Friday, October 21, 2016

I went on vacation. . . and didn't starve

The Mike and I went on a week vacation. . . and it was okay .   We packed a small cooler, as we often do, with cheese, lunch meat, bread, apples, as well as a sack of snacks, a good dozen Tanka bars, Mama Chia packets, almonds for The Mike and my gf pretzels for both of us.  As we were heading to a populated area, I was sure we could shop in grocery stores with a gluten free section.   If we had headed into the rural landscapes of the west, I would have packed the larger cooler and more room temperature snacks.

What I was worried about was actually more my soy intolerance than my gluten free-ness.  We were heading to the Smoky Mountains area and I figured going south meant finding more oils/vegetable oils being used.  I've also been gluten free long enough to have a grasp on how restaurants generally do things and what I can expect.  Mom and Pop places are more understanding, when not busy, than chain restaurants who get packages of xyz in and cannot deviate from those things.

Our first stop was lunch at The Machine Shed.  We've been through here for breakfast before and I didn't have a problem at that time. We arrived and it wasn't busy. The parking lot was sparse, it was about eleven in the morning, so we were ahead of a rush. Even the entire time we were dining it did not get as busy as we've seen this place and we commented on it to our waitress. She said that this time of year just is a lull in patrons for them (between back to school and halloween apparently).   The negative side, when I asked the hostess for a gf menu, someone nearby said "we can't guarantee gf food".  Since the person was seeming to butt into a conversation, I replied with, "I understand that you have flour in this place and cannot guarantee, but I would hope that you would at least strive to do the best you can".  The person gave me a bit of an affronted look.  On the plus side, when I explained to our waitress that I can't have oil and need real butter used for any sides, and that I am gluten free, she said that she understood, having been a nanny to a family where the dad was a vegetarian and a celiac.  YEAH!  My faith in getting a great meal was re-enforced :-)  The meatloaf The Mike ordered sounded divine, but I went with the ham and mashed potatoes.  We also had a side of cottage cheese and 'applesauce' which seemed to be more like pie filling--warmed and delicious.
A good thick slice of delicious ham, and the applesauce helped me feel like I was sort of getting a balanced meal ;-)  

Next we were in Springfield IL for a late dinner  after seeing the new capitol building and exploring those grounds at sunset.  With the help of the "Find Me Gluten Free" app, we tried the Engrained Brewing Company.  (the link to their website isn't working so I'm not adding it here).  It was dark while we were driving there, and the 'directions' link on the Find Me app is wonderful to have.  The restaurant was at the end of a commercial district with a sports store 'nearby'. I think there might have been a mall around as well.  It was fairly quiet when we were there, as well as after 7pm.  Our only issue was that we wouldn't be back at the hotel in time to watch the second presidential debate!  The hotel we were staying at was on the cheaper end for a large metro area, and it was surrounded by fast food places. Finding a sit down place that was GF and only available on our travels sounded great.  The Mike ordered a marguerita pizza, which had too much basil.  I'm use to seeing this with just a few pieces of basil tossed here and there on the top of the pizza. His slices looked like they had topped the whole crust with the basil first.
I ordered a burger with with blue cheese. They had gluten free buns that they acquired locally.  The broccoli was maybe lightly steamed, it was still quite crunchy. The burger was suppose to be medium well and it was rare.  I scraped off the blue cheese to eat and sent the burger back.  The lettuce, onion, tomato was devoured in the time it took to make a new burger.  I was starving! The manager came by the table to apologize for the raw burger and said it'd be right up.  My second burger came and it was well prepared.   The Mike didn't order a beer, but he wonders if he had if it'd have made his pizza taste better.  I love basil, but most people can't eat leaves of it at once.

Wanting to go to a local place for breakfast meant that I probably wouldn't be able to have much besides eggs and ham.  I was okay with that. The local flare/decorations, one of a kind place is not something that I will avoid when I know there's something I should be able to have. Again, we went when it wasn't too busy. There were three other tables in the place when we arrived and two of those were done dining.   They didn't have anything other than a spray with all vegetable oils in it, so again, my soy intolerance was putting a damper on things, and not the celiac, gluten free part.   I asked if they had a microwave and the waitress said yes, so they would just microwave my eggs and ham.  (I was fine with this, I use to make microwave omelets at work to the surprise of a couple people who saw my lunch plate).   The Mike got eggs, hashbrowns and some sort of 'rye' bread. He said it didn't taste rye to him. It was the thinnest piece of bread I've ever seen in a restaurant.    My ham was fine, the eggs were overdone, but since I really am not a picky eater, I grew up on a farm where we ate what mom made us, even if we didn't like it. There is very little I won't eat.  Plus, as a runner, I really tend to think of food as nutrients for the body.

We stopped at a Kroger grocery store as we headed out of town and passed it.  We got some ice for the cooler and more ham and cheese---plus a Kroger card so we got the discount. The Mike thought it was funny. I'm like I have discount cards for stores in about five major cities, what's one more? Thank you Key Ring app for storing these :-)   I was disappointed that they didn't have the Glutino poptarts (let alone the iced ones)

We had some snacks for a 'lunch' snack and kept on going/driving until we got to a T in the road.  Okay, maybe those snacks were pretzels and chocolate chips :-)

It was past 7pm and we were thinking we'd drive until about 9 or so. At this T, the Mike looked over and spied a Mexican restaurant. I've always had great experiences with authentic Mexican restaurants (those chains we have, no luck).   This one was in the midst of Indiana. Beautifully decorated, it was late for the town and we were one of a handful of people in there.  The Mike ordered Super Nachos and I got the Salad Fajitas, without a shell.  The manager/owner was quite understanding about no soy oil and no gluten.  The reason I wasn't worried is that in my experience authentic Mexican places we've been to have been locally owned, fresh ingredients used, and it's basic good food, nothing fancy.  Maybe I should worry more about cross contamination, but again, in Mexican places, I don't think it's much of an issue.  They may have some flour shells they use, but they're not all over the place, they're in a station separate from the main cooking station.
We drove on until we got to a small town with a cute one of a kind locally owned motel.  First we stopped at Wendys to get a Frosty--chocolate of course!  
In the morning we got on the road and figured we'd see something along the way to enjoy for breakfast.  We ended up traveling behind a couple semis as we came into a town. There was some road construction that forced us to come to a complete stop.  Then we started going soooooo s.l.o.w.l.y.  We wondered if there was a pilot car leading us, even though we passed no other road construction.  Soon we got to a stop in front of the town square.  What do we see but the two semis loaded with trees in front of us, and a verrrrryyyy slow going Walmart semi in front of them, who was randomly coming to complete stops.  As we circled the square to head out of town we came to two more complete stops. The Mike looks off to the side and spied a locally owned breakfast place.  We pulled in as quickly as we could, which still meant we had to wait for that blasted semi truck to move down the road a bit.  When I explained the no soy/oil and no gluten/breading, the waitress checked with the cook and came back with "she said she'll poach the eggs". My thought was "Oh My!  Why hadn't I thought of that egg term/cooking method?"   Fabulous! Yes please :-)  Tasty success!  The waitress also answered a town question for us. As we were slowwwwwly going around the town square, we noticed an old iron/metal bridge that was being torn apart. We wondered what was going on with it, if it was being repaired or torn down.  The waitress told us that a female semi truck driver, loaded down with water, decided to go across the bridge with signs clearly marked 'no semi traffic' and a small weight limit. She said the bridge broke as the semi was in the center. The city is taking apart the historic bridge with no plans to replace it.  

How adorable are the 1970s plates :-)   Kitchy.

We arrived in historic Louisville and tried to find the visitors center with the signs they had posted, but soon enough the signs just disappeared without one pointing where we needed to go. Google maps helped us :-)   We took in the Muhammad Ali museum and then got lunch at a locally owned place called Hillbilly Tea. Very cute place. They had some items that were naturally gluten free.  The Mike got an interesting Chicken n pone and I got the Trout with Succotash.  Since we're northerners ;-) we had to ask for an explanation of what 'pone' and 'succotash' were.  Pone is cornbread and succotash was corn and lima beans. I love lima beans, so:  "yes please!"   The trout was tasty and was dusted with some green tea powder.  The succotash was great, but there seemed to be like two cups worth!  Too much for one serving for me.   After a trip to the baseball bat company (very cool), and the sunset on the river, we headed out to our next destination .  

 This can't be all about food, right?   

One of the things we would not have done without having gone to the visitors' center was walk on the Big Four bridge across the river (and back).  When we got across the river, we saw these tall pillars above.  We thought they were just art. We were so wrong!  There's a sign that says these are from the 1937 Ohio river flood. To us, this was a massive flood and most likely before dams were built by the TVA, at the height of the Great Depression. People who didn't have much probably lost everything. We got back and I looked it up on google/wikipedia. The flood was much worse than what I envisioned. It encompassed so much of the territory, and happened in January.   So sad. The flood struck home for us in many ways. In 1993 I was in the hospital in Des Moines while the National Guard provided water after our great flood then.  We've had two floods in our neighborhood since we've lived in our home, the most recent was just this late summer.  

We headed out of town after rush hour had calmed and headed south again.  I had my first experience with Ruby Tuesday and it was NOT good. I completely understand what people on the celiac page have said about them.  It was right across the parking lot from our hotel, and there was a Wendys nearby.  The Mike and I decided to try the Ruby Tuesday and I did my research in the hotel room.  As best I could on a smart phone and tiny screen, I looked up the restaurant, the location, entered my allergens, and it said several things were possible with slight modifications. 

We headed over to the restaurant, informed the hostess that I needed a gluten free menu and she had a blank look on her face and didn't know what I meant.  

Me: uh oh.  I said "Yes, a gluten free menu."

Someone else walks up, the hostess told that person that I was asking for a gluten free menu.  

She said, "You have to go online".

I said, "I did go on line, I entered my restrictions, it came up with 'these items are available with restrictions. We came over here to learn what those restrictions are and to order".  

She replied with "You have to go online to order". 

Me:  "What?  Why would I order online, when I'm coming to the restaurant?"  

This is NOT an allergen friendly place if you cannot even discuss the meals with someone before ordering.  

I was so upset that instead of going to Wendys across the parking lot, where I KNEW I could get a baked potato and cheeseburger (no bun) without issue, we went back to the hotel. After my blood pressure came back down I made an awesome cracker sandwich :-) 

 It saved us $$$$ too.

The next day we had some eggs at the hotel, and The Mike eyed the mini-donut machine but a family with two kids had pretty much staked it out while we were at the dining room.  We headed out to get fuel for the car, grabbed a liter of chocolate milk at the station, and The Mike grabbed a donut, and we were on our way.  Abe Lincoln sites, here we come!

We had lunch before heading over to Mammoth Caves, which was a good idea since we were there for several hours.  . . .this time we did get Wendys.  The Mike was surprised that I could just order a baked potato with cheese and a plain cheeseburger, no bun, and be good to go. It's one of the few fast food restaurants that does allergy foods well. Even a friend who has a child with multiple food allergies can eat at Wendys without issue.  The Mike said, 'even the cheese sauce on the potato' Yup, gluten free, and soy oil/protein free.  I honestly couldn't recall if it had soy lecithin in it, like the american cheese does, but I don't seem to have an issue with soy lecithin. It's protein and oil that bothers me, even though the FDA says soy oil is 'fine' because there's no protein in it--many soy people can't have soy oil.    I feel confident in ordering these things at a fast food place because I expect them to handle the foods with tongs at individual food stations.   Mammoth Caves is awesome.  We could spend some serious money here doing all the tours, and of course there's the entire above ground to tour as well.   We enjoyed one tour (90 minutes underground) and then did a walking trail above grounds. It was getting to be about 5 or 6, so we headed on down the road.

Vrooom. Vroom.

When we got to the town we had eyed as an overnight, neither of us was tired, so we bought a Frosty (are you seeing a pattern?) and we headed for town closer to the Smoky Mountains.  (We do have a Wendys in our town, but we rarely go the part of town it's in, so it's fun to enjoy. Plus, we were seeing them in almost every town we passed through, which is unheard of in our state).   I had called ahead to verify the hotel had rooms, and made the reservation for the night. Neither one of us took into consideration the time change, jumping forward an hour.  As a result, we got to the hotel just before ten, which is when all the restaurants around us closed.  We found a Kroger's down the street a couple miles and headed over to get dinner:  Mac and cheese with tuna :-)  What a staple.  Actually, a rare find for me as most canned tuna has soy added to it. UGH.  
Plus, The Mike picked the exact same thing as I did :-)  That's true love. He could have had any microwave meal!  

The hotel was "Main Stay Suites" by Choice Hotels and I think it maybe one to look for on vacation if we stay in a place for several days. Full size refrigerator/freezer, microwave, cooktop, and a nice kitchen penninsula with two full size chairs.  I loved being able to freeze cups of water that would last a lot longer than quickly frozen ice from a gas station, for the cooler. When we were in Hawai'i several years ago, we had a condo for the stay and we froze water in juice bottles which lasted all day on road trips, and then we had cold water to drink too!  

We were off to the Great Smoky Mountains!  I wish we could spend more time here. It was beautiful and amazing to see. Neither of us had any idea that these mountains were an ecological wonder, or an ice age retreat for so many of the life found within.  We had our cooler and Tanka bars, so we were set for lunch/snacks.  We got back to town ab out 9:30 though and I was starving, which meant my brain wasn't thinking well. We headed to Arbys and I got some plain roast beef in a bowl with a baked potato (when did Arbys start with baked potatoes?). Our order taker said she had celiac as well and suggested the baked potato.  

Next we headed north to a town named for our United States' first Admiral.  Farragut, TN.  What a neat little museum at the city hall there!  An amazing man, the Admiral was actually the first to hold three ranks in our Navy.  Afterwards, The Mike found a neat restaurant on google, but it didn't come up in Find Me Gluten Free (ooh, I need to go add it still).  I looked up their menu online and they said they had gluten free/ UDIs breads! woot!  We headed in (we were actually in the parking lot) and had a light lunch at The French Market.  The Mike had a delicious looking gluten croissant filled with chicken salad, I had UDIs bread, brie cheese, ham, and apple slices. For some reason when I ordered it, I envisioned the apple slices on the side. They were inside.  It was delicious.  The woman, who I assumed was the owner, said that the toaster is only used for UDIs bread. When my sandwich arrived, she said it was actually put in the oven to toast, but it was put on separate alum foil. Score!   

The Mike's gluten meal 
 My tasty gluten free sammich.  

We then spent the day in Oak Ridge, TN, which is its own National Park because of what happened there in WW2.  It became a national park last year, which means it's the newest one we've ever visited.   After the museum, we headed to Razzleberry's for ice cream, which I was assured all was gluten and soy free.  I went with the Strawberry, The Mike had Vanilla Bean.  Tasty.  We walked around the 'square' there (historic in its own right as well) and were surprised to see a sign for farm fresh eggs $5 a dozen! That's twice what I pay at home for some farm fresh eggs!

We were back on the road and heading further south.  We were crossing borders!  Georgia, here we come.  We had the most interesting hotel room of our trip.  First, because it had laminate floors instead of carpet, and then because the bathroom water valve was leaking all over the bathroom floor (clean water).

For dinner, there wasn't much around. A couple fast food places that we've already eaten at or weren't interested in, a mexican place that was recommended at the front desk --but we'd had that just the other day--and then I saw a Firehouse Subs place. We kept driving past these and I decided there had to be something I could eat there. No gluten free bread, but a nice ham salad was possible. The Mike had a simple beef and cheddar sub and I had the huge salad with a lot of kalamata olives.  This is a neat restaurant and I wish they had real gluten free options because I would love to really support a place like this that gives back so much locally.

We saw the Chickamauga part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. The Mike and I both had trouble fathoming the large number of troops that fought and died here.  The civil war always makes me think of how far we've come (and yet to go) in the medical field.  It wasn't until the civil war that doctors realized that they shouldn't use bloody instruments from one person to the next. Some doctors and nurses during the war realized that there was something about doing that which led to almost certain death of those that were operated upon.  Blood types weren't known, the understanding of germs wasn't completely understood.  

We took a local highway up to Nashville, past our first cotton field we spied (it was in TN not GA), and past big mansion homes, then into Nashville past a tired neighborhood. Our destination?   Mellow Mushroom.  I've heard wonderful things of this place on the celiac page and I this was our opportunity---plus, we could say we'd dined in Nashville.  (I had been here when I was in college and saw a bit of the town, this time it was just a pass through, though we did see the bat tower).  

Mellow Mushroom's menu has a separate gluten free card in the middle, with the types of pizza, the ingredients on their crust (delicious), and combos for the same gluten price!   
 Fun interior. 

My GF veggie with bacon --The Mike said 'that's not veggie then'.
 The Mike's bbq chicken 

Since we're big on dining and dashing, we did just that :-)   Got on the road and headed north to Illinois for a night's stay--where we had a very unwelcome wake up call at 6:30am.  It's vacation, we're sleeping in--or at least wanting to do so!  

We had scrambled eggs at the hotel and on our way north and west and north ;-)   into Missouri we went, past St Louis where we saw The Arch, and then we got off the main road to take in some scenery.  We stopped at Mark Twain's Lake, although were on the wrong side of it to visit his childhood home.  Here we were able to have some snacks of a slice of cheese and an apple, and then chocolate chips and pretzels.  The further north we got, we took in more history.  La Plata, MO has an Amtrak station. It's a small town so the station shocked us, but it would draw people from IL and MO to get on the train for LA.   Next we stumbled across the site of a confederate raid in Iowa, the furthest north fighting seen in this part of the country.  Then we went Gothic.  
The American Gothic house Grant Wood made famous.  

We have a couple quirky photos with us, but they're staying off the blog :-)  

Next up was to visit The Man who was kind and generous with the white men invading his people's land.  Chief Wa Pel Lo is buried by Agency, Iowa (named for the Indian Agency that was here). He was the second in command behind Chief Keokuk.    

Finally, we were home: 
8 days on the road
6 states visited
6 national parks visited
Multiple restaurants dined
0 soy incidences
0 gluten incidences

Vacation success!  

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