Last week, I was invited to a winter fundraiser dinner held at the swank St. Regis hotel. Finding a dress to wear was a major concern (that I solved quickly -- thank you, Nordstrom Rack and Adrianna Papell!) but wondering how I'd survive the evening without pushing my GERD to its limit was an even bigger challenge.
I decided to give myself a head start by avoiding caffeinated tea for a few days up to the dinner, and also being especially mindful to eat slow and small portions. (I hate to admit it, but tea can be a trigger for me. I've been experimenting with ways to still enjoy it and minimize any trigger backlash. Avoiding caffeinated tea for a day or two really does seem to allow me to drink a cup without issues, as long as my gut is feeling comfortable to start.) I also increased my apple intake (applesauce and raw apple) and again avoided caffeine. When it was time to go to the St. Regis, I told myself to relax, to do what I can to minimize my triggers but not to obsess about what I was eating (I don't have an allergy), and to focus on the festivity of the evening -- not just the food. (Being a "foodie" that's a tall order, but I think reshifting my mindset did help. I did not feel deprived avoiding a truffle; there was a fabulous view to photograph!)
APPETIZERS: HARD TO AVOID, HARD TO SAY NO
The willpower needed to stay the GERD-friendly course is like that of anyone trying to stick to a diet, whether for a health issue or weight control. I felt immediate pressure to indulge in the passed appetizers and while I could have nibbled on something "healthy" beforehand, I chose to enjoy food at the event -- it was a special occasion and I wanted to participate in this "foodie's paradise." My first choice was not a good one -- the brie cheese with honey on a fancy cracker. It was the first tidbit offered to me, and I gave in to the polite waiter's impressive gentle pressure. I thought I was going to gag; the cheese was so rich, with my very minimal dairy intake these days, it was overbearing.
Some mingling, and then I had a few nuts from a bowl and some "crudites" from a silver chalice -- good choices! Some sparking water with lime, and I felt fine. I'm already easily avoid non-vegetarian choices, so the pancakes with caviar, smoked salmon, and pigs-in-a-blanket did not even vaguely tempt me. But others I could not resist -- where else do I get to slurp high-end mac and cheese from a ceramic spoon handed to me by a waiter in black-tie? I resisted for a minute but soon gave in to a spoonful. And a second spoonful. Did it affect my gut? I'm not sure, but I did feel a little disappointed that I did not maintain my vegan aspirations. (That casein addiction, again.)
FIRST COURSE: BREAD AND SALAD
Once we were seated, it was easier to manage what I ate, and to eat slowly. I found the waitstaff extremely helpful -- a "secret weapon" for anyone with a dietary concern. They assured me they would have something vegetarian for me (at this point, vegetarian was "good enough" -- vegan was going to be too complicated).
Dinner began with rolls and a mixed greens salad featuring green and white asparagus. Divine!
I decided I would try just a bit of the round butter ball, and ignore the scoop of goat cheese.
ENTREE: ENVY OF THE TABLE
My first impression when the waiter brought out a "mushroom risotto" for the vegetarian entree was not good. I am not fond of mushrooms but that's all you seem to get at a non-vegetarian restaurant -- slabs of portabello, the ubiquitous mushroom risotto. What's that about? When did mushroom become synonymous with "non-meat?" Say I don't like mushrooms (I don't) or am allergic to them. Then what? (Then you're given that other non-meat restaurant staple, "pasta primavera.") Honestly, it is not that hard to make a creative veg dish. Or, maybe it is, according to Stefanie Gans' City Paper blog post, "The Politics of the Vegetarian Entree."
So, I was relieved to find I was enjoying my risotto at the Regis -- while a hackneyed concept, the execution was lovely. I could taste cheese in the rice, but this did not bother me, and at the end of dinner, my guts felt fine. And, the risotto was the envy of the table, enticing the meat-eaters (whose turnip side enticed ME)!
DESSERT: ONE MORE CALCULATED RISK
Finally, dessert! I knew I would be risking taxing myself with whatever dessert was coming -- sure to be decadent and dairy-rich. And here it was, a "composed" chocolate ganache slice with caramelized biscuit and chocolate embellishment, with a side of chocolate ice cream. I slowly ate two-thirds of the slice before feeling like I should stop -- I was getting full -- but I went ahead and finished the whole thing. (I'm not a "clean plate" advocate, but couldn't bear the thought of leaving any of this behind.)
Ten minutes later, I had a small chocolate from a silver tray that was passed around the table. I was not sure if I should have the black tea, but I decided I was feeling okay despite all this food, and enjoyed every drop. I could tell it was very high quality tea. (Does this make a difference? Probably not for GERD, but maybe for my willingness to risk triggering my GERD…)
Reflection: While I clearly recognized opportunities for a GERD-friendly experience, I ignored some of these. I was surprised I did not suffer heartburn or other GERD symptoms after all this. I think my low-stress, small portions, and occasionally mindful choices helped. GERD continues to baffle me -- why do some days churn my gut, and other days don't? In any case, the St. Regis evening was a success on all fronts.