Welcome to the desert.
Last weekend we found ourselves sitting in a rental car at the Phoenix, Arizona airport ready to drive towards Tucson Arizona to stay at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton for a joint ninth wedding anniversary treat combined with a business conference. I was excited but also scared. I’ve made it a policy to always stay in hotels with at minimum a microwave and refrigerator, or ideally a kitchenette so I can easily prepare my own gluten-free meals. Restaurants, even restaurants with Gluten-free menus, are rarely careful enough with cross contamination issues, and the more meals I eat out, the more rumbly tummy issues I get. The idea of staying at a hotel without any cooking facilities, even a fancy one, terrified me.
I had a plan of attack, however. Here are some tips based on what I did to prepare and what I wish that I had done.
1) Grab a quick gluten-free meal from a gluten-free friendly fast food chain on your way to the resort, if you have the time. You will probably get tired of fancy food at the resort and a quick, cheap meal in the hand is better than being hungry and confused about your options when you first arrive.
On the drive in, I wanted to get dinner at Picazzo’s gluten-free pizza, a local pizza chain that I once enjoyed in Portland, Oregon. But, time was pressing, so we stopped at In-N-Out instead.* They have safe gluten-free fries and milkshakes, and for those that eat meat they have a protein burger in lettuce. Those in the know say to skip the spread as it has cross contamination, and tell them you have a wheat allergy. The french fries are pretty foolproof, though, unless your companion orders something in a bun and it is snuggled in the bag next to the bun. Long ago, I used to get fries from McDonalds on road trips. This was before the great reveal of meat and wheat (although the gluten is probably denatured). Now that I have In-N-Out as an option in both California and Arizona, I am happy to snub the gross grease sticks at McD’s. The people working at In-N-Out are just so darned nice, too. Other options include Wendy’s with their naturally gluten-free baked potatoes (watch for glove cross contamination) and Five Guys fries, which are fried in dedicated friers in peanut oil. Some people swear by Chipotle’s but I haven’t tried them myself.
*Don’t feel too sad for me missing Picazzo’s. Later in our stay we went to the Tucson Picazzo’s… twice. Review coming soon.
2) Pack or Buy Some Basic Staples to make your life easier.
You may enjoy eating out every meal and trusting to restaurants to provide for you. While a good resort hotel can make reasonable accommodations, especially during regular business hours, I like to have an emergency stash for midnight cereal cravings and to have options for a light meal when I don’t feel like a restaurant experience. I know there is always room service, but I’ve always found that the person taking my order rarely fully “gets” gluten-free so it can be stressful. Besides, room service is always dreadfully expensive! Going on a Target run in your destination city can be a lifesaver.
My Shopping List for Basics:
2 sets of full plastic silverware (unless you like ordering room service a lot or borrowing silverware from the restaurants.)
At least one set of plastic (non breakable, bpa-free preferred) dishes with one cereal sized bowl. If you are minimalist a ziploc type round plastic container will get you far, paired with dishwash solution.
Small dishwash solution or the cheapest dollar store equivalent in a large bottle. You can pitch it prior to packing up.
Freezer safe quart or gallon-sized ziploc bags or your favorite wax paper sandwich sacks etc. for transporting bread to or from your dinner
Gluten-free Dry Cereal (I prefer to buy this in our destination city as it is bulky. Your mileage may vary)
Gluten-free Nuts or Seeds for a quick protein snack. I tend to shop at Trader Joe’s for our nuts. Baby Yum loves sunflower seeds and asks for her “seeds” regularly.
Nut or Seed-butter for a Protein Snack in another form I bought a jar of almond butter in our destination city just for convenience. If peanuts and peanut Cross Contamination is ok for you, Justin’s Almond Butter Squeeze Packs are wonderful for travel. They contain palm oil and some varieties contain sugar. There is a new brand called Barney’s with a similar product that claims to be peanut contamination free.
Gluten-free Protein bars like Lara Bars These are easily available at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts and many other places. Or bring them from home. I like the blueberry muffin, pecan pie, and banana bread varieties myself.
Aseptic Cartons of dairy or dairy-free milk (These do not require refrigeration; just put in your ice bucket prior to opening to chill for best flavor. Bring in your checked bag OR buy from Whole Foods or other health food store.)
Horizon Organic 1 % 8-Ounce Aseptic Cartons
Dairy-free Silk Soymilk 8-Ounce Containers
*If at Target, consider picking up some Gluten-free California Baby Sunscreen in the Baby section. More on this later. Also- if your destination in hot and sunny, pick up any extra clothes that might make your stay more pleasant. Do you or your loved ones have a swimsuit? A long sleeved loose cover up to avoid burns or to wear if you acquire one? How about a long sleeved shirt that you could wear into the pool that will block the rays? Need an extra pair of cheap sunglasses? Sandals you can get wet? Pool toys? Selection at the Resort Gift Shops tends to be limited and pricey, and I bet you’d rather buy things you actually want rather than necessities from them.
Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton Arizona Tip: In June, the Walgreens in driving distance from the resort had cute cheap-o sundresses, sunglasses, flip flops, and plastic beach and pool toys for the kids. They ALSO had an interesting Gluten-free snack- Twice Baked Potato Stix. Note: they are produced in a facility that also processes wheat. That being said, I risked it and it worked for me, but your mileage may vary.
2) Pick up some local gluten-free goodies to take to the resort for snacks. If you won’t have refrigeration (which is the case at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton), keep shelf-life in mind when purchasing.
If your hotel is a nice one, they may offer some basic gluten-free breads to you at meal-times with advance notice. However, resort meals can get pricey and repetitive, so it never hurts to have something in your room to snack on.
Research local Gluten-free Bakeries in your destination area online prior to your visit or do a search from your Iphone etc. in the car
I read up on gluten-free resources in Phoenix and found the Gluten-free Creations Bakery. Their Phoenix bakery is closed on Saturdays, and their cafe is in Scottsdale and we didn’t have time to go, but I was able to find a limited selection of their products at a local Whole Foods in the freezer case with other gluten-free baked goods. I was tempted by a strawberry cupcake, but since Baby Yum seems to be sensitive to strawberries I held off in favor of their Whoopie Pies and Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes (pictured left). These lovelies were pricey (oh how pricey), but I do so love trying new local gluten-free baked goods. The Whoopie Pies weren’t really my thing, and I bought them more for the DH who loves chocolate cake type things, but both Baby Yum and I enjoyed the yummy cupcakes. Brilliant! While I was at Whole Foods I also picked up some gluten-free cereal (thank goodness cereal only requires milk), Udi’s gluten-free bagels, and Glutino’s gluten-free pretzels.
Where to Shop for Gluten-free Goodies on a Trip:
If you’re a gluten-free veteran, you probably know this already. But, for nationwide options you have Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Regionally there is Sprouts in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas, and local health food stores that I didn’t have time to investigate.
Sprouts is an Arizona-native chain that also has some gluten-free frozen products, although they don’t tend to be local. Among other products, they carry a Canadian-based O’doughs excellent gluten-free banana cake with chocolate chips that I can recommend, although it is not cheap. It keeps well in a dry climate at room temperature. Sprouts also has other gluten-free snacks, bars, and chips in their grocery section so may be worth a stop. I don’t find their produce impressive and the resort should have a decent fruit buffet and salad options, so I would skip their fresh stuff.
3) Bring specialty Gluten-free items from home in your Checked Bags so you don’t have to worry about liquids.
My Gluten-free Packing List:
Gluten-free Soy Sauce Packets
Your options are:
San J Wheat Free Tamari Travel Packs, 200-Count
Kari Out Low Sodium GF Soy Sauce 400-count
You could also pick up a cheap bottle of the gluten-free La Choy soy sauce from Walmart or a regular grocery store if desired. Read the labels carefully as not every type of La Choy soy sauce is gluten-free. I think the flavor of the packets is superior and they are certainly easier to stick in your purse!
Having gluten-free soy sauce makes sushi so much more interesting. While sushi is not available every night, at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton the Ignite bistro offers sushi on special days (usually around the weekend, Thurs-Sat ). If you are doing a long stay, the variety will appeal to you, believe me. Besides, any major city and even some minor ones will tend to have a tolerable sushi bar that you could dart out to and gluten-free soy sauce will make your avocado and cucumber rolls even tastier.
Toaster Bags for the courageous and determined gluten-free guest
Any dining option with a buffet (such as Core at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton) will have a toaster for that nasty gluten-filled bread. Do you hear horror music when you think of that toaster? It is scary, and a huge source of cross contamination, unless of course you have some awesome toaster bags, called “Toast it” sold at various online retailers. These babies are great to take on any trip, and kept me very well fed on European trips. You can even melt a cheese sandwich in one if your bread is thin enough! It does take some guts to whip out your bread in a bag in front of other diners or attentive wait staff. If you prefer to, you can trust in the resort to provide you with gluten-free bread (with caution), ask them to toast your bread and hope that they will do it, and do it safely OR choke down your gluten-free bread untoasted. I have also bought a cheap toaster (you can get them for $10 at somewhere like Walmart) and toasted my heart out at less fancy establishments, but I would sure hate to set off the smoke alarm at the Ritz. If you go the untoasted route, which is what I did this trip because I forgot to bring toaster bags, the more sugar or fat there is in the recipe, the longer the shelf life and the better they will taste cold. Protein levels in the flour will also extend life- the higher the protein the softer the bread may be on day 2 or 3. Watch your climate. A dry climate like Arizona is fairly forgiving- worst case is it will dry your bread out somewhat. In a humid climate you may have to fight the mold monster. At a Ritz Carlton or other high quality resort, restaurants MAY have gluten-free pancakes or bread available. Availability may depend on the notice you are willing to give them, or their personal schedule. It may take longer to get anything that they have to make from scratch, and it may not always be available, so keep this in mind. *Report on my experience with gluten-free breads at the Ritz Carlton coming soon*
Gluten-free Graham Crackers
Ok, I don’t ordinarily bring gluten-free graham crackers wherever I go. However, Dove Mountain at the Ritz Carlton offers smores nights for families, complete with potbellied stoves. You can buy a package of (gluten-filled) homemade graham crackers, marshmallows and some form of chocolate from Ignite on some evenings. If I had known this, I might have been tempted to bring my own crackers and either use their marshmallows and chocolate or pick some up from a local drug store. My favorite mainstream option is Kinnikinnick Gluten-free Graham Style Crackers which you can either order from Amazon or find at a specialty health food store. I didn’t notice this product at Whole Foods in Phoenix, but I was also not looking for it. Another option is Health Valley Gluten-free Crackers, which isn’t my favorite but I know some people like them for smores. However, my favorite way to go with graham crackers would be to make my own and bring them, following Rebecca Reilly’s recipe in her cookbook Gluten-Free Baking. Smore nights aside, these are wonderful snacking crackers and I thoroughly enjoyed them when I brought them with me to India.
Gluten-free Sunscreen I don’t usually worry about gluten-free topical products as doctors say that the gluten molecule is too large to enter the body through the skin and should not provoke the gluten antibodies for Celiac.Those with secondary wheat allergies or skin sensitivities will want to avoid topical wheat, of course. However, even those with “just” Celiac will have to take precautions when wearing gluten-containing sunscreen or lotion and snacking with their hands. As an infant, Baby Yum had a dreadful habit of licking lotion on her face or dipping her finger into the jar and tasting it, so I decided to buy her gluten-free and allergen-free creams. I ended up buying California Baby for her, which smells yummy and works beautifully. The lotions keep her dry skin soft and their mineral sunscreen has kept her burn free without nasty chemicals OR gluten. You can buy California Baby Sunscreen Lotion from Amazon or from (nice) Targets in the baby section, which makes it easy to find wherever you are. I also like their gluten-free bubble bath soap, which comes with a bubble wand, smells divine and is fun to bring on trips. Resort bath tubs are perfect for bubble baths! *For those allergic to coconut, their products do contain coconut, but are otherwise very allergy friendly.
This is not connected to being gluten-free at all. But… let me just say that floppy garden hats are the BOMB when it comes to sunny resort vacations. I bought a sassy green floppy hat for gardening and took it on our vacation. It was perfect for the pool! I only had to take it off when we took Baby Yum down the water slide. Baby Yum has a cutie pie Flap Happy Floppy Hat, too, and for the 110 degree weather, I made sure she kept it on. It worked beautifully. My girl has a golden glow but never burned thanks to careful sunscreen application and her stylish hat.
See what fun we had?
Share your experiences traveling gluten-free in the comments! Have you stayed at the Ritz carlton gluten-free? Any tips or stories to share? I’d love to hear them!
A review of the specific Gluten-free Options offered at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton. My experience should prepare you for what to expect from a Gluten-free Visit at other Ritz Carltons.
A review of the gluten-free offerings at the yummy Picazzo’s restaurant in Tucson (Branches also in Phoenix and other Arizona locations.)
Adopt a Gluten-free Blogger News: This month’s edition is being hosted by Wendy at Celiacs in the House. Sign up now! Last month was hosted by Zoe of Z’s Cup of Tea and the roundup is here. Thanks to both of these ladies for coming to my rescue and helping with the Adopt a Gluten-free Blogger Event. If you would like to host this event, drop me an email!