eat for breakfast before my 6:00 a.m. flight? (at O’Hare airport, skybridge cafe serves made to order eggs and great breakfast potatoes) What will they serve on the plane that I can eat? (on US Airways that would be a can of almonds, if in stock, and literally nothing else) What if my flight is delayed? or worse, what if we get caught in holding pattern and I become hypoglycemic and the plane is out of orange juice?!?!?!

In a previous post I talked about my In Case of Emergency bar (also known as a peanut butter cookie larabar) that I carry in case there is no safe food in sight. I figured the airport in Cancun would be just the kind of place I wouldn’t be able to eat and so my first stop before the return flight out was the convenience store for some sort of doable snack that could accompany my larabar and pass as lunch until we changed planes in Philly and I could contemplate a more filling dinner.

And then I spotted the Johnny Rockets next to my gate.

I ordered a burger (hold the bun) and some fries. There was no notation on my receipt and I gave them less than a 10% chance of leaving the bun behind and prepared myself for the bun toss. I hate the bun toss as throwing good food away bothers me on many levels. I was just happy I was going to get some “real” food before my flight.

Imagine my surprise when they called my number and handed over this…

Not a speck of wheat in sight. So, I ate my nice filling lunch and boarded the plane for the Philadelphia airport where I thought I’d have lots of choices for dinner.

And where it turned out I was incredibly wrong.

We had an hour between customs and the flight back to Chicago. I stopped at nearly every restaurant and convenience store in the terminal. I KNOW Utz chips, which are made in Pennsylvania, are safe for me and believe it or not, none of the convenience shops carried them. Lays, lays, and more lays which use corn and/or soybean oil in all of their products. What’s up Utz???? How did you not get the airport contract in your home state? Work on that. Please.

My last stop was au bon pain and honestly I went in there looking for some chips figuring it was time to take out the larabar and call it a day. Checked out the salads and to my great delight found that they’ve added a new apple/goat cheese/walnut salad. No milk (cow), corn, soy, or wheat which was amazing. Of course, I couldn’t find a salad dressing that was completely allergy free for me so I settled for the raspberry vinaigrette which has maltodextrin (usually, but not always made from corn). I know I am VERY lucky that small amounts of corn don’t have long lasting effects. I grabbed a bag of chips and a diet sierra mist and headed back to meet my friend and eat my dinner.

I am SO happy au bon pain has added this salad BUT as I was eating my salad I noticed it had almonds, not walnuts like the label said. Not an issue for me but one I will be sending to the folks at au bon pain ASAP as nut allergies can be life threatening for so many.

Talk to me. Any tried and true EWT strategies to share?

I thought my macaroni and cheese days were long behind me. I tried some rice pasta/fake cheese varieties when I was first diagnosed but they barely resembled the original. I heard a rumor that Amy’s Kitchen, the organic and natural food maker, was coming out with their own version sometime soon.

I was thrilled to find it today in the Whole Foods on Ashland.

Amy's Rice Macaroni

Looks great on the box, right? But the proof is always in the pudding. How many times have you opened one of those little frozen food packages to see that the food hardly resembles the picture on the box. Not today, my friends. Take a look.

mac and cheese

Ok, it doesn’t look EXACTLY like the picture on the box but trust me that has WAY more to do with my photography skills than how good it looks fresh out of the microwave. Perfectly creamy “cheese” and perfectly cooked noodles. And in only 4 minutes. I think if you served this to someone and didn’t identify it as allergy free they would ABSOLUTELY not know.

One of my biggest gripes about pre-packaged “allergy free” foods has been that they don’t take into account people like me who suffer from a combination of food allergies. I’m always slightly (maybe a little more than slightly) envious of my friend who has celiac disease and just looks for the words gluten-free and knows that he’s good to go.

Thanks Amy’s Kitchen for realizing that for many of us who can’t eat wheat/gluten we also have issues with milk and soy.

I hope this is the start of a wonderful new trend.

You would think going out to eat falafel would be easy for someone allergic to milk, wheat, corn, and soy as none are necessary ingredients. But you would be wrong. Wrong, that is, until you discover falafill at 3202 N. Broadway in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. I came across them on my way home from the gym to the parking garage this evening.

One criteria of a great falafel ball is a crispy crispy outer shell. You would be amazed at how many places use bread crumbs of some sort to get that outer crisp going. NOT this place, and for that I am thankful.

Here the falafel is as it should be. Ground chick peas, garlic, onions, and spices. Period. No fillers of any kind. Even better? They fry them in canola oil. And if that wasn’t enough, they have a combo with french fries that are not only delicious but absolutely the biggest portion out there for the price (a mere $2.25).

The staff is well versed in the ingredients of ALL of their products and came over to the table to see if I had any questions about any of the toppings or salads on the self-serve topping bar. Things with gluten are clearly identified which makes it easy for those who need to easily avoid. AND, they offered to get me fresh toppings from the back if I was worried about cross-contamination.

This is allergy free dining at its best. No extra cost, great service, and the freshest ingredients.

You can check out their website at eatfalafill.com.

For the most part, I’m a social drinker but what that means shifted dramatically once my allergies were diagnosed. Instead of kicking back with a beer in front of the bears game with friends I’ve been forced to choose between a glass of wine or something with rum in it as I had determined those were the safest things for me to drink. Wine and a salad isn’t much fun when everyone else is drinking beer and eating nachos. I only recently discovered gluten free beer but had rarely seen it outside my local jewel or whole foods.

Until last night.

I met friends out at Glascott’s on Halsted and Webster in Lincoln Park and when I walked up to the bar to order a drink, there on the shelf with all the other bottled beer was Redbridge. Redbridge in all its gluten-free deliciousness. It’s pretty funny how few places carry Redbridge since it’s made by Anheuser-Busch but after last night I’m hopeful that’s starting to change.

When you start eating allergy free you’re forced to give up many simple pleasures. First and foremost is dessert. Love giving waiters the chef’s challenge at dessert time but it’s rare that I get to have a post-meal treat with my friends.

I’m hosting a holiday dessert party in a couple of weeks and I’ve spent the last few weekends trying to bake different desserts on a quest to create a table full of allergy free treats. A good friend was out recently and had a goat cheesecake and thought of me (thanks KB). She sent me a similar recipe and with two quick substitutions it became allergy free for me.

You can find the recipe at http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/goat-cheese-cake-with-mixed-berries

I substituted all-purpose gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour and powdered sugar made from tapioca (rather than the traditional corn). That’s it—everything else in the recipe worked for me. Mild, slightly tangy taste. A definite keeper for the party.