Recently, my sister-in-law, Eva, was honoured at an Alice in Wonderland-inspired baby shower… just two months before the anticipated arrival of my future niece or nephew! My mom and sisters and I had so much fun planning the details- a card box shaped like the Mad Hatter’s hat, red roses arranged in paint-dripped paint cans (“you can always paint the roses red”), pink flamingos (no croquet though!), a ‘guess-the-tea’ game (sure beats the ‘smell-the-diaper’ game!), framed quotes from the book/movie, skeleton keys, playing cards, etc… and of course theme-related desserts! With my younger sister being a Pastry Chef, the “regular” dessert planning was no problem at all (her beautiful dessert table display is pictured at the very bottom of this post). However, with the shower honouree being the one who usually prepares the gluten-free desserts for us (you know her best as Eva of Pastel Bakery), I was tasked with the challenge of taking over the GF desserts to give her a much-deserved rest on her special day!
With inspiration from Pinterest, Catch My Party, Google Images, my Pastry Chef sister and my own crazy mind, I enjoyed creating the following gluten-free treats for Eva and I (pictured above):
Don’t be late’ blueberry macarons:Cuorenero brand macarons (found at Winners) with ‘clock details’ piped in Betty Crocker vanilla frosting
‘Paint the roses’ banana cupcakes:Betty Crocker GF yellow cake mix with organic banana added in, topped with coloured Betty Crocker vanilla “grass” frosting and Goody Good Stuff strawberry cream candies (found at Whole Foods Unionville) that looked like mini white and red roses
To artfully display these GF treats (yet keep them safely out of the ‘gluten-contaminated’ hands of others at the party), I decorated a tall glass cake stand with blue tulle and a white ‘apron’ to look like Alice’s famous dress (pictured below) and placed ‘for-Eva-and-Mel-only’ signage on top (plus Eva made a “hands off!” announcement before the dessert table was officially “open”). Our family knows better by now, but it’s always best to be safe.
In the end, the shower was a success! Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, desserts, games and company! And most importantly, our guest of honour- adorned in her custom ‘Queen of Hearts’ headband- went home with a smile as big as the Cheshire cat’s!
For our last few days in Kauai we decided to explore the island outside of our beautiful resort. One day, we bravely attempted a surfing lesson at a nearby beach (and survived)! The next day we went on a helicopter tour to get a bird’s eye view of the spectacular waterfalls, valleys, canyons, mountains, rain forests and secluded beaches- most only accessible by air. Then we rented a car- highly recommended- to explore the neighbouring towns at our own pace and see some of the helicopter sights at “up-close.” We mapped out a route of must-see places (including the cave where Johnny Depp, a.k.a Captain Jack Sparrow, searched for the ‘Fountain of Youth’ in the Pirates flick, ‘On Stranger Tides’) with our concierge, Holly, along the island’s only highway- a ~2-hour drive that takes you around almost the entire island before you have to turn back (= no driving over the beautiful and rugged NaPali Coast – see photo above right).
Along with my own ‘road trip snacks’ from the hotel gift shop, these are the gluten-free foods I enjoyed (and did not enjoy 😦 ) while exploring the island:
Sweet Marie’s Hawaii Restaurant & Bakery (3-3204 Kuhio Highway, Lihue): Spinach lasagna with a side of organic greens + snickerdoodles, cookies and muffins to go + the cutest little gingerbread house you have ever seen (see pictures above)! I cannot say enough about how amazing this place it! Sweet Marie is just as her name suggests – sweet! With the 100% gluten-free menu, this is a must-stop for GF peeps traveling to Kauai. Plus, it is the perfect stop after a helicopter tour since it is so close to the airport. (Note: check the hours before going as it is not open every day of the week.)
Harvest Market Natural Foods & Cafe (5-5161 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei): Fresh and local fruits and veggies for the road + Surf Sweets organic gummy worms. This place was busy with locals and tourists alike. Inside: a salad and smoothie bar!
Living Foods Market & Cafe (The Shops at Kukuiula, Koloa): Justin’s organic, dark chocolate peanut butter cups and Herbert’s pink lemonade. This place had a good selection of island-grown, gourmet foods- including a hot-food section and roasted coffee bar, as well as shelves full of goodies. *Spotted: the tropical cousin of Gorilla Munch, called Amazon Flakes (have never seen this in Toronto, have you?)*
Note: We were excited to find out that “Merriman’s Cafe”, also at The Shops at Kukuiula, had gluten-free options, but when we went there and inquired about the preparation of the GF pizza the waitress (at least honestly) said it would still be contaminated with gluten- no thanks.
Java Kai (4-1384 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa): <sigh> Sadly, one bite of a vegetable falafel on a GF wrap. I was reminded of a valuable lesson in GF dining here – always ALWAYS ask about every detail that you are unsure of, even if it seems redundant. Hungry from our travels to the North Shore (and “Johnny Depp’s cave”), we stopped in Kapaa mid-way back ‘home’ to grab a quick bite. Not having ever tried a falafel and unfamiliar with the way it was traditionally prepared, I asked the girl at the front what it consisted of after thoroughly explaining my gluten-free needs. She reassured me that it was “just chickpeas” and that it would “be prepared safely” for me, so I decided it would be okay to try (as my stomach grumbled on). Well, after taking my first bite into the “safe” dish, I realized that the ‘just chickpeas”‘ were also rolled into little fried balls (…and how exactly are they sticking together? I thought). So I went back to the front to confirm that they were indeed GF: “OH NO they’re NOT!” the girl told me with her hand to her head, “…Let’s get you something else to eat.” UMMMMMM, how about ‘let’s get me the hell out of here and back to the resort in case I react NOW!’ Are you kidding me; the day before I am about to fly back to Toronto, ELEVEN hours in the air, and this happens now?! As she voluntarily handed me my money back she added, “I’m so sorry, I’m also gluten intolerant and I know how bad even a small amount of gluten can make people react”… but this was not what I needed to hear. Now I could have reacted to this incident in two ways: calmly and rationally OR freak out! I chose the latter. I did however have the sense to pop three Gluten Defense enzymes immediately as tears streamed down my face with the uneasy anticipation of what was to inevitably come (note: a very good idea to travel with Gluten Defense or a similar digestive enzyme and take right away upon possibly contamination or even for safe-keeping when you think the item you are eating is totally safe). My husband floored it the hour drive back to the resort, my head out the window with thoughts of me holding up the plane the next day because I couldn’t get out of the bathroom for take-off (as I said, I chose the ‘freak out’ option). Thankfully, I made it back to the resort, but stayed curled up in a ball under the sheets the rest of the night with stomach cramps and a killer migraine (damn falafel). Countless hours and bottles of water later, I was ready to try eating something else… which is where the Grand Hyatt Kauai ACTUALLY GF-safe room service came in handy (as I mentioned in Part 3). Thankfully, I did make it back to Toronto without a major reaction, but was violently ill about three days later (…related?)
Minus the last incident, all-in-all, it was an AMAZING honeymoon with lots of delicious and safe gluten-free items to eat. It can be difficult to travel with allergies or intolerances so it is helpful to plan ahead to make sure you will be comfortable while traveling (see previous post, ‘Tips for Safe GF Travel’).
Hope you enjoyed reading about my gluten-free experiences traveling to San Francisco, Waikiki, and Kauai (both at the resort and on-the-road). Feel free to share your gluten-free travel experiences below…
It took longer to go through baggage claim than to fly from Oahu to Kauai…and what a difference in scenery! With breath-taking mountains and greenery as far as the eye could see, the remote island- known as “The Garden Island”- inhabits only ~65,000 people! Now THIS was the Hawaii I pictured! I joked to my husband that the island looked like a piece of lettuce on the map and, boy, was it aptly-named. “Fresh,” “local,” “natural,” “organic,” “non-GMO”… these were all words we came across frequently in stores and restaurants. One thing was for sure: this was my kind of place!
When we arrived at our resort, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, my husband and I were greeted with a traditional kukui shell necklace, and fresh-flower lei, respectively. While getting acquainted with the resort, we discovered that everywhere we looked was a great photo-op… very “postcard-esque” (if that makes sense). Take a look…
…See what I mean?! And the second picture is just the view from the lobby area (note: that is not a picture in the center… it is an actual open view straight through to the ocean!).
The gluten-free reputation of the resort preceded our stay… I had excitedly read all about it in a PR web press release and numerous reviews, so I knew about their GF Dining Guide at their various restaurants and lounges (with items helpfully marked “gf” right on the menus). While staying at this amazingly accommodating resort, these are the GF eats and treats I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed:
“Popoi Bay Clubhouse”: Turkey clubhouse sandwich on Udi’s bread (toasted in a separate toaster). Since our flight got in late in the afternoon, we decided to grab a quick bite and settled on this restaurant overlooking the world-famous Poipu Bay Resort Golf Course. I did forget to mention “no cow dairy” on my sandwich so ended up with slices of cheddar, but luckily I do not have a serious allergy to milk, so I was able to easily peel them away with no reaction from the residue (not something I would risk with gluten whatsoever).
“‘Ilima Terrace”: All-natural hamburger on Udi’s toasted bread with oven baked fries + “Nonna iced tea” (=no sugar or sweetener). I was thrilled that there was Udi’s bread on site for my hamburger but disappointed when I learned that the fries were made in the same oil as other gluten contaminants. But to my delight, the server helpfully offered to request that the kitchen staff bake them instead of fry them so that they would not share the oil (Ummm… yes yes YES! I prefer baked to fried anyway so BONUS!). We actually ate here twice it was so good! Plus what an amazing view of the ocean (see image below) with white swans swimming around right in front of you (note: the resort also had black swans at the entrance which I had never seen before).
“Donderos”: The best pasta with bolognese sauce I have ever had (and I’m Italian – sorry Mom and Nonni!). The dish originally came with a little bit of grated cheese mixed into the sauce but, sensing my apprehension, the waiter notified me that the chef would prepare a separate sauce just for me! This dish was A-MA-ZING with a capitol A! I even sent my compliments to the chef (do people still do that?!).
“Tidepools”: Ribeye steak artfully-presented on a bed of assorted grilled vegetables. Absolutely delicious! Also wish I could have enjoyed my husband’s warm chocolate lava cake but sadly it was not GF or dairy-free (Pastel Bakery, can you get on that recipe ASAP?!) And the ambiance of this place was incredible…the GHK website describes it best: “Thatched-roof bungalows float above a koi-filled lagoon at the base of a waterfall to create romantic ambiance.” <sigh>
“The Dock” (pool-side and lagoon-side service): Assorted fruit, salad and smoothies well-earned after our first-time surfing adventure… all from the comfort of our lounge-chairs (“Put it on the room charge!”).
Grand Hyatt Lu’au: How many GF peeps can say that they have been to an authentic Hawaiian luau…and eaten?! ME!!! Thanks to the help of our concierge (shout-out to Holly!) and the knowledge of the kitchen staff and servers working the event, I got to enjoy a separate plate of grilled chicken and vegetables + a delightful sorbet. I was grateful that I did not have to pick off of the buffet, even though they identified the safe GF options and told me that I could go up first; I always feel safer knowing that whoever prepared my plate knew it was intended for someone with a severe intolerance. After dinner, the show was spectacular- highly recommended experience (whether you are staying at the resort or not).
Room Service: Mixed green salad with grilled chicken. This safe room service option came in handy the day I was “glutened” on-the-road (see part 4) and didn’t want to leave the room- just in case.
The resort also had some other dining options that we did not get to (…this visit): “Stevensons Library” (sushi and small plates); Yum Cha (Asian); Seaview Terrace; “Share the Stars” (exclusive beachside dining experience under the starlit Hawaiian sky). There was also a convenience store in the lobby area with assorted GF snacks.
Note: reservations are recommended by the concierge, so plan out your dining destinations beforehand as we did and you will have no problem at all! Also ask that they add a note about your dietary needs to alert the restaurant before you arrive (doesn’t hurt).
After a brief delay at the San Fran airport, and 5 “short” hours flying over the ocean, we arrived on the Hawaiian island of Oahu and made our way to Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. Admittedly, my first impression of Hawaii did not match the way I had always dreamed of it (which changed when I arrived in Kauai- check out part 3). Don’t get me wrong, it was BEAUTIFUL… just much busier and action-packed than I thought it would be. But being a city- and a tourist one at that- I guess it should have been expected.
With only 3 nights on the island, here are the GF places I enjoyed while in Waikiki:
Outback Steakhouse (1765 Ala Moana Blvd.): Chicken on-the-barbie with baked potato- what else?! How could I walk past one of my favs without eating there- even in paradise! I always feel comfortable with the food and service at Outback!
Romano’s Macaroni Grill (Ala Moana Center): Pasta with garlic olive oil, roasted peppers, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes + “no-hito” (=mock-mohito). The food here was tasty and the server was knowledgeable about gluten-free dining. The “no-hito” was great! My only mistake here was “table or bar?”- bar was a bad choice on football Sunday 🙂
Z Pizza (Ward Centre Auahi Street Shops): Pizza with Daiya dairy-free cheese, peppers and mushrooms. Reminiscing about the Extreme Pizza from San Francisco (see part 1), we decided to try out another new pizza place. The pizza tasted really good, more so after learning that the staff prepared the pizza in a separate area- always reassuring. As I enjoyed my pizza in my tank top and shorts, I almost forgot it was the week before Christmas… if it weren’t for the same three Christmas songs on repeat!
Fresco Restaurant (Hilton Hawaiian Village): Pasta with pomodoro sauce. Not many gluten-free options at this restaurant, but I was happy to be able to eat pasta. Plus, the view overlooking the moon-lit resort through fold-away windows gave a European-feel to the experience.
Lanikai Juice (4 locations in Oahu, including one at Hilton Hawaiian Village): acai smoothie. The perfect refreshment for the beach, with organic, natural and local ingredients!
ABC Stores (multiple locations): snacks for the hotel room and beach, including Barnana chocolate banana bites (I MUST find these in Toronto!), Naked juice, Baked Lays, and dried mangoes.
(Note: Hilton Hawaiian Village had many other gluten-free options on-site, including room service and take-out service from Fresh Connection, and Pronto Pickle. Also, unrelated to food, there are adorable penguins at the resort which I frequently visited!)
After countless hours of wedding planning over the past year, a relaxing honeymoon was definitely in order… and coming from below-zero temperatures, what better places to escape to than San Francisco and Hawaii!
When planning the honeymoon, one thing was a given- it had to be gluten-free friendly. I read about an amazing resort in Kauai with gluten-free options at every restaurant (check out part 3 of this post), so that was an easy decision, but in San Fran and Waikiki I had no GF plans. So I did all of my regular pre-travel GF research beforehand and got some of my favourite snacks ready – just in case.
Basically, in the past few weeks, I went from paradise to, well, just ICE. We were lucky enough to fly out west just before the snow storm and subsequent ice storm hit the GTA in December, and returned home just before the bad flight delays and cancellations began at Pearson Airport in January (feew!). So we cut a few winter ‘headaches’ out (though there are still a few months to go so we’re not in the clear yet!). But now that I have thawed out a bit, I am ready to share my GF travel experiences. With two weeks of amazing gluten-free food and travel, I will break my honeymoon posts into four parts – San Francisco, Waikiki, Kauai ‘At-the-Resort’, and Kauai ‘On-the-Road’.
In San Francisco, we stayed at the Wyndham Canterbury in the Union Square area, a central location in the beautiful city which we explored on foot, on trolly and by Go-Car. Here are the GF places I enjoyed while in San Francisco:
Pearl’s Deluxe Burger (708 Post Street + another location on Market Street that I only noticed when we were en route back to the airport to leave): Deluxe lettuce-wrapped burger with tomato. This place came recommended by my hotel concierge. I discovered that they did not have a dedicated GF menu when I got there, which worried me at first, but the owner was very aware about gluten and cross-contamination so I felt comfortable. The hamburger was decent but not the best I’ve ever had (…cue the Drake music).
Daily Grill (347 Geary Street): Lemon chicken piccatta with brown rice and broccoli. Admittedly not the most beautiful plate presentation, but tasted good and did not make me sick (which is the key thing).
Extreme Pizza (4 locations): ‘Drag it through the garden’ pizza with fresh veggies and dairy-free cheese (picture shown above) + garden salad. This pizza was honestly one of the most delicious take-out pizzas I’ve ever had! Plus we got the food delivered to our hotel room so I got to store the left-over pizza in my hotel mini fridge and eat it for lunch the following day which was awesome.
Mariposa Baking Co (1 Ferry Building): Between my husband and I, we ate the toasted bagel, turkey baguette, chocolate ‘pinguino’ cupcake, sprinkle donut, bear paw, and cinnamon bun (pictures of most shown above… the other items were eaten too fast to capture!). This is honestly one of my new favourite places and I highly recommend to any GF peeps traveling to San Fran! It is located inside the Pier 1 shops, along with other amazing artisan kiosks with local cheeses, wines, etc. Check out my new GF mug in the picture above (=”I *butterfly* GF”).
TCHO (Pier 17): Drinking hot “tcho”colate with soy milk (picture shown above) + ‘galactic gelato’ chocolate bar (=mint astronaut gelato floating in spacy dark chocolate!) waiting in my cupboard for a special occasion- liiiike tomorrow maybe, hehe! They also offer daily chocolate tours at TCHO.
Walgreens (multiple locations): snacks for the hotel room and day trips!
(Note: If you are ever delayed at SFO San Francisco Airport terminal 3- as I was briefly- there are many GF options, including soups at the ‘San Francisco Soup Company,’ yogurts at ‘Fraiche,’ and organic snacks at ‘Destination Green.’ Make sure you specify regular yogurt and not FROZEN yogurt at ‘Fraiche’ or you might end up having quite a COLD early breakfast as I did.)
The coolest thing happened not too long ago… I was visiting Nates Bagels & Gluten Free Foods in Concord, ON (where I re-discovered my favourite GF wrap). While chatting with Chef Pierangela about gluten-free restaurants in the city, she mentioned La Veranda Osteria in Etobicoke-Toronto, ON and said that I had to go there because it was amazing! Now it is not at all close to me geographically so I promised her that I the next time I was in that area I would definitely check it out…
…meanwhile, back at my house, the mail was being delivered, in which later that day I discovered an invitation to my dear cousin’s daughter’s baptism- church, followed by lunch at La Veranda Osteria!!! C’mon now, that’s fate!
I was lucky enough that my cousin arranged a special meal for me in advance- and what a perfect place to do so! The food was excellent- I would definitely recommend- and there was no expense of quality or food presentation. See for yourself…