Allergy-Free in Paradise

If you or a crewmember has food allergies and is headed out on a charter, don't despair. Companies can help you provision safely. People and Food from our August 2010 issue

salsa baked chicken 368

Salsa Baked ChickenLynda Morris Childress

For me, provisioning isn't just a matter of juggling everyone's food preferences-as if that isn't already trickier than painting toenails during a closehauled beat through six-foot swells. It also can be a matter of life or death.
Given my 10-year-old son's severe food allergies, any contact with nuts can cause a life-threatening reaction within minutes. When the nearest medical help is days away, that's a problem. So I've had to learn how to accommodate food allergies while provisioning for a boat full of hungry sailors.

The willingness of our charter company, The Moorings, to accommodate food allergies made it simpler, too. With 12 million Americans suffering from food allergies, it turns out that I'm not the only paranoid provisioner-charter companies receive frequent allergy requests. All they ask is 30 days' notice. (For another take on special diets, see "Provisioning for Gourmands and Glutenphobes," page 60.)

When it was time to pack, along with swimsuits, snorkels, and passports, I included hard-to-find staples such as Sunbutter (a sunflower-seed spread that's a dead ringer for peanut butter) and snacks like nut-free granola bars, pretzels, and fruit leather. After making sure my son was wearing his medical-ID bracelet, I tucked four epinephrine shots and Benadryl in my carry-on.

When we finally boarded the chartered catamaran, a Moorings 4300, under a tropical rainbow, I looked over each food item as we stowed it. Everything was indeed nut-free and safe, but the manager reassured me that if something had slipped through, I could exchange it for something else. There was no need. They'd been as thorough as I'd hoped.

Even though we provisioned through the charter company, I still found myself buying a few last-minute groceries. Standing in the tiny market near the marina, I read every ingredients label, even on brands I recognized. Manufacturers use different factories in different parts of the world, and not all their processes or ingredients are identical from place to place. Sure enough, the crackers had a peanut warning, so back on the shelf they went. I picked up a box of locally made cookies-not only were they nut-free, but they even had a notice declaring their manufacturing facility free from peanuts and tree nuts.

Then, finally, we were sailing. The Pitons lay ahead, mist curling off their slopes like veils. I'd planned ahead, packed some essentials, and double-checked the food that came aboard. I sat down, wiggled my freshly painted toes in the sunshine, and relaxed. It would be a wonderful week.

Allergy Free Recipe: Easy Salso-Baked Chicken

2 cups crushed tortilla chips
4 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups prepared salsa
Fresh cilantro or parsley, snipped

Put broken tortilla chips from the bottom of the bag into a resealable plastic bag and crush them into small crumbs. Add the chicken breasts and coat them with the crumbs. Brush a large sheet of aluminum foil with oil, then place the chicken on the foil. Pour the salsa over the chicken, and seal the foil into a packet. Grill or bake in a 350 F oven until the chicken is no longer pink inside (about 30 minutes). Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley, if available. Serves four.