A Soy-Free Existence Shattered

A Soy-Free Existence Shattered

There is nothing worse than taking a food allergy hit while traveling; especially when the side effects are on the smelly and messy side, followed by a migraine. Though thankfully the migraine came well after we were home, and I had meds to help with the other side-effects while we were in the car.  It takes the motto of “don’t leave home without it” to a whole new extreme.

Exile Brewing Company is located in Des Moines, Iowa, near their downtown area.  It’s very industrial, and the air is filled with the tang of fermenting barley and wheat as you would expect from a brewery.

I was traveling with a group, and a beer after a long hard day at the track is just what this group (minus myself, beer – bleh) desired, for me being able to eat there is the only requirement.  So, I called ahead and checked it out, turns out if I communicate with my server, they can feed me. Great! I let the group know and we head out.

Typically, it’s the third time that is the charm, in this case it was the first time.  I ordered their chicken plate, and it came with a starter salad.  They brought me their house parmesan dressing, it smelled divine – which typically denotes when I can’t have something – but I had them double check the ingredients.  Turns out I couldn’t have that dressing, but I could have their Italian dressing. Dinner progressed without incident, and the group deemed the beer worthy of their taste buds.

Two nights later, we decided to return to Exile.  This time burgers and fries were the desire, as well as beer, after a very long weekend of field and track.  It was time to enjoy the company, fill our bellies, and then get a goodnights rest for the 11 plus hour drive home the next day.

This time, I wasn’t as fortunate.  It was Saturday night, and they were busy. Though we were seated quickly, getting and keeping our servers attention was not easy.  A member of our party has a very drastic reaction to onions, and requested no onions on his burger.  Sadly, when he received it…there were onions present. Thankfully he could pull them off and carry on with his meal, but the fact that they were there was a bad omen for me.

I did my due diligence and asked the server to verify that I could have my desired menu choice, a lovely steak salad with heirloom tomatoes (heirloom tomatoes are a personal favorite).

Now when I had called they informed me that I needed to let my server know about my soy allergy so that they could inform the kitchen of it, and the kitchen could then take steps to prevent cross contamination and use pure olive oil.

I stressed my allergy and he assured me there was no soy in my entrée of choice. It came with the parmesan dressing, so I asked for the Italian instead, and proceeded to wait patiently.

My salad came, and I ate with gusto. I was starving, and realized quickly that it wasn’t enough to cover the energy I had burned at the track meet, so I also ordered a starter salad.  Honestly, I think I wanted the fresh vegetables, it’s one thing we don’t get enough of when traveling to out of state meets.  Plus, the started salad also had heirloom tomatoes, so it was a no brainer I asked for the Italian dressing, and settled back enjoyed the company.

We got back to our room, and my symptoms started. The only thing I can figure is that they didn’t take proper steps in the kitchen to ensure I only got olive oil when cooking my steak.  All I knew was that I didn’t feel well, and if I didn’t start on my meds soon I would be in trouble.

The moral of this story is, you can never be too careful. Just when I think I can eat somewhere new, which is nice for all involved since we carpool and they are typically stuck going where I can go to eat, so it’s nice when we can change things up a bit, then something like this happens and I just want to run back to my hole and only eat at places I know are safe.  It’s kind of sad, I won’t deny it, but the reality of not eating properly is dangerous. And I will take sad over dangerous any day.

After years of going wherever someone else wanted to go and basically living on salads, no meat or any protein just veggies, after a long grueling day of field events where we can be doing anything from running in fields to spot where a shot put, discus, hammer, weight, or javelin fell, to shuttling said tools back to the athletes just to name two jobs; add into that extreme weather from 100-degree heat to 42 degrees and freezing rain for outdoor venues and all of it requires energy for your body to burn, and contrary to popular some beliefs, only eating vegetables is not the best solution (for me anyway). Even if you want/need to lose weight, not eating properly, regardless of the reason, is not the answer.

Once my doctor threatened me with a hospital stay to get my blood chemistry back to “safe” levels, I realized the error of my ways and put my foot down when it came to eating with groups. Sometimes it means I don’t go with the group. That really sucks, especially for my husband because he chooses to go with me and that means he doesn’t get to socialize (something he thrives on), but there is only one me and I have to take care of me.  That is a hard lesson to learn, for some.  (Pot calling the kettle black…right here!)

Thankfully hubby doesn’t complain, much. After four days of the same restaurant he’s ready to eat anything else, but he’s a trooper. I offer to let him go with the group, and Lord bless him he chooses me every time. Thankfully, with my continued efforts to try new places – it is not easy let me tell you, once you experience a food allergy reaction you are very leery to re-live it – I have found some great places of us to eat when we travel.  And hopefully there will be more travel, for fun not track (though we love our track trips) in our near future.

5 Things I Do Before Trying A New Restaurant

When you have food allergies, no matter how severe, there is one thing that strikes fear in your heart like none other…eating at a new restaurant.

Here are a few steps I take before trying a new restaurant.  They aren’t fool proof, and it doesn’t mean that you will be able to eat anything you want on the menu, but they should save you a few uncomfortable evenings after diner.

1. Look them up on line especially pay attention to their menu. If they have instructions at the bottom…* eating undercooked…yada, yada, and it also says to “alert your server if you have food allergies”… then in my experience you should be in luck.

2. Call them, but not at a peak time.  If you google the restaurant during their peak times should be listed.  When you call them ask, specifically, to speak to a chef or the kitchen manager. Do not just talk to whomever answers the phone, if they aren’t aware of food allergy severity or if they aren’t a part of the ordering process they will not be able to thoroughly answer your questions.

3. Get a name for when you go into the restaurant. This way you can give your server the name of who you need to talk to concerning your allergy.  I always call, then double check when I get there.  You can never be too careful.

4.  Get a card listing your allergies, your allerigst should be able to help here. If not there are companies who will make them for you.  This makes it easier for your server. They can take the card back to the kitchen so the chef can come out and quickly lay out your options.

I’ve been asked several times if I had a card, which I don’t because of the nature of my allergies, it’s hard to list out what I’m allergic to.  Often people assume that since I’m allergic to soy, so long as there is not soy sauce I should be fine.  But that isn’t the case. I have make sure there’s no mayo, or that the restaurant only uses real butter as opposed to a margarin butter blend. And the list goes on and on.  Never be afraid to repeat yourself.

5.  Keep your expectations in check. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a new restaurant and had one of two things happen.

I either found I could only have one thing on the menu, or that the chef would have to make something not on the menu for me. Which I have to tell you isn’t such a bad thing.

OR

I can have anything on the menu, that isn’t asian inspired, and I’m so overwhelmed I can’t decide.

Conclusion

While I’ve come to appreciate the chef who is willing to go off book, I typically get food that is so good I’m willing to eat the same thing every night for a week.  It’s not always that easy.

Once when on a trip we went to a seafood restaurant in Las Vegas.  I had called a head and talked to the chef, so they were prepping an area in which to make my food and we had settled on what would be made for me.

We were on a field and track trip so there was a rather large group of us going.  When we got there, I spoke with the chef again confirming that I could eat what was being offered.  While I was doing this the server came and took everyone else’s order.

Once my order was confirmed: pan fried trout (a personal favorite), steamed asparagus, potatoes and brussel sprouts, and an olive tapenade.  I sat back and enjoyed the conversations going on around me.  As everyone’s orders began coming out, seafood platters, crab cakes, a bunch of deep fried goodness I sat there calmly waiting for my food.

The chef brought it out himself.  After confirming everything looked ok, the chef returned to the kitchen and I looked up to many pairs of eyes staring at my plate.  One of my friends raised his hand, while looking at my plate and proclaimed, “I think I have food allergies”.  HA!

I must admit it was one of the best meals I had had up until that point in my food allergy journey.

On the opposite side of the coin, we recently had a new restaurant open here and I made the mistake of calling during their opening night.  I checked for peak times and none were listed, I quickly realized why none were listed.  Anyway,  I talked to someone in the kitchen who was very frazzled, and she asked that I email, but also said that she would get some answers and call me back.

I emailed them asking about their menu, and never heard a thing back.  It’s rather disheartening, but I will not eat there. Hubby has asked a couple of times about it, but since I do not have answers I will not be eating there.  It’s that simple.

What are some steps you take to ensure you don’t take a hit when eating out?

MacKenzie’s Chop House

Located in Downtown Colorado Springs, 128 Tejon St. Colorado Springs, Co 80903. And reservation are recommended (719)635-3536). It is the place to go for a nice, if pricey meal, but then again... you get what you pay for, right?
Located in Downtown Colorado Springs, 128 Tejon St. Colorado Springs, Co 80903, and reservations are recommended (719) 635-3536). It is the place to go for a nice, if pricey meal, but then again… you get what you pay for, right?

Yes, I am a foodie. Want to know how I know? When I go out to eat and my plate is placed before me…I forget to take a photo of my plate to show you just how yummy it looks. I’m too busy eating said food. Ugh 😋

MacKenzie’s is our celebration spot.  There are few places in Colorado Springs that I can eat more than a salad (and then only if I bring my own dressing), and even fewer that have the proper ambiance.  Most are noisy and we come home smelling like whatever they specialize in. Not what you want after a night of celebrating.

MacKenzie’s Chop house sets the perfect tone.  Conversations are muted thanks to the dark wood walls, and thick leather seats.  While they have out door patio seating, their smoking area, and a bar area, when you enter the restaurant seating area the hubbub dies to a murmur.

You feel like you are the only ones there, most of the time, tucked into your area enjoying your time with friends and family.  The servers are very professional, taking care of you but not intruding on your time with your guests. And the food…well, it’s so good you forget to take pictures for posterity.

While I don’t mind an adult beverage from time to time, I’m not big on drinking when we eat out.  I like the good stuff and that means a high bill at the end of the evening.  I would much rather spend the money on the food than booze, because believe me their steaks, and their salmon are amazing!

However, I have it on good authority, their drinks are amazing!  Hubby got a couple of different martini like drinks when we celebrated him finishing his MBA, and said they were wonderful and you got a good amount for the price.

Now stop me if you’ve heard this before…

Hi, I have food allergies, I’m allergic to ____… and from then on, it’s one trip after another to the kitchen for the wait staff to ensure you don’t have grounds to sue them at the end of your meal.  No one wants an ambulance crew disrupting their guests dinner.

I have found a few tips that make it easier for me.  Instead of starting off with the above, I look at the menu while waiting for my water or tea or whatever I’m drinking with my meal, then I pick 2-3 things I want to eat.  So when the wait staff return with my beverage I tell them about my allergy and give them my choices to check with the Chef.

I have heard of cards you can get from your allergist with a list of things you can’t have: corn, peas, peanuts…etc,  but since my soy allergy encompasses more than the usual soy products (Soy sauce, edamame) my allergist hasn’t offered me one.  Plus when soy is in everything…mayonnaise, margarine, flavor mixes, thickening agents, face creams…even ice cream, it wouldn’t be a card I could easily put in my wallet.

Picking out a few things to focus on has helped me tremendously.  I typically ran into one of two scenarios. I either could have my pick of anything on the menu; something that was very overwhelming when you are accustomed to only having salad as an option. Or I was only allowed a salad, or something on the grill.

By picking two or three things to focus on, keeping in mind what I can usually choose from, it keeps me from being overwhelmed by tons of choices.  And typically I pick something that can easily be altered and made soy free to order.

Anyway, back to the food.  On this occasion, a night out with our daughter celebrating her making it through some tough testing so she has options where furthering her education goes, I got their Roasted Salmon.  And I loved every mouth watering, buttery, bite.

Our daughter got the New York Strip, and hubby got their tortellini (which is unusual, he’s very much a steak and potato man) but he said the tortellini was wonderful and just what his tummy was wanting.

I would highly recommend them for your next special night out.  Check them out online, and enjoy the step back in time – oh, and the food too,  only try to get photos of it, and send them to me here.