Tag Archives: food allergies

Savannah Snapshot – SCAD and the Tea Room

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On our last morning in Savannah, my sister and sister-in-law and I went to have tea at the Gryphon Tea Room.

Back in December, my sister-in-law had presented me with a tea cup for Christmas. “What a pretty tea cup!” I’d said. (And it is a very pretty tea cup). “Yes,” said my sister-in-law, “And it’s also representative of the tea we will have together in Savannah!” She had picked out an activity that would be fairly food-safe for me, had researched where to go for tea in Savannah, and made a special invitation for me.  In January, I crafted a “vision board” for the things I hoped to accomplish in 2016, and the invitation to the Gryphon Tea Room was the first thing to go on it.

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We strolled from our hotel to the tea room, enjoying the dappled sunshine in each of the squares we passed.  We pointed out the landmarks we had heard about on our trolley tour and picked out our favorite houses, where we would want to live if we lived in historic Savannah.

We arrived to the restaurant and found that it was affiliated with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where we had visited earlier that weekend!  The wait staff of the tea room were all students of SCAD, and we immediately pestered our waiter with questions about his studies.  SCAD has done a lot to renovate old buildings in Savannah, and the impeccable design taste throughout the city (interior and exterior) are clearly influenced by the school. The Gryphon Tea Room was no exception; the restaurant had had several previous lives, including as a pharmacy and the bookstore for SCAD.  The floor was carpeted and the walls were covered in dark wood bookshelves. The rich history had been renewed, as it has in much of the city.

We each ordered tea and scones, and I handed the waiter my orange allergy card (though I assumed that scones were fairly safe).  He returned in a flash with the manager, who informed me that she had baked the scones herself and that today’s had no peppers or tree nuts in them, but that I should stay away from one of the little treats my sister had ordered as it had almonds.  I thanked her and turned with delight to my scones with jam and clotted cream. (I hadn’t had clotted cream since living in England right after college!).

I’ll admit, I ordered coffee instead of tea. But it wasn’t really about the tea at all – it was about experiencing living history, scones, and savoring a morning in Savannah.

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Savannah Snapshot – A Reaction

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“Yes, I’d like to order the steak. Is it possible to have it cooked separately in a pan, rather than on the grill?” I asked.  The waiter confirmed that this was possible.  I handed him the laminated orange card that listed my food allergies. “Could you bring this back to the chef? I called ahead, but just want to double check.”

“Sure, not a problem miss,” the waiter responded, his eyes going a bit wide as he read the lengthy list of ingredients. He paused and walked away, our menus tucked under one arm.

I shared a look with my sister and sister-in-law.

“He seemed a bit overwhelmed by that,” I commented.

We debated the risks and safety checks we’d gone through for this restaurant before turning to comment on the decor. The restaurant was a historical house, and we were eating in a room that had previously been a nursery.  We commented on the dark wood, the paintings, the view of the square outside the window, and each took turns wandering the other rooms of the house, as the wait staff had encouraged us to do.

I took a deep breath as I looked into the different rooms. I had such success last night, I thought, I should try to relax and enjoy my meal more tonightI had eaten out successfully three times already with no allergic reactions. The only disappointment the night before had been my inability to thoroughly enjoy my meal due to fear of an allergic reaction.

I thought through the conversation I’d had with tonight’s restaurant staff before arriving, their assurances, and the possible risks of my meal. Steak was usually pretty plain, and therefore a safer option. The only concern was cross-contamination on the grill.

We had had a full and successful day of touring around, ending with a beer on a rooftop overlooking the river before coming to dinner.

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This, right now, was the most stressful part of the day. I returned to the table, and apologized for being distracted.

“It’s okay,” my sister said, “this is the point of the trip! So you can practice doing things like this. And you’ve been doing great so far at balancing pushing yourself with using the safe food you brought with you.”  My sister-in-law agreed.

And then, our dinner arrived.  Mine with grill marks on it.  My heart pounded a little harder.

“Excuse me,” I asked the waiter, “was this cooked on the grill?”

The waiter said that he was not sure.  He didn’t think so.

“Could you check, please?” I asked. I waited. He returned, said that the chef had read my card, and that the meal should be fine.  He seemed miffed that I would push the question. I acquiesced, decided to eat slowly.

When you have food allergies, you should never allow yourself to feel bullied or pressured – by anyone, but especially by the restaurant staff – to eat the meal in front of you. I should have pushed the question, as the waiter never answered my initial question of whether the  meal had been cooked separately.

A few minutes into the meal, my hands went cold and started to shake. My gums were itchy. I stopped eating and informed my sister and sister-in-law that I was starting to have an allergic reaction.

I took a chewable anti-histamine as they finished their meals, my beautiful steak going largely untouched. My cheeks flushed, my stomach growled. I felt nauseous. We paid as soon as we could and left to return to the hotel, not knowing if we were headed towards a trip to the local ER or just an anti-histamine-induced drowsiness.

Slowly, the shaking subsided, my stomach calmed, the itching decreased.  No asthma developed, no tightening of my airways. I took a deep breath, frustrated and disappointed that I had ruined the meal and with my new fatigue, the rest of the evening. We sat in the lobby, debating our next plans.

“Well…” my pregnant sister-in-law began, putting her feet up on another nearby chair, “I could certainly use to put my feet up. Okay if we spend the rest of the night in?”

I smiled, relieved.  I didn’t have to use my Epipen or go to the hospital, and I didn’t have to take responsibility for having a night in while in Savannah. The restaurant may have been a flop (and I did call to complain later), but my travel companions certainly were not!

Tips for food-allergic travel:

-Even if you call ahead, pick out a meal, and talk with the wait staff, go with your gut. If a meal seems unsafe or if you are uncomfortable, don’t eat it.

-Don’t allow haughty (or overwhelmed, or confused) restaurant staff to bully you into eating an unsafe meal. They won’t be the ones paying for an uneaten steak or stressing about an allergic reaction.

-Do ask the questions you need to ask, and keep asking until they are truly answered.

-Do have awesome travel companions.

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Adventures in Savannah

“You’re pulling a ‘Mom’,” my sister said to me, nudging me with her elbow.

“No, she’s not – your mom has a gift for talking with strangers.  Johanna has a gift for finding people she already knows and talking to them, in any location.  Anywhere in the world. She’s pulling a ‘Johanna,'” my sister-in-law replied.  I smiled, adjusting my new sunglasses.

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We were strolling through a sunny riverside market in Savannah, our last stop before returning to the hotel to dress for our early-bird-special dinner.  (When you have food allergies, eating on the early side tends to be safer).  I had just run into a woman I knew in the market.  She runs a coffee shop at a beach in North Carolina during the summer, and I had gotten to know her from several visits there in the past.  I did not expect to find someone I knew in Savannah, but was thrilled to make the connection!  The world wasn’t quite so big, after all.

We continued our walk back to the hotel, planning our outfits for the evening and reviewing the highlights of the day.

Not only did I survive my trip to Savannah with food allergies, I loved the spirit of adventure about the trip.  It was a balance of relaxed (our schedule and meandering pace) and planned-out (I’d researched each meal ahead of time). I’ll be posting several “snapshot” moments of the trip to share with you the details of food-allergic travel.  Overall, the trip was a success.  We explored the architecture of the city with a hop-on, hop-off trolley tour, ate dinner out with only one allergic reaction (and no trips to the hospital), visited a nearby beach and walked with our pale toes in the sand, went for a true Southern tea, and ended up on the same flight home as my dad (who had been traveling for business).  Oh, and since it was a girls’ weekend, there may have also been pedicures, shopping, and cupcakes involved…

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