Monday, July 4, 2011

Caribbean Memories

by Kelley Lindberg

I’m looking at a photo of my son pretending to drink a “sandy colada” on the beach in St. Martin. It’s one of a couple thousand photos we and our Baltimore friends took while we spent a week together on a 46-foot catamaran sailboat exploring the Dutch and French West Indies islands in the Caribbean. We just got back a few days ago, and I think I’ve nearly gotten all the sand out of our duffle bags – but not out of our memories, like this photo.

It was an incredible trip. Combine two couples who’ve been friends forever, their four boys ranging in age from 12 to 21, a week of perfect weather (despite the fact that it’s the start of hurricane season… whew!), a sailboat, a million tropical fish, assorted sea turtles, sting rays, barracuda, a nurse shark (“No, really, Mom, they’re practically harmless!”), and a giant pile of snorkel and scuba gear, and you’ve got a recipe for paradise.

At least in my cookbook, that is.

We chartered the sailboat from The Moorings, a company that charters boats all over the world. One of the nice things about this company is that they provide you with a list of meals for the week, you select the food you want, and they’ll stock the boat for you when you arrive. On the menu list, I make copious notes about the food allergies we have in our group (my son’s peanut and tree nut allergies, and the other mom’s kiwi allergy), and they are pretty good about making sure the provisions they bring on board are safe. I always go through every item carefully to make sure nothing sneaks by, and if it does, the company is good about swapping it for something else.

We cook most meals on board, so that makes it easy to control any allergens. And when we eat at a bar or restaurant on shore, we can usually check ingredients labels or talk directly to the chef to make sure the food is safe. If not, I carry a load of safe granola bars as a backup plan.

We’ve found that as the years go by, more and more people are aware of food allergies, even in the more remote places where we travel. It’s slowly becoming easier to talk to chefs – they understand immediately the seriousness of allergies, and they are usually willing to suggest safe alternatives. And labeling is becoming universally more allergy-friendly, so even local brands are making an effort to indicate allergens or allergy-friendly manufacturing processes.

Things have changed a lot in the last ten years, for the better, making travel a little bit easier every year. Of course, I still have to read everything, check everything, talk to everyone, and pack a ton of my own food supplies…you can’t stop being vigilante, ever. But at least there are growing options and increased awareness.

And that makes me happy, because experiencing all the world has to offer is an irresistible goal for our family – and my son would rather live on two weeks’ worth of safe granola bars alone rather than risk missing out on swimming through tropical coral reefs and play peek-a-boo with a nurse shark. Me? I could live without the shark. But those iridescent blue parrot fish?… Never!

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