Thursday, August 25, 2016

Travel, conference, and food fun--which means: ask questions

This past weekend I was out of town for a conference on leadership for the pancreatic cancer group with which I volunteer.  I am always a little leery of conference food with my food intolerances, but I think it's a good leery/awareness/consciousness.  I love this organization and the catering, because they seem to take food intolerances/allergies into consideration when we register and the catering folks put out tags by the food.  I ran into only a few hiccups while at the conference.

Beforehand, I made The Mike up plenty of food for while I'd be gone a whole four days ;-)  Mostly, I figured I could make it up, and then freeze the left overs when I got home, so he'd have individual lunches at some point if we didn't have a left over for him.   Baked mac and cheese, individual mexican lasagna, an italian lasagna, meatloaf, and then sides of mashed potatoes, potato salad, tomato/cucumber/cheese salad, and carrot sticks.  
 I don't think he touched the carrot sticks at all. I'm not surprised ;-)    Dinner Wednesday was seasoned pork tenderloin, pan cooked, with a sauce of peaches, raisins, and pineapple juice which was inspired by a cookbook recipe. Butternut squash, peeled, diced and roasted worked for a great side.
Flying is always tricky. It's hard enough being gluten free/celiac, but throw in soy intolerance as well and it's just best to stick to things one packs.  I usually take a couple Chobani yogurts and the Mama Chia seed packets or applesauce packets.  They're just over the 3 oz that TSA has a rule about, but interestingly, the TSA doesn't seem to mind, except in airports where they sell Chobani. That is, until this trip! I had my stroller bag packed with all my weekend needs, and the sling LLBean bag packed with my food. Everything shoved into a couple gallon zip bags and shoved into the bag itself. Two chobanis, a couple UDIs choc chip muffins, the applesauce and Mama Chia, Tanka bars, a packet of chia seed, pretzel circles, Baby Bel indivdiual cheeses, and a package of 'granola' I make which is sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, dried coconut flakes, dried cranberries, and Guittard chocolate chips (they use sunflower lecithin, not soy, in their milk choc chips).  I go through security in my Athleta skort and pancreatic cancer shirt and get flagged for a pat down waist to knees. Maybe it's because of the double fabric with the skort?    My carryon sling bag is thoroughly inspected by someone who may or may not have been brand new to the job.  She took out everything inspected it, and set all the food to the side, after looking at the ounces on each package.  I told her that I have food intolerances and need to carry my own food.  She wiped the kindle and a few other things, then had to ask another TSA about the food with the comment "she says she has food allergies".  The other TSA said, "that's fine, let it all go through". She said she had to wipe them all because they were over the 3 oz limit.  I get it, I want to be safe while flying as well, but I don't understand what wiping the exterior of a store bought container is going to prove.  The long flight out of the connecting airport let me enjoy some food and a "juice" which ended up being only 15% juice.

Upon landing (late) in San Diego, I checked into the hotel, chomped on a Tanka bar and a couple other things, and headed over to Coronado Island for the day with a couple other folks. (so no set meal yet)

Birds of Paradise, one of my favorite flowers
The ferry to Coronado was great. I was a little hungry when we got there, so I had another Tanka bar. Then we walked around the island, exploring and finding some neat shops. I so wanted to go to the Candy store, but didn't really need any sugar, didn't want to try to figure out what was/was not gluten and soy free, and just said "be healthy" in a calming voice :-)
  We did discover that Coronado is called the Emerald City, and that L. Frank Baum resided on Coronado when he wrote several of the Oz books. One store attendant said that if we read the original books, we would see many things in common with the island.  On we walked to the Del, and the Pacific Ocean (one in our group had never seen the ocean before, so we had made the journey to the far side of Coronado especially for this person). The sand is unlike any I'd ever seen. It's gorgeous. Highly recommend the trip!  
It was sunny!
We left our mark on the beach. . . waging hope for Pancreatic Cancer. Currently has an average 8% five year survival rate. Stage 1 and 2 have a 27% five year survival rate.  When my mom was killed by this cancer in 2012, the five year was 5%.

Back we went to San Diego with no idea where to eat, except along the bay area somewhere.  We passed Roy's at the Marriott Marquis area and the others decided this would be a good place. Excellent food, slower service, and only a small handful of meals that were gluten free, with a few less that could be made soy free as well.  This was the Halibut special, minus the gnocci, and was served with a side of mashed potatoes.  Delicious!
Afterwards, we met a few others with a connection to the cause and walked down a few blocks to the "Top Gun" restaurant. I had no idea what they were talking about. The KC Barbeque place was a set area for the 1980s movie.  I felt bad about not eating, but hey, I'd already filled up on that fabulous fish!  I ordered a Sprite!   The restaurant was neat. Others knew this was a real place and were surprised by my surprise of it being a real place. I said "I just assume that everything in a Hollywood movie is pretty much done on set at the movie lot".  Apparently they filmed another scene nearby, and someone from the film went into this place for a beer, loved the ambiance, and it was written into the movie!  

I'm only going to post the one photo of the place, because it's really something a person should see in real life.  I was surprised at the size of the place though.

The next day started our conference. Breakfast buffet on balcony/deck. Beautiful view and great food. Before I actually looked at the buffet, I asked the head catering person about food allergies. He said there were signs posted on what was what. [Ham (gf/df/sf) type of signs.] He said the potatoes were done in oil, and he did double check what type of oil when I asked.  olive!  Yeah!   All this, plus there was Chobani yogurt, milk, and assorted juices.  

I forgot to take a lunch food photo of the first day. There was the mismarked item on the buffet of CousCous being labeled gluten free. Now, I know of NO couscous grain/pasta/whatever it is that is gluten free. At home, if I make it, I make it with quinoa.  I mentioned it to a regular catering person (not the head guy) and was told that 'maybe it was a different type that was gf'. Uh, no. no way.  I stuck to the meat in a light red sauce, and some lettuce with kalamata olives.  I had something else too, but not an awful lot. Thankful for that big breakfast!  

The evening was a cowboy theme.  I had to take a pic of the tables to show how city folks do country ;-)  Kept it simple and quaint.   

Food for the evening had a good assortment and went with the theme.  There was brisket with bbq sauce, corn on the cob, salad, and some corn bread. I was thankful they had salmon as well.  I love brisket. I dislike bbq sauce. (I know, I'm PICKY on top of having food intolerances!).   Tasty tasty!  The cute gluten thing they had for dessert was premade smores!   They also had three containers on a table of a cobbler. The gluten free, dairy free, soy free sign was in front of the large chafing dish and they said the small one was the vegetarian one.  Okay. I started to scoop out of the large one with the oatmeal and said something about how great it was that this was gluten free. The person manning the station then said, 'Oh, the little one is the gluten free one'.  I told them that's not what the sign was.  Again, it pays to be on the toes and ask questions/make comments to get people to talk about the food.  They served the cobbler with ice cream. YUM!   I ended up just picking the fruit out of the cobbler: peaches and blackberries. It looked like there was chex cereal in it for crunch.  

The next morning I was hungry.  I headed to breakfast and prepared my plate. I put the bacon on the plate and was so glad to see the gluten free/soyfree/dairy free label.  THEN I saw the oat topped rye? wheat? bread underneath the bacon to absorb the fat/grease.  Uh What the heck!?!?   I went directly to the green shirt guy and I said, "how is this gluten free if it's on top of bread. I get that the bread is there to absorb the oil, but it isn't gluten free bread, is it?'  He acknowledged that no, it wouldn't be, and that yes, they would empty a pan of bacon by putting the rest of a pan on top of the incoming pan.  He went in back and got new bacon for me from a fresh pan that didn't have gluten in it at all. I felt bad, but had to toss out my first plate of food. I pushed it to the center of the table and got some weird looks. When I said what had happened with the bacon, several of the people said they understood because of a sibling or friend with gluten issues as well. 
My 'second' plate of breakfast.
The venue had some great snacks for midmorning and midafternoon as well. Two of the snacks I thought were great were the cheese/fruit/date kabobs, which I paired with my round pretzels, and the paper cone with jicama  and carrot slices.  

Lunch on the second day was fish in a red sauce, but I grabbed a piece on top without the sauce, and chicken in a light white tarragon sauce, with a zucchini dish where the zucchini seemed more on the raw side, which probably helped it from being overdone by the time we got the food.  

 Dinner that evening was a served meal in the banquet room.  One of the changes this year was that those of us with gluten/dairy/soy issues would have fruit instead of nothing for dessert (while watching everyone else enjoy their delicious looking chocolate items).  When I first sat down, one of the wait staff came over for wine or coffee, and I informed him that I was gluten and soy free. He quickly removed the dessert and returned with the fruit. This immediate change served a notice to him later during the meal serving to remind him that I got a meal without the extra sauce!
An au gratin potato dish cut into triangles, veggies, a small piece of fish and a small piece of fabulous steak.  It was a great way to end a conference.  Good food, safe food, gluten free, soy free, and friendly company.

One of the things a friend at the conference did was head to the nearby grocery store for some things for themselves, and they brought me back a package of these cookies. FABULOUS!  Soft, chewy, tasty. I have not seen them in a store in the midwest. I shared them with my roommate who also enjoyed them.  Cybeles Free To Eat chocolate chip cookies
Before our flight departed on Sunday, we had some time to walk over to the Gaslamp district of San Diego to visit the Cat Cafe. The walk didn't take long, and we arrived early, walking around the place and enjoying the Chinese sculptures and historical window displays. The Horton Hotel is in this area.  A sign outside intrigued me that said "rebuilt in 1986" (I think it was 86).  We went inside this long building and asked the man behind the counter about the story of the place, and the interesting sign. Turns out, the place was rebuilt because it was torn apart, brick by brick, in the 1970s and placed in a warehouse. The current site is not the original location. It is a fabulous mix of architecture/period styles, all original.  It is definitely worth another view next year, and perhaps a night's stay.

This guy at the Cat Cafe is up for adoption. He never moved off his palm tree perch. In my mind, he reminded me of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland: sitting all regal and mysteriously atop the tree. 

The trip home was long.  I had my granola and muffin snack on the plane to Ohare. At Ohare I stretched in the yoga room some, and did some walking, then decided to head to my gate and have my Chobani dinner. I got to that gate only to find out the gate was changed. It changed five more times in the next hour before it departed. AA said "gates may change at any time".  Uh, any time, once or twice is reasonable. The group of us moving from one gate to another to another had to have looked like some comedic movie. 

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