Livin’ the all-inclusive life

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View from my beach chair in Montego Bay, Jamaica

I finally got a passport at age 33. This seems to surprise a lot of my friends and colleagues. Who doesn’t have a passport, right?

This has made me feel feelings about my race and economic privilege relative to my family. We never had passports growing up because we vacationed every three years and we went to Northwest Iowa to visit my dad’s family. On the rare occasions that international travel opportunities presented themselves while I was in school, my mother’s response was somewhere on the spectrum of “we can’t afford that” and “hell no.” (She’s maybe a bit overprotective — she still texts to make sure I made it okay when she knows I’m traveling.) In college I chose to spend a semester in Washington, DC instead of abroad, because it seemed more practical/attainable and after college I worked political organizing jobs with long hours and tiny paychecks for lots of years. Clearly, some of my friends and colleagues could afford to travel, but it just seemed liked something other people did.

The idea of international travel has only felt possible (financially, timewise) to me within maybe the last three years? And I didn’t need a passport for Puerto Rico when my friends and I went in 2014. But this year we chose Jamaica as our Spring Break destination (yes, adult spring break is a thing we do. Five of six of us live in silly cold places with long winters, so we travel in March to someplace warm and beachy).

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TBH, who cares how good the food is?

All of that context aside, I was holding onto a pretty major concern about international travel: what the hell was I going to eat? I’ve heard many stories about friends who try mysterious foods or compromise on vegetarianism  while traveling, and while that sounds fun, spending most of my trip holed up near a toilet definitely doesn’t. I was super relieved when my friends suggested an all-inclusive resort option (meaning all meals, drinks and activities are factored into the cost of your hotel room). Of course, familiar food isn’t necessarily ibs-friendly food, so I still packed in: two packages of Udi’s gf hamburger buns (8 total rolls, or enough to have one at lunch and dinner each day of the trip); eight single serving pouches of Justins’s nut butters; four NuGo bars; four Clif bars; and four packets of oatmeal. IBS has made me a light packer clothes-wise, since I always need room for food.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Montego Bay, and while I have nothing to compare it to, my friends said it was pretty standard compared to similarly-priced all-inclusives they’d stayed at. Food is served buffet-style at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and there are several “restaurants” (really just dining rooms that serve themed food) on site. Our package included dinner reservations at their Jamaican and Italian restaurants, and the rest of the time, we were buffet-bound.

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Carb city, population: me

Breakfast was the most challenging meal for me, and I leaned heavily on the rolls and almond butter, with fruit and usually potatoes from the buffet. The buffet was well labeled with both vegan and vegetarian items identified, as well as gluten free. This was super helpful, as my downfall is often eating the thing that looks least harmful, only to find out a few hours later that it was probably cooked in butter.

I took a couple of plate pictures from the buffet. This what a pretty typical lunch: Pumpkin rice, potatoes, a cooked vegetable (not delicious) and some kind of bean stew or salad). I only saw tofu on the first day of our trip and it was raw, cubed, and served over pasta. Odd. The highlight was the burger shack near the pool where we went for grilled cheese sandwiches (for my friends) and fries (for me) sometime between lunch and dinner. Most of my friends are vegetarian, and it was hard to stay full on the fairly limited protein available.

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Buffet dinner: rice and a bean/vegetable stew. Yum?

The “restaurant” dinners were a lot sketchier. We were assigned reservations at the Jamaican place the first night and they had one vegetarian option on the menu. It was a coconut curry that was more like a tiny portion of soup with a large plate of rice. We ended up paying for bottles of wine at dinner, because the free wine was the foulest substance I have ever willingly ingested. When we checked out, the front desk clerk through there was a mistake because we had so many wine charges on our bill. Whoops. The Italian restaurant was the best night for my friends and the worst for me. There was nothing I could eat on the menu, but a note indicated that entrees were served with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, so I asked for a plate of that. Pretty lame to be eating plain potatoes and steamed veggies while your friends get pesto gnocchi, but it was our last night.

Of course, the end of the story is that the vegetables were cooked in butter and I was pretty sick the next morning. The ride to the airport was stressful, but I felt okay by the time I boarded my plane.

So what did I learn? First, that I can leave the country and eat and not be terribly sick the whole time. Baby steps. Second, that I have actually learned how to take care of myself pretty well and I just need to do what I already know how to do.  Third and finally, next time I go the all-inclusive route, I will pay more for a child-free resort. #notsorry

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#2015TopNine

Well, 2015 happened. And I didn’t blog very much. So I’m sharing my top nine posts from Instagram as a sort of recap in hopes that I’ll get inspired to pick up the blog again in 2016.

2015-12-31 06.47.22Top row, left:

My lady and I took an epic winter holiday trip (flew from DC to Charlotte, drove to South Carolina, drove to northern Florida and back, and then flew again from Charlotte to DC) involving lots of family time, kid time and time spent in the car. It was fun, but by the time we made it back to Sout Carolina on the 27th, we were ready for a little downtime. Enter Good Life Cafe in Columbia. This place is all vegan (sweet!), gluten-free (score!) and raw (oh, okay). No judgement of people who do the raw food thing, it’s just a little tough on the ibs belly. Also, Good Life was having a pretty rough night of it. We arrived about 6:30 pm and learned they’d had a rush earlier in the day and were out of quite a few menu items. And everything was served cold – like refrigerator cold – which muted a lot of the flavors so the food seemed really salty. Without anything carb-y on the menu, my stomach suffered a LOT from this meal.

Top row,  middle:

We stand with Planned Parenthood around here. My partner and I both work in reproductive health/abortion rights and it’s been a shitty year. But our cute selfie was famous for a couple days. Fun!

Top row, right:

I went to Vegas. I already posted about this, but the gist is, i couldn’t find anything to eat, but I found a vegan boozy milkshake. I still don’t like Vegas, but I liked this milkshake.

Middle row, left:

I started a new job! And attended a fancy gala for the Texas Freedom Network in November. I LOVED this gala, because their vegetarian entree was vegan and gluten free. And delicious. But seriously, I spend a lot of work events hungry and/or slightly tipsy, because I had a glass of wine and couldn’t eat anything. It was really nice to be able to eat and drink like a normal person.

Middle row, middle:

Vegan. Tomato. Pie. With a gluten free crust! My lady continues to recreate awesome recipes for me to eat. This was a mix of red and green tomatoes and it was weird and also really good.

Middle row, right:

Do you have Isa Does It? Because this cookbook changed our life. So many awesome, easy recipes that we both love. This is her malai kofta recipe, and even though it wasn’t the prettiest dish, it was one of the most delicious things we cooked all year.

Bottom row, left:

We moved! (Seriously. Lots of things changed in the 2nd half of the year.) And we love out new place. So we got a ridiculously huge holiday tree to celebrate. And then we got in trouble for bringing it in through the lobby instead of the basement. Sigh.

Bottom row, middle:

This was the year of weddings – I was invited to six and made it to five. This one was the day before my birthday in Lyons, Colorado. Amanda and Hayes are cutting their wedding ice cream sandwich. Also, my amazing friends made sure I could eat at all of their weddings. Yay love! and yay eggplant!

Bottom row, right:

New job required me to spend two weeks in Texas for orientation and training. I had a great time, ate some awesome food, and learned not to start a meal with chips and salsa (ouch). My coworkers and I found Licha’s Cantina by accident, and this was my best meal in Austin. This is a black bean-filled blue corn masa cake topped with avocado and some other veggies. Also, Licha’s was so cute, the margaritas were delicious and the service was awesome. Love.

Vegas equals terrible

Hey! Do you know what is a great way to procrastinate when you’re supposed to be packing/cleaning? Blogging. So great! Also, DC, like much of the Eastern US, is a frozen hellscape and I never want to go outside again.

Shut up, Vegas.

Shut up, Vegas.

Flashback to last week when I attended the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s conference in Las Vegas and it was gorgeous and sunny and perfect outside. Of course, conference means I was inside during the days, but I managed to sneak outside for a few minutes each day and feel the sun.

So the weather was amazing, but the food part of the week was hard. I don’t remember whether the conference registration asked about dietary needs, but there was definitely no consideration given to vegans or other restrictions either at the hotel where we stayed or by the conference organizers. I’m hoping this posts comes off as more like, “here’s how I solved by problems” than really cranky, but I’m still really irritated, so that might show a bit.

Anyway. My standard conference survival kit is honed down to: a pack of Udi’s gf burger buns (softer and less dense than their bagels), Chex brand gf oatmeal packets and 2 boxes of granola bars (one high-protein and one more of a snack bar), plus fiber supplements and a daily probiotic. Usually I don’t need all of the food I bring, but it helps to know I’ve got an emergency stash in case things get weird. My travel to Vegas was okay; it’s always tricky to time meals and fiber supplement with flights and layovers, but it worked out and I found a Qdoba in the Dallas airport that had shockingly fresh-tasting vegetables for the middle of winter. Normally, I don’t get excited about Qdoba, but traveling with dietary restrictions has given me a massive appreciation for chain restaurants. I feel much safer eating somewhere that I can google beforehand.

Concrete picnics are the best picnics

Concrete picnics are the best picnics

The conference started mid-day the day after I arrived and I spent the morning working in my hotel room, assuming I would just head down around noon, grab something to eat and pick up my name badge. Except that the hotel had literally nothing I could eat at either the restaurant, cafe or mini market; I didn’t leave enough time to go exploring a nearby casino for a buffet or foodcourt; and the nearest Chipotle was 1.8 miles away. <cue sad trombone>

I ended up buying a “protein box” and a bag of potato chips from the hotel Starbucks. The box was about $5 and included a hard-boiled egg, a multigrain roll, a packet of peanut butter, some cheese, half an apple and some grapes. I ditched the roll and cheese, supplemented with my own bread and a granola bar and managed a pretty filling lunch. (I do make occasional exceptions to veganism to eat eggs if there aren’t other protein options available. 18 year old me is making a super judgy face right now.) Anyway, I only learned of the existence of these boxes at Starbucks in December but it’s a pretty rad thing to know about when you’re in an unfamiliar place and trying to feed yourself. Starbucks is literally everywhere except the moon these days.

That's right bitches, I am eating ALL your kebabs

That’s right bitches, I am eating aaaall your kebabs…but not the mushrooms.

After conferencing all afternoon, we were invited to a “poolside happy hour” with a hosted bar (that means free!) and heavy appetizers. And they really went all in on the appetizers. They had a table full of sushi, a mashed potato bar, a kebab station, some sort of animal chops…and nothing vegan. I actually asked one of the hotel staff, in case there was like, a secret vegan table I hadn’t found yet, but no, they just didn’t order anything. He kindly pointed me in the direction of some vegetable kebabs which had been hiding under a warming dish and said sympathetically that it was very unusual for a large event like this one not to have anything vegan at all. But as Eric Gordon in Billy Madison says “Well, sorry doesn’t put the Triscuit crackers in my stomach, now does it, Carl?”

So first of all, my stomach behaves waaaaaay better when I start a meal with a carbohydrate of some kind. A glass of red wine followed by grilled veggies is basically taunting my IBS. Secondly, I always feel really awkward when there’s only one thing I can eat at a social event, because my instinct is to take more of that thing, since everyone else has more options…and then I worry that other people are looking at me like, why does she think she gets all the veggie kebabs? Save some for the rest of us, jeez. So there’s no way I’m getting a full meal out of this event. And now I’m hangry and surrounded by strangers that I’m supposed to be mingling with when all I want to do is stab them with my little kebab swords.

The Chandelier from the outside

The Chandelier from the outside

Since the event was a bust, I left with some friends to check out the Cosmopolitan casino near out hotel and look for vegan food. Of course, since we were in Vegas, the first thing we did was locate the Chandelier bar at the center of the Casino. The photo does not do this thing justice. It’s a three-level chandelier that you hang out inside, surrounded by strings of crystals and lounging on plush sofas and drinking fancy cocktails. They don’t serve food (of course) but I had a drink with butternut squash puree and bruleed marshmallow foam, which is like a snack, right? After drinks we went to a place called Holsteins, where the only thing I could eat was fries, but at least I could eat them. We got two orders for four people, and I’m pretty sure I polished off an entire order by myself. Sorry guys. Holsteins had really good fried pickles, and they also had this:

Cue choir of angels

Cue choir of angels

a vegan raspberry coconut milkshake. With coconut whipped cream and a toasted vegan marshmallow. And vodka. I didn’t really want another drink, but boozy milkshakes are a thing that I have never experienced, since I never saw one till after I’d given up on dairy. This is when I started to forgive Vegas for being awful. Or maybe that was just the vodka.

In any case, the following day of the conference was equally frustrating. The lunch they served was beef, salmon, and mozzarella cheese sliders. When I asked about a vegan option, I was told they could “whip something up for me,” so I asked that it also be gluten free and they brought out a plate of spaghetti, took it back and brought (eventually) some gluten-free noodles and sauce. This is the part where I should mention again that the hotel staff was awesome and I really appreciated their responsiveness. It just sucks to pay a couple hundred bucks to attend a conference, plus the cost of a cross-country flight and three nights in a hotel, and give up three days of work and then not be served food that won’t make me sick.

This is why I’m a little, um, intense when it comes to hosting trainings and conferences for my job. I have asked hotels to change catering menus, to add vegan proteins or gluten free bread products…we even had a chef in Atlanta go out and buy some tofu because the event manager failed to communicate our menu requests in time for him to add it to the weekly order. But here’s the thing – no hotel has ever refused to meet our needs. Some are better than others at the execution, but as a conference organizer, it’s on me to do whatever I need to do to make sure no one goes hungry, and it’s not that hard. And now I have to go back to cleaning.

The longest month of the year

Seriously, February, you are the worst. I don’t know why you think you need to pack all of the stress into 28 measly little days, but I’m already over you and it’s only the 16th.

So far in February I have traveled to Boston, Denver and Las Vegas, broke my washing machine, defeated a death cold and helped SG move into my our apartment on the coldest weekend so far this winter. I am spent. It’s currently snowing in DC and I have everything crossed hoping for a snow day tomorrow so we can continue unpacking and settling into our space, since I’ve been on the road so much. And I thought I’d share a little vegan/gluten free travelogue of the past couple weeks.

This sandwich is the stuff dreams are made of

This sandwich is the stuff dreams are made of

First up: Boston! SG* had a work meeting the last week in January, and we found a roundtrip ticket for only $150 so that I could join her for the weekend. I lived in Boston a few years ago and I am still close to some very lovely people up there. So we stayed in a fancy hotel, had some fancy drinks, I saw great friends and we tromped through snow (thankfully, we were in town between blizzards and didn’t get stuck) to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. It was a lovely weekend, and I took exactly one photo the entire time. Of a sandwich.

I discovered Veggie Galaxy in Cambridge, MA while we were prepping for this trip and I was instantly enamored. In addition to vegetarian and vegan restaurants, DC is also sadly lacking diners. Veggie Galaxy combines both of these things AND has an extensive gluten-free menu. Hello, happiness. Most of my friends are omnivores, but they’re super flexible and willing to work with my dietary restrictions, so after SG and I wrapped up our museum outing, we all met up for an amazing late lunch. I had the The Club sandwich on gluten-free bread. I was obsessed with club sandwiches as a kid, so finding a tempeh and tofu version was really exciting. I ate like it was my last meal. After Veggie Galaxy, we wandered over to River Gods for an early drink and met up with more friends I hadn’t seen in a while. We spent much longer there than we’d planned, and then took the T from Central Square to Harvard to meet up with my friend’s fiance. They recommended Algiers for food and an escape from the Saturday night Harvard crowd. (Seriously, it was like -8 out and everywhere was packed. I forgot how normal it is to go out in freezing weather in New England.) Anyway, Algiers was exactly what we needed – we got a big table, lots of wine, french fries and gluten-free falafel. Boston was good to us. I’m excited to go back in warmer weather and show SG more of the city.

This is what I looked like at the end of Creating Change

This is what I looked like at the end of Creating Change

I returned from Boston on a Sunday night and flew to Denver the following Wednesday. SG flew from Boston to Raleigh for another meeting and didn’t get back to DC till after I’d left. In Denver, I attended Creating Change, the annual conference for the Nation LGBTQ Task Force. This year, more than 4,000 LGBTQ people and allies came together for the conference, and it was a pretty incredible weekend. In addition to speaking on a couple panels and live-tweeting my boss’ plenary on reproductive justice, I organized a huge karaoke/dance party for a couple hundred people. So that was pretty rad.

I also ate really well in Denver. The restaurant attached to our hotel, Yard House, had a surprisingly diverse menu and was able to accommodate my diet fairly easily. I had their tofu lettuce wraps twice – so good. I was a little disappointed by their truffle fries, which came sprinkled with Parmesan, although that wasn’t listed on the menu. If I could change one thing about the restaurant world, it would be to clarify that cheese is an ingredient, not a garnish, and since it’s a fairly common allergen, surprise cheese is not okay.

Native Foods take on nachos, minus the seitan

Native Foods’ take on nachos, minus the seitan

Our hotel was just down the street from one of Denver’s two Native Foods locations, and I managed to slip away from the conference twice to pay them a visit. I’ve been meaning to try their nachos since they opened in DC, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Since I’m gluten free and SG is soy-free, Native Foods actually isn’t super easy for us to eat at, despite being an entirely vegan restaurant. I’d love to see them introduce more gluten-free proteins and to offer some of their sandwiches on gf breads…I remember being moderately obsessed with Native Foods in college, but I’ve been less excited about them since they came back into my life last year.Anyway, the nachos normally have seitan “beef” on them, but they were pretty good without it. I went back a couple days later and they had smoky split pea soup on the menu. Since I was starting to come down with a cold, the soup and and order of their polenta bites was exactly what I needed.

Well, that and a package of Zicam lozenges.

I made it back from Denver in one piece and spent two nights at home before I shipped out the Las Vegas for another conference – the Road Ahead, organized by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. I have a lot to say about Vegas and about the Road Ahead, but that will have to wait for a future post.

xo

*aka my lady or my ladyfriend or Sarah…I don’t love the term “partner” and I haven’t decided how I want to refer to her in this space, but she’s a VIP.

N-O-P-E nope, nope, nope

I don’t even want to talk about my trip to Atlanta last weekend. It was definitely one of the worst travel experiences I’ve had recently.

When in doubt, Mellow Mushroom is a good bet. Their gluten-free crust is now vegan, they have vegan cheese and their bbq tempeh is baller.

When in doubt, Mellow Mushroom is a good bet. Their gluten-free crust is now vegan, they have vegan cheese and their bbq tempeh is baller.

My colleagues and I were running a conference for students from several Southern states, and we had a difficult time finding a hotel that could accommodate our needs that was near downtown Atlanta. Unfortunately, the Hotel Capitol Park was not the right choice. I’ve had some amazing vegan and gluten-free meals in Atlanta, and I have learned not to make assumptions about any region of the country.

Hotels are a different story. I have had so many miserable meals in hotels – I don’t know where these chefs are trained, but it seems like they are universally confounded by the concept of non-animal protein. Also, seasoning a vegetable seems to be entirely beyond their ability.

Case in point: when we talked with the staff of the Capitol Park about our need for some vegan and vegetarian meals, we were told that they could offer these meals, but couldn’t give us any information about what the meals might be, because that is at the “discretion of the chef,” so.

Not having control of my food options for an entire weekend is a recipe for disaster. Being responsible for about 20 other people’s food as well adds an extra level of stress. And the hotel managed to screw up nearly every meal, but most especially the vegan ones.

It's like playing "What's the difference?" Meal #1...

It’s like playing “What’s the difference?” Meal #1…

The photo at left is the lunch they served on Friday afternoon, and the photo at right is the dinner. Notable similarities are the lack of any carbohydrate or protein. And that they’re basically the meal. Awesome. Thanks, guys. I mean…do we not have access to a food pyramid? Or the internet? Or a dictionary? Vegetarians don’t just eat vegetables! And if you’re going to charge $25 per person for these meals, maybe you could do a little research?

I also made some food suggestions during the planning process, and specifically said I wanted to make sure that the vegetarians got more to eat than vegetables.

And this is Meal #2!

And this is Meal #2! Are those apples? Sweet potatoes? I’m still not sure!

But I guess…at least they were cooked? (I’ve been served raw tofu at more than one hotel.) The story the banquet department gave us is that they never heard about our needs or requests and were totally unprepared to feed vegetarians or vegans on the first day. For day 2, the chef personally went out to purchase tofu and made us a stir fry with onions and peppers. It was a really nice gesture, even though the quality of the food wasn’t good.

It is really hard to stay focused and get work done when you’re not being adequately fed. And it was so frustrating to watch the vegetarians and vegans feel like they weren’t being taken care of throughout the weekend. I always travel with oatmeal packets, bagels and a couple boxes of granola bars, and this weekend, I actually finished off my entire stash of food, because this was so terrible.

We were promised vegan desserts...we got a martini glass full of raspberries...

We were promised vegan desserts…we got a martini glass full of raspberries…

There were other screw ups over the course of the weekend – and even though the staff moved quickly to try to make up for them, all of them could have been prevented.

I was also sick the entire weekend; I’m pretty sure at least some of the vegetables were cooked in butter…and I wasn’t always able to get upstairs to grab a bagel to make sure I had soluble fiber with each meal. And I shouldn’t have had to. Seriously, you guys. I organize a lot of conferences – like three or four every year. And this was the worst hotel I’ve worked with. I guess I’m just venting…but I really can’t understand why my dietary needs are so confusing for someone who ostensibly has culinary training. Especially when I manage to feed myself three times a day, 365 days a year for waaaaaaay less than $25 per meal.

Anyway, if you’re headed to Atlanta in the near future, stay anywhere but the Capitol Park. And if you have any tips for working with hotels to accommodate dietary restrictions, I would love to hear them.

I have seen the promised land

Soooooo…it’s been a while, huh? I had to take a break from blogging for weird personal reasons that we probably don’t need to talk about here, but I have a couple new cities to post about, so here I am, and hopefully, this will become a habit again. I guess we’ll see.

Gluten-free, vegan and raw desserts. So very delicious.

Gluten-free, vegan and raw desserts. So very delicious.

In the meantime, let’s talk about Kansas City, MO aka the happiest place on earth. I organized a conference there in May (shoutout to the Westin Kansas City and their kickass event staff), and my lady, who spent seven years there, was able to come along for the trip. While my first couple days there were mostly consumed by conference running, we did have an opportunity to explore the city, which exceeded all of my expectations. Translation: I love the shit out of Kansas City.

So KC has three – yes, three – vegan restaurants with multiple gluten-free offerings. A fourth was a few days away from opening during our visit. We went to lunch at Cafe Gratitude with a couple of my lady’s former colleagues. The concept is a little shticky; everything on the menu is an adjective, and you’re supposed to order by saying “I am Grounded” or “I am Magical” or whatever. Good lord.

2014-06-02 12.30.18

I am…Warm-hearted. Whatever you say, Cafe Gratitude.

In any case, it must work for some people, because a guy from Vampire Weekend was in the restaurant when we visited. (It really, really was him – my friend talked to him as we were leaving the restaurant.) Oh and the food? Holy. Balls. We split an order of “Grounded” (garlic potatoes with spicy nacho cheese) and I was astounded by “Warm-hearted” (pesto polenta and spaghetti squash). My lunch companions were all omnivores, but they seemed pretty excited about their entrees as well. And then there was the moment when our waiter brought over an entire tray of vegan and gluten-free desserts. I am not ashamed to admit that I nearly cried. Cafe Gratitude, I would like to have your gluten-free, vegan, sustainable, Midwestern babies.

Aside from one of the best vegan meals of my damn life, I met some pretty amazing people in Kansas City. My very lovely girlfriend introduced me to some of her friends, who had planned a potluck to celebrate her visit. Not only did her friends cook for us, they collaborated to make sure everything at the dinner was vegan and gluten-free. And delicious. Seriously you guys, even my family doesn’t do that for me. We spent a long evening eating, drinking wine and talking on the front porch during a rainstorm. It was such an wonderful and welcoming atmosphere…I was kind of surprised we actually came back to DC, because I would have stayed forever.

This trip and conference was one of the best experiences I’ve had in terms of traveling with IBS. The Westin was creative and accommodated multiple dietary restrictions (including gluten-free dessert options) and the food was really good. I was nearly symptom-free the whole time. Of course, you get what you pay for – I don’t even want to think about how much of our budget went to food and bev at this particular conference. ALSO Kansas City was hosting Rockfest during our stay which is an outdoor music festival featuring the musical talents of Korn and Five Finger Death Punch, among others. The festival was right outside our hotel, and many of the concert-goers stayed at the Westin. I have never seen so many drunken, muddy white people in one place in all my life. Yikes.

 

There really IS an app for that

Well, this is embarrassing.

IMG_2036I am totally about to be that person who raves about an iPhone app. And even though I am cringing on the inside, this damn thing is actually really helpful.

I downloaded Find Me Gluten Free while I was in Santa Cruz over vacation. Although I had many fine meals as a vegan in Santa Cruz, that was a) 10 years ago (jesus christ) and b) before I needed to avoid gluten. We had already visited Saturn Cafe for lunch (more on that later) and we needed ideas for dinner. So Find Me GF allows you to search by your immediate location or by inputting an address. I’ve used it in DC and Oakland since I downloaded it and found that it has places I am familiar with and some I didn’t realize had gf options.

IMG_1903It turned out that one of my old favorites, Planet Fresh Gourmet Burritos, still exists and all of their burritos are available gluten-free (meaning “on a plate,” but whatever). So this is what we had for dinner: beans and rice and veggies, sauteed tofu and maybe a little too much shredded lettuce for my taste, but I picked out most of it.

IMG_2037

So once you’ve searched by location you can sort by distance, rating or see the results in a map. There are adds, but they’re not very annoying (in this case it was a “Featured!” restaurant that is nowhere near the address that I searched). Each listing includes a star rating, links to user reviews, key words and links to the website and menu if available.  Since a lot of restaurants’ definition of gluten-free is a piece of meat on a plate (um…yum?), being able to browse the menu and see if there’s something I really can safely eat is kind of awesome.

There are some great user reviews that include information like whether the restaurant uses a dedicated fryer, how helpful the servers are and a variety of other useful insights. Since this is the kind of app that will only get better if more people use it, I think you should probably download this and play with it.

IMG_2038You can also filter your search by the keywords (in bold below the address in the image above). There are roughly one zillion filter options, from “vegan-friendly” to “wings,” so you can actually find a thing you’re in the mood for instead of reading every single menu.

Why this app is so awesome: maybe you’re in an new/unfamiliar city and you’re hungry. Maybe you’re tired of going to the same three places in your city. Maybe you’re trying to impress a date and you don’t want to make yourself sick doing it. I can think of like a zillion reasons you need this app.

IMG_2033 Of course, it isn’t foolproof. When my vbfitwww and I got stuck in traffic on the way home from Muir Beach, Find Me led us to The Counter in Corte Madera. It’s a Bay Area chain…you’ll like it more than I did if you’re a meat-eater. (This was before I learned how to filter my searches.) The Counter’s veggie burger is vegan but not gf, so I ended up with an order of fries and a roasted vegetable appetizer. This was tasty but not so awesome for my IBS. I was already having stomach pains less than an hour after we finished dinner. It wasn’t the worst attack I’ve had, but I didn’t feel awesome the next day.

Stay tuned for more vacation updates this weekend.