So this isn’t a recipe in the traditional sense. This is more a recipe for success!
When chosing to omit items from your diet for whatever reason, the most daunting adventure is when you head out the door to eat in a public space. I have some tips on how to navigate this and to help you prepare. I’m going to pull up an easy, medium, and hard menu and show how I navigate through the menus.
The other day, I spent a glorious day in the college town of Columbia, MO with one of the best women in existence: Nicole. We have been friends for almost 20 years and have a type of: put down, dust off, pick up where you left, kind of relationship. For the last few years we’ve scheduled road trips in order to ensure we get the proper amount of time for our meandering, heart-filled conversations about life, love, various nicknames for vagina, and of course we talk about our fur babies…. a lot. I am more comfortable in my food choices right now, and wasn’t in the least worried about what I was going to eat. I was going to find at least one thing I can at least modify in almost any restaurant, so I wasn’t stressed. My lovely friend seemed more focused on making sure I was happy and had nourishment. She’s sweet like that. And she hates being called sweet. So that’s why I make sure to call her sweet whenever the opportunity arises! #goodfriend
What to do in a small college town? What to do when the frats and sororities have invited their mothers into town for a “Mother’s Weekend?” PEOPLE WATCH! Oh, the glorious people watching we had the other day. Couple this with the first real spring like weekend weather, the sun cascading down through the trees, open windows and cafe tables, young girls wearing shorts and skirts entirely too short for humans to wear while their mothers followed with tsks and head shakes (or matching rompers… yes, I saw this). It was a wonderful day of watching people go by. We shopped. We visited Nicole’s friend who has a beautiful pottery and sculpture studio nearby. But mostly, we ate and watched people, and were appropriately catty and hilarious, but we ate.
We ate at 3 different restaurants in 5 hours. Fact.
When one decides to change their diet and incorporate different foods, or to exclude other foods the biggest hurdle is reading a menu.
My first tip: WHEN YOU CAN, BE PREPARED. Most of the time, you will know where you are going to meet people. Look up the menu. Read up and research the items in the menu. Look for hints that dairy may be lurking in a sauce or dressing. Know that “gluten-free” doesn’t mean grain-free and where there is no gluten, there is usually rice or corn. Legumes show up in all kinds of places where you wouldn’t think twice. When you can plan in advance, you can create three or more options and have them in your back pocket so that when you arrive you are prepared and ready to order what fits your choices.
Now Nicole and I are notorious planners. Do we print out google map directions to every road trip we take together? Do I print out hotel reservations and our tickets to the concerts we attend? Even though we both have smarty-smart phone and this is unnecessary- this is who we are. We plan. We print. We have objectives. We have goals. This trip was a test in itself. We were letting go, not making concrete plans, not having real objectives except one thing: to see the band Tennis. But even that we kept loose chosing to forgo the opening band in order to eat at a restaurant that was recommended to us. We even decided that if we didn’t like Tennis that we had no qualms with turning around and leaving. (That was impossible, because Tennis was amazing and I cannot wait for them to come to STL! So good! Spotify that shit- it’s retro and current and such an anomaly. LOVE!)
With this looseness we ventured into the unknown. No YELP reviews for us. We were going to let places speak to us and we were open to any adventure. We were pretty hungry so we stopped at the first place that we saw.
Tip Two: THE MORE OPTIONS THE MORE OPPORTUNITIES. I knew I needed a large variety, so we picked an “American Style Bar and Grill” because those menus are practically novels! You will find SOMETHING for sure!
The easy go to is that “Fresh Salads” part and just take out any cheese and croutons they may add and when it comes to dressings I’ll just ask for oil and vinegar and most places will be happy to comply with that. But don’t let that limit you to the cold side of the menu! Take a gander! They will make you a burger without a bun, and even set it on a bed of lettuce, onion, and tomato. The apps also provide some help, they have mussels that might work as well!
Now, there is no lying. Those Philly cheesesteaks… Those pasta dishes… There’s no avoiding the dairy and grains. Shed a small tear that you won’t be ordering those and do what I do: Order Rosé! Your wine will get you through the heartache of not getting cheesy pasta. But when that blackened chicken on the greek salad (minus the feta) with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar comes out you will not miss anything. It will be amazing and filling and you’ll be happy and content.
Tip Three: ALL DAY ROSÉ!! It doesn’t have to be wine, it can be potato vodka, 100% agave tequila, or cider but you need to treat yourself. Be kind to yourself. The struggle is real and nothing helps swallow the pill of self-denial than a little extravagance.
As I watched girls half my age teeter on wedges with mini skirts that barely covered their nether regions, I calmly sipped my glass of wine. As I watched my friend feast on a very beautiful and very large dessert, I calmly sipped my glass of wine. This will help you and I recommend you use alcohol to your benefit whenever you can. Life advice in general.
Now this is a menu you can get behind because they really let you create a lot of your experience. When you get an option for a meat and pick sides, that is a WIN! That Pork Chop looks great (just ask for no brown garlic butter… I know… tears, but what soaks up tears? Rosé!) Also that meat tornado of a burger up top looks great! Just skip the bun and cheese and put that in my mouth!
Tip Four: ALWAYS ASK. This is hard for me. I pulled this menu from the interwebs and it doesn’t give us a clue on the letter system they have. The G may mean that something is Gluten-Free, that’s what I would assume, but remember Gluten-Free isn’t Grain-Free. You will need to talk to your waiter. This isn’t easy. For me, I hate to ruffle feathers or cause trouble, so asking can feel like you are putting someone out. I have to actively remind myself that I am completely within my rights to ask questions. They can say no to any substitution or removal of an item. If I ask politely and kindly, most people are generous with their time. It is a business and you are paying for a service, if you have requests- that doesn’t make you an over demanding or annoying or bad customer. If you didn’t tip appropriately, especially if you ask something and they have to go back and speak to the chef, especially if the chef is willing to do something extra for you, if you don’t tip well you deserve a very special place in hell. But that has nothing to do with your dietary restrictions, that just means you’re an asshole.
Tip Five: DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.
Ok… that may be a life tip as well. If you are nervous you may ask too many questions- just order another glass of wine. This will raise your tab and will equal more money for the server and will give you the confidence to just ask away!
Oh, the fancier dinner menu! This can be difficult in some ways because fancier places use fancier names for everyday items and you have to be able to decipher some things.
Tip Six: GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND! Especially if you don’t want to ask your server crazy questions. Fancy Menus will also use foreign languages. Just google and know what is going on, it will make you seem smarter to your friends as well! You know they have similar questions as well!
While we were in Columbia, MO we ate at a delicious and adorable restaurant, but the menu was “set” meaning that deconstructing was very frowned upon. On their menu I could order a salad (sigh, again?) or there was ONE thing on the menu that I could easily order without a lot of negotiating and hassle. Luckily, it was something I enjoy so I didn’t mind, but that is the luck of the draw at the fancier places. These chefs have cultivated a plate of divinity, and me asking to take out integral ingredients is just… rude. Trust you will find something. Again, asking is the most important part. What I notice with this menu is that you have to really focus on every clue. It’s a mexican take , so Empanadas, Tacos, Tortas are all going to have at the least corn if not flour.
If you get to the point where you have searched and searched and still don’t know what will fit, just let the server know what you are trying to avoid and have them help you. Now, do not start with the server- you do your own homework- find a couple to a few things that MIGHT work and present them to the server to help narrow it down for you.
One of the best things to make sure and is my final tip of the day, Tip Seven: GO TO PLACES WITH ALCOHOL.
Because if you can’t find anything, at least you can have something to drink. That’s like dinner, right?