Planning a Gluten Free Vacation: Travel Tips for a Condo and Kitchen in Florida

February 28th, 2008 yum Posted in Gluten Free On the Road, Hotel Food, Travel, Valentine Day 6 Comments »


floridafeast2.jpgMany of you may have seen my menu plan for our Valentine’s Day trip to Florida, and you may have wondered how or why I was planning on cooking during a vacation. Well, unlike vacations where one stays in a hotel and ends up eating out of the microwave and whatever gluten-free restaurants you can find, this time we were staying in a time share condo with a gorgeous kitchen and lots of counter space. Our everyday kitchen lacks floor AND counter space, so just staying somewhere with a nicer kitchen was a vacation all by itself. Of course the gorgeous palm trees (complete with coconuts), beach, and golf course outside our window, not to mention family all around, were the best part, but the kitchen was a definite perk.

Because we were staying on an island (Captiva, near Fort Myers), I knew that access to groceries would be limited. There are two (expensive) grocery stores, but their offerings are somewhat limited, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring some staples. Of course I brought along snacks for the plane, which was a good thing because in spite of the fact we were flying all night, cheap-o American Airlines didn’t offer us a thing, except for the opportunity to buy candy and potato chips from their stewardesses. I passed, and chomped on some prepared roasted broccoli (yes, really), roasted brussel sprouts (ditto), and Ener-g Foods Pretzels. It wasn’t great, but it was better than nothing. I also brought protein bars, a mariposa brownie, and some individually wrapped Pamela’s cookies. I also had, stashed in my suitcase, the following staples:

1 box polenta (corn grits) from Trader Joe’s
1 box arborio rice (for Risotto) from Trader Joe’s
1 box pocono buckwheat cereal
1 small bottle, sealed, of wheat-free san-j tamari
1 pkg Pamela’s pancake baking mix
2 pkg Chebe- one bread stick, one regular
1 small bottle of toasted sesame oil from an Asian market
1 package rice/tapioca summer roll wrappers
1 pkg Thai rice noodles (for summer rolls)

*I probably also should have brought some spice mixes because they are pretty pricey at resort areas, and limited.

Bringing all these goodies meant that as soon as we arrived at the condo, I could whip up some pancakes and have breakfast before collapsing in exhaustion. But what about our other meals?

floridaml1.jpg The first day we were there, Thursday, was Valentines Day. I planned to make summer rolls with peanut sauce, coconut rice, and grilled fruit with a coconut peanut sauce from my favorite book, Peanut Butter Planet. At the grocery store that first day I bought fresh veggies, fresh fruit a jar of natural peanut butter, coconut milk and pineapple juice, which allowed me to make all I wanted! Everything turned out pretty well, but the grilled fruit was only mediocre due to the very weak grill we used. The grilled pineapple was tasty, but the strawberries and plums ended up somewhat mushy. I think this recipe needs a bit of tweaking.


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Thai Peanut Sauce
1 sliced small onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves crushed garlic
3/4 cup NATURAL peanut butter or 1 cup dry roasted salted peanuts
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lime juice
Saute onion and garlic in oil til tender. Cool. Place in blender,
add everything else, and blend carefully. Slowly and carefully
add enough boiling water to form a thick paste. (I like it about
the texture of slightly thinned peanut butter.)
Coconut Milk Rice Recipe
Side Dish  Rice  Thai  
Coconut Rice:
2 cups (rice cooker measurement) short grained white rice
1/2 can lite coconut milk (or small regular coconut milk)
Rinse your rice until the water is no longer cloudy. Shake off the water and then put your rice in your rice cooker. Pour half of a can of coconut milk into the rice cooker and add water until the liquid reaches the two cup mark. (Or, just substitute coconut milk for half the water in your favorite rice recipe for stovetop preparation.)

floridadin3.jpgflorida.jpgThe next day I’d planned a Mediterranean menu. I used my entire box of polenta to make a dairy-free polenta with italian seasonings. Of course it was way too much for us, even with family members there, but as soon as I saw it bubbling away I remembered Erin’s polenta fries. I served half of it at the table and put the rest in a baking dish to cool and firm up for the next night’s dinner. Since there was broccoli and some tasty organic cauliflower in the fridge, I decided to make my roasted broccoli recipe with a twist- adding gorgeous cauliflower florets to the pan. I was feeling a bit anxious about having enough food, so not only did I make an old favorite recipe,Aunt Joan’s summer salad, but I also mixed up a batch of chebe rolls, using cheese for extra luxurious texture and flavor (and to make it more palatable to the glutenoids). The meal was a success! I did find that it is quite a bit different cooking for six than two- what seemed like a mountain of food vanished. Happily, there was still enough for a tasty breakfast the next morning.

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Chili-Garlic Roasted Broccoli Recipe
broccoli tops, equiv. to about one lg broccoli.
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil or so.
5 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
dash of chili powder
1 tablespoon grill seasoning blend (I used Trader Joe’s)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Place extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, chili powder and grill
seasoning in the bottom of a large bowl and add the broccoli spears.
Toss to coat broccoli evenly then transfer to a large nonstick
baking sheet. Roast the broccoli until ends are crisp and brown and
stalks are tender, 15-17 minutes.
I made this tonight with a baked potato(washed, dried, pricked and
baked in the oven on a bed of kosher salt), and my favorite southern
fried tofu recipe. (That recipe should be already in the recipes
file).. It was really satisfying. And I was just thinking that one
way to expand what we can eat is by expanding how we prepare what we
eat… Roasted broccoli is very different (to me) than steamed or
sauteed… So, give it a try. I thought it was delicious!

I’ve also enjoyed this recipe with half organic cauliflower florets. You can tone down or up the chili powder to taste.

Aunt Joan’s Summer Salad
1 can of corn, drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 small jar roasted red peppers, chopped
1 english cucumber, peeled cut in half, with seeds scooped out, chopped
1/4 jicama, peeled and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 organic carrot, peeled and chopped
your favorite vinaigrette dressing
Combine all prepared vegetables in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Drizzle vinaigrette over all ingredients to taste. (Be sparing with it).

Enjoy as a side dish for a light, fresh, grilled summer meal.

floridafeast.jpgfloridafeast3.jpgFor our final meal in Florida, DH and I really went all out with a gourmet vegetarian feast. DH made risotto, with delicious, pan seared mushrooms, and I sliced the leftover polenta into fry shapes and then seasoned and baked them until crispy. I wanted to make roasted asparagus, but I’d forgotten it at the main store, and had to improvise because the island store had a VERY limited selection. The only fresh green vegetable I could find was zucchini. I hesitated, but then I remembered our succesful grilled zucchini salad that I’d made last year, so the menu changed from roasted asparagus to grilled zucchini salad garnished with fresh vegetables and seasoned with a vinaigrette and pico de gallo. And of course, no gourmet vegetarian grilled meal is complete without our favorite grilled tofu recipe! This meal was pronounced our best yet, and it truly was tasty. The polenta fries and risotto vanished in a flash- and some sibling rivalry fueled fighting over the mushrooms broke out, from the grown-ups, no less. haha. It’s always a good sign when people are fighting over your food! Not bad considering I was the only gluten-free vegetarian in the room- but everyone was happy!


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Grilled Zucchini with Tomato and Olive Salad
1 lb fresh zucchini and/or squash
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp fresh minced thyme
1 medium sized tomato cut in small dice
1 lg garlic clove, minced
16 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced (or regular blk olives)
1 tbsp chopped capers
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt, freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp pine nuts
8-10 fresh basil leaves
Heat or otherwise prepare grill or grill pan. (charcoal or propane grill is best) Cut zucchini lengthwise 1/4 inch thick, baste in 1 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle fresh thyme until evenly coated.

Combine diced tomato cubes, garlic, olives, capers, and red wine vinegar in a bowl and put aside.

Salt and pepper zucchini or squash rounds and grill until marked with grill stripes (3 minutes or less depending on heat). Place on serving platter when done, spread tomato olive mixture on top and season with salt and pepper. sprinkle with pine nuts and attractively cut basil and serve.

DH and I don’t even like zucchini, and we gobbled this whole recipe up in a night. A good pizza-less “pizza”- very tasty tapa dish. Yum! Perfect for using fresh farmer’s market zucchini available everywhere this year.
Yummy Grilled Tofu
1 lb of firm tofu (Chinese Style is best for this kind of recipe)

2 tbsp GF soy sauce (preferably San-J Low Sodium Tamari)
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil (we like a Japanese brand)
2 pressed cloves of garlic

Drain water from tofu, and cut horizontally in thirds or half. Wrap in towel and leave for 30 minutes or so until water has absorbed into towel.

Mix marinade ingredients, and marinate tofu for at least 30 minutes. If possible, grill, if not, broil or pan fry.

Makes a wonderful protein addition to salads, sandwich fillings, and perfect with rich rice dishes like risotto.

I’ve been making this recipe for years and it always goes over very well at parties. Very flavorful and easy.

Can be doubled for a crowd.

You may wish to brush or spray grill with oil, as the tofu can stick.

I hope this post encourages you all to take your own gourmet vacation with a kitchen in the future. I know many people who are first diagnosed find the prospect of dining out and travel to be incredibly intimidating- and it’s true, it can be a hassle. You can research your area ahead of time to find any hidden gluten-free gems in the neighborhood, but sometimes, as with this vacation in a confined resort setting, there just isn’t going to be any specialty health food stores or restaurants. Regular restaurants CAN sometimes meet your needs, but when you have multiple issues, like vegetarian preferences or multiple intolerances, sometimes it’s just easier (and tastier!) to make your own food in a kitchen. You don’t have to have a fancy shmancy time-share either. Some quite reasonably priced hotels/long-term stay places (a week or more) have quite serviceable kitchen facilities. I loved our Austria trip and staying in a modern (kitchen-free) hotel worked reasonably well. However, the next time I go to Europe, I really think I’ll go out of my way to stay somewhere where I can cook meals, so I don’t have to be following my stomach and perpetually searching for the next safe meal when I should be sightseeing.

GF Travel Tip:
Packing those little extra GF carbs and sauces in your suitcase really helps too- you don’t have to go quite as crazy as I did, but just having your favorite meal staples ready and waiting for you as soon as you unpack really takes off loads of stress, and frees you from having to spend your valuable vacation time in random grocery stores searching for GF soy sauce to add the final touch to your meals. Just make sure to pack it in multiple plastic bags, one sealed, so that if those baggage handlers start playing keep-away with your suitcase, it doesn’t break and douse your clothing in eu de shoyu/tamari. Also nestle carefully in soft clothes, and make sure the suitcase is full- the less it moves around, the less likely it could bang into something and break.

Still worried about that airplane trip and the perils of airport restaurants? I don’t blame you. Why not pack a bento lunch so you don’t have to worry?
Read Biggie’s enlightening post about Packing your own Airplane Bento

I’d love to hear your personal vacation stories. What gluten-free staples do you bring with you on a trip, both for munching on the plane and for preparing later in your hotel? Any tips to offer our readers? Post in the Comments!

And, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to participate in our adopt a gluten-free blogger event

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Happy Valentines Day Recipe for Homemade GF Macademia or Pistachio Nut Fudge

February 14th, 2008 yum Posted in Chocolate, Dessert, Holiday, Valentine Day 6 Comments »

sanda.JPGjustin.JPGHappy Valentines Day! I hope you are spending the day with someone who is special to you. Today DH and I walked on the beach in Captiva Island and shared a glass of wine at sunset. It was wonderful, but you know, I think my favorite part wasn’t even the vacation surroundings, but rather, our taking the time to really talk to each other. I hate to admit it, but sometimes we can get so caught up in school-work-everyday mundaneness that we don’t take time like this- and we should, every day. One thing I like about Valentine’s Day is that commercial aspects aside, it does provide us with an excuse to spend some serious quality time with people we love.

I haven’t spent Valentine’s Day outside of the United States anywhere but in Japan. Interestingly, in Japan Valentine’s Day leaves something to be desired in terms of romance. As Wikipedia, that fountain of general (collaborative) knowledge explains, “Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine’s Day has emerged in Japan . . . as a day on which women, and less commonly men, give chocolate or flowers. It has become an obligation for many women to give chocolates to all male co-workers. In Japan this is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from the words giri (“obligation”) and choko, (“chocolate”). This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ); chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning “friend”. ” Probably my most vivid impression of Valentine’s Day in japan was formed while I hung out at a senior high school in Chiba Prefecture and watched a veritable parade of girls march up to one male English teacher’s desk and pile it high with love letters and homemade chocolates and cookies. I wasn’t quite sure what magic he possessed that had impressed all those girls, but clearly he presented a very bright flame to those moth-emulating girls. Valentine’s Day is practically national koku-haku (告白), or love confession day, because women are supposed to give the boys they like some kind of sweet. Unfortunately, after going to all the trouble of showering the object of their affection with some sweet dessert treat, they then have to wait for another equally constructed holiday called White Day. On this holiday on March 14, “men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Originally, the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows; hence “White Day”. However, lingerie and jewelry have become common gifts. “(source= Wikipedia)

fudge2.jpgI have to admit that I don’t miss that custom of giri-chocolate or a one-sided valentines Day “confession” here back in Mountain View. However, I do have a sneaking fondness for “Tomo chocolate,” and in that spirit I’d like to share a recent recipe I tried for homemade, incredibly easy fudge. Chocolate junkies can use this recipe anytime to fight chocolate cravings. but I do believe the best usage of it is to whip up a batch and share it with a friend. I took mine over to my new neightbor’s house when she threw a party and invited many of her neighbors, to oodles and oodles of slightly inebriated but positive acclaim.

So, here’s my “tomo-choco” recipe just for you. I’d love to hear about how you enjoyed your Valentine’s Day, what fabulous new recipes you came up with, and your favorite ways to spend special time with your DH/W, DB/G, or DP! Enjoy.

How to Make Easy Fudge From Scratch
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Chocolate Macademia Nut Fudge and Pistachio Fudge Recipe
12 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or a combination of the two, chopped
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup macademia nuts (or other nuts of choice)
Prepare one 9 inch square pan (Or two small bread pans) by spraying lightly with nonstick butter flavored oil or lining with wax paper.

Put pistachio nuts in one small ziploc bag and whack it with a rolling pin or other threateningly heavy object until broken into pieces. Do the same thing with your macademia nuts.

Put a heavy-bottomed pan on a burner on low and add your chocolate and condensed milk. (Make sure there is no water in your pan) Slowly melt your chocolate, stirring frequently. When it has almost melted take it off the burner.

Sprinkle the bottom of your pan with a light layer of pistachio nuts on one side and macademia nuts on the other. Pour a layer of chocolate, sprinkle a layer of nuts on top of that (same nuts for the same side), and repeat until you end with all your chocolate in the pan and nuts sprinkled on top. Let cool and then refrigerate until firm. Cut into little squares and freeze for chocoholic attacks. You can also give some to friends and loved ones.

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