The ups, downs, and runarounds of Celiac Disease and food sensitivities

Archive for the tag “travel”

Glutenfrei etc. in Berlin

So, Berlin! Such a great time exploring botanical gardens, graffitied alleyways, cathedral and crypt, festival of cultures (9 hour parade!), coffee shops, independent movie theaters, former Nazi then US Air Force airport… and so much more! Really, I don’t think anyone could go to Berlin and not find at least 1 thing of interest/merit, yet despite its size and cultural offerings, it is full of quiet, suburban pockets merely 5 minutes away from an attraction such as Alexanderplatz. Yes, I could definitely live there (though I’d prefer that the locals at least allow me to practice my shoddy German before automatically switching to fluent English). But, what about that niggling little thing that drives this entire blog?

What about the FOOD???

Well, I am happy to report that the situation is generally much brighter than what I had gleaned from preparatory internet perusal. So let’s get the negative over with first. I ate out twice (which is an anomaly, I don’t eat out in the U.S., unless I know that my 50+ list of problem foods/consistencies can be avoided), and those meals were certainly NOT reason for excitement, as I felt a bit sickly afterwards (one place said everything was gluten-free, but SOY SAUCE was an ingredient). I also idiotically ate the gluten-free airplane meals, which seemed safe enough (plain green beans, quinoa salad, gluten-, dairy-, egg-free cookie, mango chicken), but this is what really propelled me into severe symptoms of glutening on the way home (I was to the point of walking around the airport in search of a clinic- do they have those? In my desperate mind they did, but I didn’t find one). The thought of eating a meal that I did not prepare or supervise is such a luxury, of the pipe dream variety, and I still need to get over it. I did have to chow down on some serious baby food and sardines when on the go (hence the current hiatus from both), but open-air markets allowed for quite the selection of fresh fruit (and vegetables, if you can handle them uncooked).


The truly exciting food news is that Germany has quite a few brands that produce certified gluten-free grains, sauces, and bread-y goods! Ok, so does the U.S., but they have other allergens… In Germany, several brands are hyper-aware of individuals with MULTIPLE FOOD SENSITIVITIES. This seems to be the case across Europe, as many allergen-free products in stores came from Italy, the U.K., France, etc. I could purchase certified (< 20ppm, designated facility) plain gluten-free grains, but I didn’t, because there were so many exciting variants to try! Buckwheat flakes (like corn flakes) with JUST BUCKWHEAT NO SUGAR NO PRESERVATIVES JUST 1 INGREDIENT were my absolute favorite. Puffed millet (1 ingredient) was also quite exciting, as I can’t seem to find a cold cereal in the U.S. that suits. Rice cakes with puffed quinoa, millet, amaranth, etc. made it hard to return to plain old rice-rice cakes. The brand Werz is definitely the forerunner in certified gluten-free and allergen-free goods (one of the few brands that did not use cornstarch in everything); it was always present in organic “Bio” stores and Reformhaus natural shops. They offer several grain, cereal, cookie, and cracker options, with egg-, dairy-, and fructose-free products also (I have never seen a gluten-free product in the U.S. that was labeled as fructose-free, even though this is a rising digestive problem!). Some online reviewers claim that anything from Werz tastes like sand, and yes, I would not recommend their cakes unless you need to be rendered speechless by a palatal coating of dry, dense baked good, but their cereals, whole grains, and cookies were a delight. Learning the names of ingredients is crucial, though, because Werz does produce gluten-containing counterparts with spelt and kamut, but GLUTENFREI is gluten-free, and very clearly stamped on packages, along with the x-ed wheat symbol (official gluten-free symbol in the EU).

I found a most lovely loaf of gluten-free bread with pumpkin seeds from a bakery called “No Gluten”; it was nice and crisp on the outside, soft and bread-y on the inside. This GF vegan bread was in a special wrapper in the bakery section of a Bio Company store, and they offered other varieties. I was initially skeptical of cross contamination, but finally persuaded my German-fluent host to ask a bakery worker, who was incredibly knowledgeable of the bakery’s practices (they deliver fresh loaves to Bio Company, and also make cake, which I sadly was not able to track down) and cross-contamination precautions. We even found gluten-free beers at several natural food stores, though I only tried a tiny bit of each as alcohol doesn’t sit well. But just the presence of gluten-free goods, even if I couldn’t tolerate all of them over some additional digestive issue, was so comforting. My favorite store was Veganz (yes, vegan with a “z”), where we found rice cheese from Italy, certified gluten-free carob powder (AHHH!!! So hard to come by here!), and cashew-based ginger ice cream with FOUR INGREDIENTS (cashews, ginger, agave, vanilla). It seems that preservatives are more of a concern in the EU, as they should be. And now for some eye candy.

Gluten-free beer made from organic millet; gluten-free crumbs on tableIMG_0341

Gluten-free beer from organic rice, and some Euro change


Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, fructose-free whole grain rice dwarvesIMG_0345Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free buckwheat rounds; kind of like a thicker pita


I would buy stock in this bread: gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free sourdough bread with teff, millet, and buckwheat flour. Thin slices, regular size, comparable to the sourdough bread that Germans eat all the time (had to double-check package as it tasted like the real deal to both of us!). How I wish I could find you in my country…IMG_0347


When I finally came to terms with my body’s reaction to gluten GIF

It’s only embarrassing if you care what people think.

Or if you’re in a confined space. Such as an airplane. With turbulence to fuel your rebellious insides. And you are foolishly too proud to opt for an adult diaper. And then you have to stand in line for customs, as if you hadn’t exhaustively shared your malodorous cloud with new friends. I hardly felt well enough to care, but in hindsight (har), I should have packed my Toot Tone and GasRight Strips.

Travel… oh boy

Let’s just start with this little fact: I bought baby food. Not for a baby. For me. While this might sound super depressing, I am LOOKING FORWARD to eating vegetables on the go that I didn’t have to peel, slice, and cook until soft (or puree) myself (as I do on most days). I was alarmed to see the fruitlessness of a Google search for “Celiac baby food” and “certified gluten-free baby food,” so I’ve got my fingers and villi crossed that cross-contamination won’t be a factor. Ingredients are typically “carrots, water,” so can’t go wrong there. So, why did I buy baby food? Well, when you’re traveling as a tourist with food restrictions, there really aren’t a whole lot of options for on-the-go meals. Most granola bars are out due to dried fruit and nuts. Can’t do raw vegetables. I will be floored if I can eat 25% of the gluten-free meal on the plane (did you know that you can only place one dietary preference request on airplanes? So it’s either gluten-free or vegan, and with the utterly random list of foods I avoid I am keeping expectations low). However. Some fresh fruits can be purchased and peeled! I’m packing packets of sardines, salmon and tuna in water. Rice cakes, of course. Seaweed snacks made with olive oil. I’m getting used to eating steamed vegetables cold, but I’d rather do baby food than carry mushy cooked vegetables in my backpack while sight-seeing. I may even pack a loaf of gluten- (et al.) free bread and veggie latkes in my carry-on luggage to throw in the freezer for the week. I’m a bit paranoid about fixing food in a shared kitchen, so my spatula, cutting board, and colander get to cross the ocean blue, too. Packing Herbamare (lovely salt/seasoning blend) and a few other dried herbs/spice blends. I’ve asked my host to purchase foil, parchment paper, plastic wrap, and disinfecting wipes. Oh and I invested in some Gluten Defense digestive enzymes (BTW be very careful with digestive enzymes- lots have barley!), which I will take at every meal. A member of the Celiac ranks gave me some Alka Seltzer and charcoal tablets for relief in the case of glutening. Trying not to think of pots and pans… How to avoid making oneself sick by freaking out about getting sick?? I may eat out while overseas, which is a bit of an oddity since I categorically do not eat out on the home turf anymore. I found an exclusively paleo restaurant at my destination, so no gluten would even enter the premises; my only concerns are eggs/nuts/raw veg, but it seems like the appropriate place to ask for a plain slab of meat and a side of cooked spinach. There’s also a little chain that makes onigiri, or Japanese triangular rice packs stuffed in seaweed; they are certified gluten-free by the German equivalent of GIG. I believe I may be able to avoid other food allergens with this chain as well, as the ingredient lists seem very succinct and made up of whole foods. Traveling in Germany with Celiac Disease sans other food issues looks to be pretty doable, as many stores carry brands like Schar. I don’t mean to be all my-fate-is-so-much-worse-than-yours, so I’ve strapped on my big girl panties and… bought baby food. DO WHAT ONE’S GOTTA DO, AMIRIGHT?

Clarification: If you have Celiac Disease and plan to travel, you do NOT need to resort to eating baby food. I have intolerances to corn, soy, casein, eggs, nuts, tomatoes, beans, etc…. as well as major digestive issues with any food that is not soft.

Traveling Celiac

Traveling with Celiac Disease restrictions is hard enough, particularly with checked bag fees and weight restrictions. Traveling with Celiac Disease and multiple food intolerances is… stressful. Although I’d stocked my checked bag with canned food, microwave rice bowls, juice boxes, applesauce containers, and Larabars, I definitely did not bring enough food.

I thought I’d planned a fail-proof trip. I booked a room with mini-fridge and microwave in a hotel that was supposedly close to a grocery store. But somehow I neglected to factor in the long conference hours, which made a grocery shopping trip impossible (as it turned out, Google maps was a little off on the proximity of a Publix). As a result, I ate out twice at restaurants close to the conference, and compromised, and rendered my insides such.

The first restaurant, Ted’s Montana Grill, has a gluten-free menu posted online. I had salmon with asparagus and broccoli, all of which was tasty. Although the waitstaff and kitchen honored my request (I assume) to exercise cross-contamination caution and to hold the butter and any other dairy, my insides coiled into a constellation of cramps etc. shortly after the meal. I just don’t have to the heart to go to a restaurant and ask for a meal free of my long list of known irritants. As a result, I eat out perhaps once a month, and only stick to gluten- and dairy-free abstinence.

The second restaurant, Dantanna’s, did not have a gluten-free menu online, but a reviewer on the Find Me Gluten Free app claimed that they did in fact have one on location. I called to confirm, and indeed they do. In fact, it’s quite extensive, with appetizers, burgers (on lettuce), entrees, sides and desserts. I heeded the reviewer’s recommendation and steered clear of the french fries listed as gluten-free but apparently containing gluten. The server seemed confused when I ordered a gluten-free burger with lettuce, no bun (the hostess had brought me the gf menu), and said he didn’t think it was safe for me to eat from their kitchen. Thankfully the manager came to our table, asked who was gluten-free, then asked if I had Celiac Disease. She then explained that their gluten-free menu is for individuals who have a slight gluten problem, not for people with Celiac Disease; however, she had notified the chef of my health issue and he had said he could make the dinner I had ordered. Full-blown GI warfare set in shortly thereafter, but again, it could have been any of the food groups I typically avoid in addition to gluten.

I’m not sure how I feel about the whole gluten-free-but-not-for-Celiacs menu deal. I realize how difficult it is to prepare a truly gluten-free meal in a shared kitchen. It’s hard enough for ME to prepare MYSELF a safe meal in a gluten-containing kitchen. On the other hand, what is up with this nonsense of advertising gluten-free products and menus that are not truly gluten-free? “Slightly gluten tainted” is more like it. Take the “-free” out if it does not apply! I don’t expect the layperson to understand that baking me cookies with gluten-free flours but without attention to cross-contamination is unacceptable to people with Celiac Disease. But for a restaurant, particularly with a trained chef, moreover advertizing a gluten-free menu, I do expect fact-checking and an effort to keep my dish separate and to use clean utensils/surfaces/etc. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that I have a right to eat out. I know it’s a luxury to have someone else prepare my meal. In fact, I sorely miss eating free food at events, participating in potlucks, and sitting back without a care while a host prepares my meal. But, sorry, restaurant world, if you publicize a gluten-free menu, you will get Celiacs in addition to gluten-intolerants, and some of the latter will need complete and absolute freedom from gluten just as much as the former. I should have taken the time to go into these arguments with the manager, but, famished, fatigued and cowardly mess that I was, I meekly accepted a meal that was not intended for me and my kind. It was delicious on one end, but I certainly paid for it on the other. Note to self: BAD HABIT FORMATION.

Oh, and looked what aired tonight! Fox finds Celiac newsworthy!

And finally, on a lighter note, THANKSGIVING RECIPES! SO MANY FREE OF GLUTEN, DAIRY, EGGS, CORN, REFINED SUGAR, ADDITIVES. THANK YOU, FELLOW BLOGGERS! I have a repeat upper GI, a first-time lower GI, and biopsies the day before Thanksgiving, but I will get the recipes and and my reviews up at some point!

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