Tuesday, July 19, 2011

France Gluten Free?? Oui, Oui!!

We had a wonderful trip to France earlier this month and I’m finally catching up on life enough to get a few thoughts down. Our trip of a week included spending time with my husband’s family in their homes and a couple of nights in a Paris hotel. We had one day of air travel on either side. Because our gluten intolerance started well after our last trip to France it was new to all the family but everyone made our stay welcoming, wonderful and safe.

As we planned our trip I did a lot of research and found so many bits of different and sometimes conflicting information.  A few blogs popped up that gave me a lot of hope (such as this one).  Chris took a look at some of the sites that were in French only. It turned out that with a little advance planning and packing a few key items the trip was a snap. 

When Chris told me he reserved gluten free meals for us I got online to check things out.  I read of consistent mistakes with our airline at the airport our flight to Paris originated.   So I packed some homemade bars, cheese rolls and plenty of healthy snacks to get us through.  The dinner turned out to be a little better than anticipated and we were able to have the entree but at breakfast only the banana worked for us.  The cereal not only had gluten but the preservatives we avoid, as well.  Since we had plenty to supplement our two meals with we were fine.  

After arriving in Paris we gathered up our luggage and got into our rental car and finally got to my mother in law’s new home. After we settled in a bit we walked with Suzie two minutes away to her neighborhood Carrefour market to get some groceries for lunch and dinner.  We had literally just walked into the store and saw a “sans gluten” sign straight ahead.  There were a few types of gluten free sandwich bread and pizza crusts right there and more to choose from elsewhere in the store. Many items were the Carrefour brand.  Because my mother in law shops each day after breakfast going to Carrefour became a treasure hunt for me every morning.  Gluten free croissants, Madeleines, chocolate cake and cookies were just some of our finds. It was wonderful.

Back at Suzie’s home Chris’ sister Carolyn and her daughter Emmanuelle arrived to say hello. Carolyn offered to take the dinner groceries to her house and cook for us.  Since Carolyn worked as a chef several years ago in Italy this was a real treat.  Champagne and appetizers around their table in their beautiful back yard with their wonderfully shaggy and sweet dog was a great way to unwind. 

Seeing Chris sit with his mom catching up and smiling ear to ear made my day. Perfectly prepared steaks, tiny buttery potatoes and salad with the ever present cheese to finish - even without the baguettes – made for a perfect dinner.

On Sunday Chris’ brother and his wife invited us to bring his mom down to their home for lunch. We drove through one wheat field after another and beautiful old towns all the way there.  I was so relieved they weren't harvesting at the time!  The fields were gorgeous to look at but I wouldn't have wanted to breathe any of it in. 

Lunch was so fantastic and the only things off limit were the tabouli salad, Steve’s homemade apricot tarts and the baguettes. We took some newly discovered Carrefour croissants along for our bread.  Grilled brochettes and beautiful salads were a perfect lunch and amazing French cheese followed the meal.  Their backyard was a picture perfect setting and the warm, sunny afternoon couldn’t have been better.

Watching the cousins get to know each other and have fun despite a huge language barrier and catching up ourselves kept us busy all afternoon.  Steve and Corletta invited us to stay for dinner and we enjoyed grilled fish, more gorgeous salads and more cheese. The creamy, magnificent French cheese was my favorite part of every family meal during our visit.   

Monday we did our usual Carrefour trip and found an armload of goodies.  We then toured the castle at Chantilly with Chris’ mom and sister. 

Going over old family photo albums was the best way to spend time with Suzie that afternoon.   All our meals were at home that day – simple, wonderful and enjoyed with family.

On Tuesday we left for a couple of nights in Paris.  Between Chris’ mom and sister’s homes (where Joe was sleeping) there was a wonderful small health food store called La Vie Claire that Chris had found on line.  We popped in for a snack as we drove to Paris.  Joe had a blue corn chip fix and we all tried the local Kombucha.  Very different than anything here – especially my homemade brew.  My biggest find, though, were all natural gluten free gummy worms to take home to Marc who I missed so much.

We arrived at our gorgeous hotel early so we dropped off our car and our bags and walked around the city.  It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner so we stopped into Haagen Daz for some chocolate ice cream.  As we walked and ate our ice cream we spied the Palais de la decouverte (pardon the lack of French punctuation) a beautiful math and science museum.  Joe was excited to go in and check out the exhibits. It was a beautiful old building with gorgeous exhibits.  We were fortunate enough to see a laser in action and Chris translated Joe’s questions and the operator’s answers for us.  Sitting with a coffee overlooking the vast museum felt wonderful after a few hour of walking in the stifling heat.

Later that night we ate at the Café du Trocadero with a view of the beautiful Eiffel Tower from our table. Chris had asked the staff about gluten free dining before walking in and they assured us they could accommodate us. Many bloggers recommended steak and pomme frites – or fries – as a generally safe gluten free meal.  We ordered the steak and pomme frites sans gluten and they plated it with baked tomatoes with breadcrumbs.  When Chris let the waiter know he pleasantly took our plates and returned with clean, fresh plates and new steaks and fries.  It was really fast and delicious.  We walked off our dinner with a walk to the Eiffel Tower

The next morning we snacked on some breakfast bars (as we did all previous mornings) and took off for Notre Dame.  The very long walk along the river was fascinating and colorful.  We were fortunate the weather had cooled considerably.  The beauty and history juxtaposed with the street vendors and con men (and women) made for some interesting conversation.  We toured the massive cathedral and marveled at all the architecture, sculptures and carvings. When we went around the corner to take the bell tower tour the line wrapped around the building so we decided to take a break for lunch and come back. 

The Breizh Café was our destination.  I’d read about the gluten free buckwheat crepes you can find in France and heard that the Breizh Café was one of the best to try in Paris.  Chris had also read about it in his research and had mapped out our walk. We enjoyed sight seeing and window shopping all the way there.  At one intersection there was an older man playing La Vie en Rose on his accordion for a little ambiance and Joe had to throw a few coins in his box. 

When we got to the Breizh Café there were a couple of parties already waiting in the tiny restaurant – at 2:00 p.m.  While we waited we watched the chef turn out crepe after crepe so quickly and with such precision.  It was just fascinating.  Our waiter assured us we would be fine eating gluten free although they do make some crepes that have wheat in them.  

It had been decades since I’d had a crepe and I’d never had anything quite like the spinach, zucchini, tomato and cheese filled crepe I ordered.  It was amazing and the guys loved their ham and cheese crepes, too.  We shared a dessert crepe and loved it just as much – it was so simple – just a crepe, ice cream and honey and just delicious.  Full and happy we wandered back to the bell tower line, climbed the stone steps and enjoyed such a perfect view of Paris

The Louvre was our next destination so we started walking there. The guys humored me with this visit – clearly not their favorite part of the day – yet we had a great time checking things out.  

After literally hours on our feet and miles of walking we took a tuk tuk – a small open “cab” through wild traffic back to the Café du Trocadero for dinner.   

We had pretty much a repeat of the night before.  Chris carefully ordered gluten free meals and the plates arrived with bread crumbs again.  Once again they graciously exchanged our plates with fresh plates and wonderful meals.  

As we ate the sun started to set and Eiffel Tower started to sparkle with lights.  It was a perfect moment for our last night in Paris.

Thursday morning we left the hotel and went back to Suzie’s.  She gave us a tour of a nearby town Senlis that afternoon, a small and ancient city with beautiful stone walls and homes and the tiniest little streets barely wide enough for one car to navigate. There we saw another Notre Dame – not as large as in Paris but still magnificent. 

Friday was our last day in France and Carolyn had arranged for us to have lunch at Le Theatre Saint-Vincent in Jouy le Moutier. Chef Christophe is a friend of Carolyn’s family and told her he could easily provide gluten free meals.  The only problem here was making a choice – knowing he could make anything on the menu gluten free I felt like a kid in a candy store!  The scallop and salad appetizer was to die for – literally the best scallops I’ve ever had.  The grilled tuna with port sauce was served with ratatouille.  Amazing. Locally made dark chocolate ice cream with a kumquat was our dessert. It was truly one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Enjoying it with Suzie and Carolyn made it so special.

That afternoon we made our last trip to Carrefour and I stocked up on gluten free goodies for the flight home and to share at home with Marc.

The flight home was much better as there were no gluten products at all.  There was a soy yogurt on both meal trays that appeared to contain vanillin, and since we avoid both soy and vanillin so we passed on those. We were happy to have supplemental snacks on the trip home to round things out.

One important detail is the fact we take Houston’s TriEnza digestive enzymes with all of our meals and have for years.  We never eat out without them as they contain a gluten enzyme which I feel protects us from cross contamination.  It is not an excuse to be careless but an insurance policy for me.

Overall our trip was easy, delicious and safe.  France sans gluten is indeed possible and enjoyable


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a deliciously fun trip!

chacha said...

It certainly was! =D