Monthly Archives: February, 2013

Gluten Free Disneyland: A Wrap Up

Hi Friends!

I have been trying to write this for a couple of days now, and keep hitting a brick wall when it comes to the best way to organize my thoughts.  I finally decided that I am going to lump the things together and pray that it makes sense.

1) Guest Relations will no longer give out a list of the Gluten Free options available in the park.  This is because ALL restaurants will have GF options and sometimes they change so frequently it is difficult to keep that list up to date.  While I applaud the fact that all dining establishments will have GF options, sometimes that option is a plain old, run of the mill, boring, garden salad.  At least, that was my experience at The Golden Horseshoe where all of the food options were deep fried.  YUCK.

2) If all restaurants are going to have GF options available, there needs to be signage available so that people know what options are available GF.  When I was there in February (not a busy season), the line at Jolly Holiday was still 10 minutes.  If I had been able to know what I could eat in advance, then I could have used the time I stood in line to make up my mind.  Instead, I had to wait until a manager came out (not complaining about that, in fact, that is one of the things I greatly appreciate) to let me know, then decide between my options.  When I asked about desserts (because it is a bakery and there were many baked goods on display), I was asked if I saw their sign.  I hunted and I finally saw, in about a 2×2 square: “Gluten Free Options Available.”  TINY SIGN!  IN A CORNER!  And it did not say what was available.

3)  This is something I experienced at WDW and I think DL needs to incorporate it.  At counter service locations at WDW, when you mention you have a food allergy they bring out a binder.  This binder has a copy of the ingredient label from EVERYTHING you may be eating.  That way, you can look for other allergens and make an informed decision.  This is especially important and necessary when people have multiple food allergies.

4) I liked that the staff took the time to prepare my food in a safe environment.  If it was warmed up, they ensured that it was in something clean and not contaminated.  That level of care and concern is amazing and hard to find.

5) Ok.  Peeve of peeve.  The incident that irritated and pissed me off like no other.  First off, knowledge.  The fact that the chef in charge did not know everything that was available GF, but acted like he did, therefore putting my health into danger — not cool. It is important that you know everything, and if you do not know everything admit it and find the answer.  The fact that he blamed his delay in getting to me on it being busy in the kitchen?  Not good because I know that park will be much busier during the Summer and over Christmas.  Another part of this peeve is that the chef with the knowledge was at another location.  I do not know if it was scheduling because someone was out/on vacation, something being done because of budget cuts, or what, but it would be nice to have someone on hand to answer guests questions/concerns at all locations.

6)  It was a pleasant surprise when I was in the Marceline’s Confectionery and wondered out loud if any of them were GF.  The cast member who heard me stepped right up and let me know that, unfortunately, I could not have any of their treats as the pans are coated in flour.  I stood there, torturing myself for a couple of minutes, when she returned and let me know that I COULD have the chocolate dipped pineapple wedge.  AWHA!?!??!  What is this??  My mouth had never heard of this.  OF COURSE my chocolate craving, pineapple loving self was going to try it.  SO GOOD!!!!  And bonus points to the Cast Member who made the recommendation!

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I am trying to think if there was anything else that I really wanted to say.  Overall, I would say that if I were to rank my Theme Park Dining Experiences, WDW would be first (those binders seal the deal), DL would be a close second, and Universal Studios Florida would be a so far distant third it is 3 states over stuck in traffic.

Thanks for reading!

ToM

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Some of My Heroes

My heroes do not wear capes.  They learned their lesson from Edna Mode (“No Capes!”).  They do not star in major motion pictures or score the winning touchdown at football games.  They are not famous.   My heroes are the people who are so comfortable in their own skin that it does not matter one iota what others think, which is something that I have always admired and tried to learn from their example.  My heroes are all insanely talented.  My heroes like to give back in ways big and small.  My heroes have all faced challenging situations and come through it with their dignity and humor intact, and with a strength of character and spirit that is inspiring.  I want to tell you about 4 of my many heroes.  These women inspire me on a daily basis, and I hope you can find inspiration in their stories, as well as in the stories of the people around you.

The first person I want to talk about is no longer with us.  Her name was Brittanie Hanson, but almost everyone knew her as Siobhan.  We were not imgresclose, but we talked at work. Maybe it was because we competed over similar roles.  Maybe it was because she so fully accepted herself and all of the things that made her unique while I was still trying to figure out who I was and how to love myself.  She wore her Star Wars fandom on her arm,  would quote Eddie Izzard when the mood struck (my first introduction to him), read science fiction books that I had not heard of but sounded fascinating, and lived every day to its fullest.  I was not living in Orlando at the time that she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer, an almost always terminal diagnosis.  Yet she REFUSED to give up.  Her family of co-workers had purple dog tags printed that said, “Don’t tell me the odds,” which was her motto when she got her diagnosis.  She fought every day, was positive every day, and continued to educate me through her Facebook postings.  She lost her battle within 6 months of her diagnosis, but she fought until the very end.  She showed me that there are people out there who will accept you and love you for who you are and not ask you to change, that you can love the things you love and be loud and proud about it and not care if people thought it was weird/dorky/different.  Because of how she lived and died there are hundreds of people out there who cannot see a dragonfly and not think of Siobhan.

196172_544739462659_1583979_nMary Ann Douglas has the perfect initials because she is, in the absolute best way, completely MAD!!!  Quirky, hilarious, unique, she is someone that I have admired for years because she is so comfortable in her own skin and does not care what anyone else thinks about her.  I have always had a rough time doing, in fact I wanted to fit in so much I denied parts of myself, and watching her do it on a daily basis just made me realize what I was missing out on by not being fully me.  As an added bonus, her absurd sense of humor and unique way of looking at life just made every time I got to work with her an adventure in the many ways my sides could hurt from laughing so hard!  She is quick to point out that so much of her positive outlook on life stems from her family who told her; “You can be as beautiful as Venus, but looks fade and you are left with your personality.  Just look at Great-Grandma.  She’s a wonderful person, but looks like a prune!”  What a fantastic way of looking at things!  As with all of my heroes, there is another reason she is on here, one that ties in with her comfort in her skin.  At 13 she faced a serious illness and spent the better part of 4 years in hospital.  To keep her siblings from being scared or to keep herself from crying, she dealt with this adversity with humor.  As she said, when you are fighting for your life, what other people think of you does not matter and that she developed a different sort of confidence.  And when those moments that everyone has, when they worry about the superficial or what other people think, she reverts to the thinking that if someone likes her, it is scars and all — but if they don’t, in the end it does not matter.  Since I did not even know all of this until recently, she has definitely succeeded in not letting any of this define her.  But she has succeeded in showing a positive way to live your life, love you, and not care what anyone else thinks.  It is a joy to know her, and giggle at her antics from afar.

2212_82077330504_6848_n Next up is Angelyn Rhode.  I knew her a little bit because we worked together, but I did not really get to know her until we did a show together.  At first I thought she was going to be the biggest bish on the face of the earth.  Yes, I am ashamed to admit I pre-judged based on my limited interactions.  But in doing the show, I learned that she is a fantastic dancer with a beautiful soprano voice and a spirit that was as bright as her name.  And we became friends.  A couple of years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She went through all of her treatments with a positive attitude.  When she knew she was going to start losing her hair, she staged “The Great Shave,” where a friend who wore his head bald shaved hers for her.  She was just as beautiful without hair as with.  When she knew the type of cancer and how it could come back, she had a double mastectomy.  She inspires me to find the best of a situation and how to use everything we are given to live our best life.  Now, she spends her time raising awareness and raising money to help others who are fighting Breast Cancer.  In two years, her organization Music for Melons has raised over $4,500 for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer by, among other things, staging productions.  She also runs Hats by Angelyn, which makes and sells beautiful crocheted hats and donates 20% of each sale to Music for Melons.  Beautiful, positive, caring, passionate, talented.  Is there any doubt why she is one of my heroes?

Lastly is the person who became my first friend in Chicago, Mary Fran Wiley.  When I made the move to Chicago from Orlando I only knew the 481122_10101770610464250_1385127996_nperson I was dating.  Mifa and I worked for the same company and soon it became a ritual for us to run over to Starbucks as soon as I got in to mentally prepare ourselves for a day dealing with rejection over the phone.  We both left that company about a month apart, and life happened.  I was in the middle of the ending of the relationship that brought me to Chicago when she was in a horrible car accident.  Sadly, I was too selfish to see her, but I tried to stay in touch.  When told she might never walk again, she trained to run a 5k.  She got a job in a different city and went back to school to improve her graphic design skills.  Started blogging about GF baking and published an e-book.  Got her dream job as a web designer and purchased her first pair of Louboutins.  Lives her life with what she calls her “deep dark secret”  and tried to keep her friends from knowing because she did not want them to treat her any differently.  She is another friend of mine who is inspiring for who she is and how she is choosing to face adversity.   She inspires me to fight when told something is not to be, to look for and make my own opportunities, to make those big purchases and splurge on myself every once in a while, and to find the positive, even when it is hard.

These are just a few of the people I know who have overcome.  All of them are under 30 which just amazes me because I know they will continue to inspire.  They have touched my life and helped inspire me to reach inside myself, love myself, accept who I am and how I look, and to take the challenges life hands me with a positive, don’t quit outlook.  And be me, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I thank all of my friends for being awesome, inspiring, motivational, educational, and wicked fun.

ToM

Gluten-Free DisneyLand – Days 2-5

Hello Again My Friends!

Last time I took you through my one day pig-out at DisneyLand.  The next couple of days were not as exciting, food wise (thank goodness), but the number of options available were still pretty great.

As mentioned prior, for breakfast I made GlutenFreeda Instant Oatmeal (love this stuff) at my hotel and grabbed a lot of fruit.  Most days I did not bother with lunch, as I was not hungry.  I know there are nutritionists out there who would probably love to rake me across the coals for that, but I had apples in my bag, so I at least snacked on something healthy when I had the urge. And I got a LOT of fiber!  =)

Day 2 found me exploring Disney’s California Adventure.  The bulk of the park is themed after different regions of California, be it the Piers along the ocean, Northern California, Hollywood, and the rest is pure Pixar fun.  I arrived not long after the park opened and after walking down Buena Vista street with my mouth agape (again), I reached a fork in the road.  Have fork, bear right.  Well, I explored a bit, then had a hankering for waffles.  Mickey Waffles.  So, I hit up the first restaurant I see and ask “Do you know where I can get some GF waffles?”  They did not know, but they sent me over to Flo’s in Carsland.  Ok, I wish I remembered the name of the chef (I think it was Mike), but he came out and let me know that they did NOT have GF waffles, but give him a moment.  He then went into the kitchen and called EVERY RESTAURANT ON PROPERTY to find out where I could get them!  Sadly, there was no place in the park, but he told me if I really wanted something with carbs, I could grab a GF muffin from Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Cafe.  This made my morning as, not only was it a Starbucks, they had OMG, IT’S GLUTEN FREE blueberry muffins!  When I ordered it and mentioned that I would like it warmed up, the manager took it, and took care of it.  They told me the special precautions they took to avoid cross-contamination, but I don’t remember as I was hungry and needing my dirty iced soy chai.

So yummy, I had to take a bite before I got to the table.

So yummy, I had to take a bite before I got to the table.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around, riding the rides, screaming myself hoarse, laughing a lot, and just enjoying the day with Marianya.  Eventually, after she headed back to the hotel, I realized it was almost 8pm and I had not eaten yet.  WHOOPS!  So, I pulled out my handy guide map and started looking at what food options were out there.  Was not in a meat mood (as in meatloaf, pork loin, etc), or burgers or hotdogs, when I saw there was someplace called The Lucky Fortune Cookery.  That almost sounded perfect, so I thought I would run over and see if they could help me out. If not, I was pretty sure I could find SOMETHING at the Mexican place across the pier.  After a very short wait in line, I went up and told them, “Hi.  I am Gluten Free, is there anything here I can eat?”  The chef popped up and let me know that there is no pre-marinade on the meats, the rice is safe, as are the vegetables and they had a sauce (whose name escapes me) that I could have.  SOLD!  And it came in a cute take out bowl.  As an added bonus, this was the dish that I mastered the use of chopsticks with rice!  I took my food, found a good place to stand, and finished it while waiting for WORLD OF COLOR to start.

GF Beef/Rice/Veggies

GF Beef/Rice/Veggies

Day 3 found me back at Disneyland.  Once again, got a craving for a muffin, so I hunted and discovered that they had them at my old friend, Jolly Holiday Bakery and Cafe.  The sign saying that these were available is **really** tiny on the display case, but I got it (warmed up safely again, this time remaining in the bag as it was an Udi’s muffin) and my Practically Perfect Punch, to get my energy going.  Later in the day, I had an ice cream hankering, so I got one of my favorite treats, other than Dole Whip.  A Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar.

Mickey Premium Bar at WDW.  Same treat, diff coast.

Mickey Premium Bar at WDW. Same treat, diff coast.

My dinner companion on night 3 was Marianya, as our third left to do the drive back to Pepperdine.  With both of us being clueless on what we wanted and the decision being left to me (which can be very dangerous as I am very non committal when it comes to food.  If it is edible, and safe, I am usually good), we headed to Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port in Tomorrowland.  Of course, the first thing I do is ask if they have GF options.  Upon being assured that they did, I headed to the pizza station.  The person there grabs the chef and who informs me of the pasta and the pizza options.  When asked what he would have, he did not hesitate a moment before saying the pizza.  SOLD!  He had me take a slip up to the cashier and complete my order, and then I came back and waited a grand total of about 10 minutes from placing the order until food delivery.  I have had the GF pizza at WDW which were OK, but nothing to write home about.  This one had a really nice crust and good flavors but sadly the chef could not remember who made it, even after others asked previously.  Ok, if people ask where the GF pizza is from, LEARN because good GF pizza is hard to find!

At the end of the night, I made my way to Town Square and City Hall (aka Guest Relations). While I still felt the need to say something about my night 1 dining experience, I felt a stronger desire to give compliments and applause to the chef’s and dining cast members who gave me so many good dining experiences.  I do not know what happened with the information I gave, but I know that every chef that I interacted with on these 2 days had something positive said for going above and beyond.

Day 4 found us arriving late due to errands in the area (like seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time), and bouncing between the two parks.  I saw a show at The Golden Horseshoe, but other than a root beer float, the food options there for the Glutard were non-existent.  Dinner found Marianya and I meeting up with Hula to watch the Pixar Play Parade after enjoying hot dogs and chips from Award Wieners.  Once again, I failed to take a picture.  Here is my negative on this dining experience.  While they could guarantee that the hot dogs and buns were safe, they could make no promises on any of the other ingredients, including cheese and onion.  I know very few people above the age of 5 who like plain hot dogs.  So, my word of advice here would be to PLEASE have some GF toppings available.

Day 5.  Last morning.  Time to get those waffles!  I headed off to the one place I had been told I could get them:  The Storyteller’s Cafe at the Grand Californian Resort.  I had a hunch it would be a character breakfast given the facts: breakfast, hotel, Mickey Waffles.  But I did not care!  Now, I was silly and did not make a reservation, but the staff there were fantastic!  I got my seat, the server heard I was gluten free and chef Juan was out in a flash.  Just so you know, you have 2 dining options.  You can eat a la carte, off a menu, or you can do the breakfast buffet.  If you choose the buffet, your server takes you up and lets you know exactly what you can and cannot have.  For me, a buffet tends to be a waste of money, as I am a 1 trip and done person.  I said I wanted the Mickey Waffles and the Chef looked me straight in the eye and said, “you know those are frozen.”  Cue brake noise.  Nope!  Not a clue!  As the Chef and I both ended up saying, “If I wanted frozen waffles, I would have stayed home.”  So, I asked him what he recommended and both he and the server replied, “the pancakes.”  SOLD!   They came with what could only be deemed a rasher of bacon (nom) and all the juice I could drink.  Wanting some protein to go with this carb/bacon fest, I ordered a side of scrambled eggs.  THIS is what I was served:

Pancakes as big as the plate!

Pancakes as big as the plate!

Eggs and Bacon

Eggs and Bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

First off, let me just say that the Chef brought these out himself.  I love the fact that he checked in with me so many times to make sure I was satisfied.  Secondly, do you see those little wooden tags on sticking out of my food?  Those say “ALLERGY”.  No one could mistake my food for a regular serving of bacon, eggs, and waffles. It is the little things that help make you feel a bit safer about the food you eat.

So, I have some comments on Disney Dining, but I do believe that I will save those for another day.

Thanks for staying with this!

ToM

Gluten-Free DisneyLand — Day 1.

Hi Friends!

So, I recently was lucky enough to fulfill a life long dream to visit DisneyLand.  The occasion that got me out there was the Golden Birth Anniversary for my friend, Voices.  But, I am going to do more about that whole AMAZING event later.  Also, the food recap is going to be a 2-parter because it was so tasty and there were so many options.

What I need to talk about first is my Gluten Free Experience in the parks.  The DisneyLand resort is made up of DisneyLand and Disney’s California Adventure, from here on known as DL and DCA.

My Go-To Travel Breakfast

My Go-To Travel Breakfast

My hotel offered a breakfast buffet, but because I figured that would not be safe in advance, so I brought a variety box of         Glutenfreeda Wheat Free/Dairy Free Instant Oatmeal.  I am SO GLAD that I did.  The hotel buffet was actually better than some I have had, but the majority of the offerings were things that were unsafe on so many levels.  Waffles, pancakes, sausages, egg patties, cereal, bagels, donuts…pretty much a Glutards worst nightmare.  The only things that I could guarantee any level of safeness was the yogurt, the milk, the juice, the already peeled hard boiled eggs, and the apples and oranges.  Not a lot of choice, so I was thankful for my bit of oatmeal to start the day.

The first day in the park was my “splurge” day.  Since it was a celebration of my friend, I planned on buying lunch and dinner in the park along with whatever treat caught my fancy.  There were three places in the park we were set to eat, so I was good.  In advance of my trip, I checked out the DisneyLand resort website for their food allergy information.  Since I had experience in the past of getting a rough list (because offerings can change) of the restaurants that offer GF food and what the choices were, I also e-mailed Guest Relations in the park to get that information.  What I found out is that, because people plan meals based on those lists, and then get upset when the offerings change, Guest Relations is not offering them anymore.  But more on that later.

Day 1 the food places were Tiki Juice Bar, Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe, and the French Market.  2 out of 3 of these experiences were FANTASTIC!

Pineapple Dole Whip Float

Pineapple Dole Whip Float

Tiki Juice Bar serves one of my favorite Disney treats — Pineapple Dole Whip.  Unlike the option offered at WDW, this one does not have a vanilla swirl option.  It is straight up frozen pineapple juice.  You can get just the Dole Whip, a Dole Whip float with pineapple juice, pineapple spears, basically pineapple with a side of pineapple.  There are no cones, so you don’t need to worry about that cross contamination.  Plus, the float comes with a cherry on an umbrella stem so you feel extra festive and tropical as you drink it…preferably while watching the pre-show for the Enchanted Tiki Room!

LUNCH!

LUNCH!

The second stop on my food adventure was the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe.  The name alone has two words that tend to make me cringe — Bakery and Cafe.  Well, I went in knowing that they had SOMETHING I could eat.  Since there was no one at the door that I could talk to and notify that I am Gluten Free, I stood in line with my party and went up to the cashier when called.  My friend Hula and I both told the cast member behind the register that we were Glutards and he went right to the back to get the chef.  The chef came out promptly, and told us what we could have to eat.    Well, I heard all the fruit that was in it and promptly chose the Chicken Waldorf sandwich with a side of homemade potato chips.  SO GOOD!!  The bun, although cold, did not require 50 sips of water to force down my throat, like some other cold buns do.  Nope, this whole thing was tasty and easy to eat.  The chips were perfectly crisp with just enough salt, and all of it was washed down with the restaurants “Practically Perfect Punch.”

It is probably telling that there are NO pictures of my last meal of the day at the French Market.  From beginning to end this was a glutards worst nightmare.  I had consulted my handy dandy list before I left the hotel, so I knew there were options there, but walking in I noticed it was cafeteria style.  Cafeteria style is scary when you are a glutard because you have to question EVERYTHING.  So, I decided to continue my plan of attack of grabbing a cast member and trying to find a chef.  Which I did.  And was told he would be right out.  10 minutes later, the first of the group is starting to pay, no chef.  I am told “it is busy in the kitchen.”  It is February 1.  Busy has not even HAPPENED yet.  5 minutes later, a chef finally arrives and tells me that I can have the jambalaya and the red beans and rice.  Great!   I love me some red beans.  So, I get in line and order the red beans and see some veggies and say, “hmm, those would taste good.  Do you happen to know if they are seasoned?”  I had already had the GF conversation with the folks behind the counter, so they told me to hold on, they needed to find out.  They have me place my food under a warmer and step back from the line. Oh, this can NOT be good!  5 minutes are spent trying to find a phone number, another 10 minutes go by waiting for a chef…at this point, I have just about lost my patience.  Finally a different chef comes up, and apologizes for the delay, but he was at a different restaurant.  This is not a good thing DL!  You cannot have the person who knows what is and is not safe unavailable for almost 30 minutes!  I was then informed that the red beans I was planning on were NOT safe, as they did not know what was in the casing, and I was told more options that I could have.  So, I finally ordered, got a 15% discount (WHAT!?!?!), and sat down to eat as the rest of my party was enjoying their dessert.  I hate to say that I was more than a little steamed, had heard that I was going to get a discount and expected more than that.  I left my food, went back inside and talked to the person at the register, where I was told the supervisor and chef had told him 15%, when I had heard 50.  With a “Fine”, I went back to my table and started eating.  Not 5 minutes later, someone I was with noticed that a staff member (the supervisor) was in the dining area and she wondered if he was looking for me.  So, I raised my hand to get his attention and found out that, yes, he was looking for me.  He brought out 2 NON GF deserts (what the heck?!?!), and what I had paid for my meal.  So, I did end up getting my meal for free, but I had to get annoyed to do it.

Next time, I am going to cover the other 3 meals and the snacks that I purchased and talk about the changes DL is making for their allergen diners.  You know, I have an opinion on those and will slide it in.

Until then,

ToM