Guest Post: It’s the Little Itty Bitty Things

This should be the last guest post, because the project I was doing for my friends is finally done. So, please put up with my husband’s strange brand of humor for one more week. 

~Audrey

“It’s the little things / the itty bitty things…”
-It’s the little things (that piss me off)

Robert Earl Keen

“For want of a nail”
-Nursery Rhyme

Forgive me a bit of indulgence with two quotes at the beginning of this post. I just finished up a Monday at work, and lately Mondays at work have meant doing my job.

That might not sound like a big deal to some of you. But for the last several months, Mondays where we work have meant doing someone else’s job. Specifically, I’ve been doing my wife’s job, answering people’s questions about this and that as best as my years out-of-date knowledge will allow.

What has she been doing? She’s been doing someone else’s job too. It’s part of an all-hands-on-deck experiment that we’ve been doing to try to smooth out service levels on our busiest days. It was pretty rough, but we all pitched in and got the job done. And it’s over now. So on Mondays I get to do my job.

I’m sure after 2 non-sequitur quotes and more than 150 words about work, you’re wondering what all this has to do with gluten. The answer is nothing. And everything. Or at least a little, itty bit of a thing.

You see, to keep us going on these rough Mondays, Aud and I developed our own little ritual. Normally our lunches consist of yogurt and rabbit food, the kinds of lunches that you can scarf down in a few bites and that make you think you’re being punished for something, even though you’re doing it to yourself.

But on Mondays, we get a treat. We get a container of hummus and some veggies I chopped the night before, and we sit down for half an our and just luxuriate a bit in whirled chickpeas and carrots or celery. We’re always careful to pick a hummus that’s certified gluten-free, and I chop the veggies in our own kitchen.

Since we moved to our new house though, something has been slipping through the cracks. She’s been coming home on Mondays feeling that unpleasantness in her gut that’s a sure sign that she got glutened somewhere, and by Tuesday morning I’m having to convince her to stay home and recover. She hated having to call in, and I hated the feeling that somewhere in the process I was letting her down.

So I started taking a hard look at everything that’s changed since we moved here. You’ve already heard about the new house, and how the house-hunting process took its toll on our diet for a bit. Now that we’re settled in though, we’ve mostly gotten our schedules and mealtimes back in order. The new place is a bit further from work, so the commute takes a bit longer, which has pushed meals a bit later. But how would that allow gluten to sneak in? We’re buying the same groceries, we’re doing the same prep. Sure, the kitchen has changed, but I’m pretty sure we’ve cleaned all the leftover gluten out of it by now.

I was thinking of all of this one Sunday night a few weeks back as I got out of the shower. I’ve always showered at night so I can sleep in an extra 15 minutes in the morning, plus it keeps us from fighting over hot water. I was grumbling to myself about having to go chop veggies for the next morning, because washing the veggies so soon after my shower means that my hand lotion gets all tacky and oily and just plain icky-feeling. But one of the things that changed with our new location is that we don’t have a grocery store right up the hill from us anymore, which means longer shopping trips, which means later dinners, which means later showers, so I’ve been doing lunch prep at night after she goes to bed…

That train of thought managed to complete itself right before I hit the pump on the lotion bottle. I brought the bottle downstairs with me and did some Googling, which yielded the nugget of information that the lotion company refused to certify that their products were gluten-free. They didn’t actually use any gluten-containing ingredients in the lotion, but they also wouldn’t outright say that their facility was gluten-free.

I put the bottle down unopened, and went to the kitchen, where I washed my hands as carefully as any surgeon ever scrubbed before walking into the O.R. After that I prepped lunches for the week, including chopping our veggies for Monday hummus.

The next morning I didn’t say anything. We went about our day, doing other people’s jobs. We sat down for our lunchtime luxury as normal.

And that was it. That night when we got home, she felt fine. The next week after work on Monday, she felt fine too. It’s been five weeks now since she got a Monday glutening, the same five weeks since I’ve been making sure my hand lotion didn’t go anywhere near our food.

I finally had to admit to my little secret when she came home today from buying our weekly groceries. Apparently my lotion was on sale, so she picked me up a couple bottles. I had planned to just quietly switch brands to something that was certified, and I probably still will after dropping these off at Goodwill.

I’m also not going to tell you what brand it is, because a) I can’t be 100% sure that the lotion was to blame, and b) the company that makes it was completely honest about their product; I just never had a reason to look into it before. If we hadn’t moved where we did, I might still not know. It would’ve just been one of life’s little frustrating mysteries, the occasional Where’s Waldo of our life, except that Waldo is quietly poisoning my wife. Just one of those little things.

One of those itty, bitty things…

Guest Post: Eat Sunscreen

OK people, once again my lovely, generous, talented wife has dug herself a hole with all the people she’s promised to help at once, so I’m picking up the slack and doing a blog post for her. I’M BACK, BABY!

*crickets*

(I knew I shouldn’t have written “Wait 30 seconds for applause to die down.”)
*Ahem* And here we go!

Ladies and Gentlemen: Eat Sunscreen

By a show of hands, who remembers the late 90’s song “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)”? *OK, now put your hands down. I can’t see you.

I’ve been thinking about that song a lot lately, especially the lyric “Understand that friends come and go, but a precious few you should hold onto.” That’s been going through my head every time this winter that I’ve cooked what could charitably be called “comfort food.” Why would I be thinking about Baz Luhrmann and Rozella while cooking? Because the next words of the song are “Work hard…”

For nearly a decade and a half since I learned to cook (don’t do the math!), there have been few dishes that have been quite as quick, easy, tasty, and just gosh-darned comforting as a meal that we just know by the simplistic sobriquet “chicken and rice.” That name encompasses fully half of the ingredients (not counting basic spices) of this dish, which takes all of 30 minutes to cook, serve and eat. There are few things as hearty, warming and filling on a cold winter’s eve that get me out of the kitchen in time to actually enjoy the meal with Audrey and whoever else we might have over.

I’m not going to waste your time sharing the recipe; that’s not the kind of blog this is (the recipe for The Perfect Roux(tm) notwithstanding). Besides, if you really want it, you can find it on the back of the Minute Rice box like I did. Yeah, that’s right. I’m not too proud to admit it. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit over the years, added and subtracted things as the mood strikes. But we’ve always wound up going back to the original when we’re in a pinch and we just need food that tastes and feels good.

Or at least we did, until Audrey’s diagnosis. Suddenly we started reading cans (or running them through an app, or reading company websites, or etc. etc.), and we found out that most Cream of Chicken soups (yes, you now have 3 of the 4 ingredients, go nuts) are thickened with good old wheat gluten.

We went nearly a year without our go-to winter comfort food before Then one day I looked in the crisper drawer of our refrigerator at some fortuitously abandoned carrots, celery and onion (Quick! Who can tell me what those ingredients are called in cooking? Answer at the end of the blog.)** and thought aloud “Well, how hard can it be?” A quick internet search and a flurry of chopping, sauteing and simmering later, and I was staring down at a beautiful homemade cream of chicken soup…

…OK, I’m lying. It wasn’t quick. It wasn’t quick at all. I stood over that stove at the end of a long day at work, wondering what possessed me to even attempt this. I measured flour mixes and figured out what would thicken my soup without making it grainy (and didn’t entirely succeed, at least that time). I simmered, thickened, whisked out lumps, added cream and simmered some more. But at the end of all of that…I had one of my four ingredients. And no meal yet.

I seriously considered telling Audrey that I had made cream of chicken soup for dinner that night. I really did. But that wasn’t what I wanted for dinner. I wanted comfort food. And so I chopped and cooked more veggies, shredded chicken, cooked rice (because after all of this, I’m gonna just use Minute Rice?), simmered some more, dipped in a spoon and…

Heaven. Comfort. Bliss. I glopped it into bowls and brought it out to the living room where Aud was too engrossed in another project for another friend in need to notice what I was handing her. She put down her crocheting and eyed the bowl suspiciously before she tentatively dipped her spoon in.

And that’s when I saw it. The look on her face. Heaven. Comfort. Bliss. Pure, unadulterated joy at getting back something that she had just assumed she would never have again. And a long day at work and a long evening over the stove just melted away. It was all worth it for just that moment of comfort.

Since then I’ve dug out several more comfort food recipes that we’d written off and figured out how to make them GF. I’ve also figured out shortcuts so that I’m not spending hours at something that used to just take minutes, but the truth is that these recipes are going to take more work than they used to. But it’s worth the work. Because recipes come and go, but a precious few you should hold onto.

“Work hard…”
soupscreen
* Fun fact: One of Audrey’s first jobs was at the radio station that made that song popular (right around the same time too-don’t do the math)
**The quiz answer is “mirepoix”

Does paranoia annoy ya?

Please be aware that this post includes a lot of alternative facts. I found that the alternative facts support my argument a lot better than the real facts. You have been warned.

truthiness

I might have mentioned before that I got diagnosed with Celiac’s about one year after the best South Park Season that ever happened. The first episode of that season was about gluten making your dick fly off. I decided to get tested because, well, I have never had a dick so I must have been born with Celiac Disease. I mean that makes sense, right? And it has to be true because I saw it on TV.

gluten-free-ebola

Anyway, that episode made one really amazing point, because being gluten free was healthier for everyone, than everyone in the town had to be gluten free. This seems like s perfect solution. If everyone was gluten free, then none of us actual glutards out there would have to worry about anything. We could eat anything at the grocery store. We could go to every restaurant and there would be no problems!

As it stands, every time I leave the house right now I have that paranoia in the back of my head. Every time my husband doesn’t kiss me on the lips I think he snuck out to McDonald’543603_366901693356394_865130391_ns behind my back (and totally didn’t apologize for it.) I’m worried that everywhere I look, there are hidden gluten crumbs that are waiting to poison me. Every door knob I touch is spread with gluten. Gluten gets in the air if someone is eating a sandwich near me. Every person that comes to my house or by my desk is out to get me. I have suspected that people that don’t like me are poisoning me with gluten.
I mean that’s what people do right?

And I know from looking at like everything on the internet gluten free people are universally hated. It out there on the internet, you can find it everywhere.hipster-gluten-free-life And if it’s on the internet it totally has to be true. Or you can ask anyone who works in a restaurant that if someone mentions that they are gluten free, they totally roll their eyes and don’t take it seriously. We all know this because it happened to us. And then they just roll your food in gluten, straight up gluten not just flour, because everyone knows that there’s no such thing as a need to eat gluten free. It’s just something that trendy people make up to feel special. They so don’t even know about the dick thing. I mean not everyone watched South Park,but I think they mentioned it in Wheat Belly too, and that’s written down so it has to be doubly true.

So, yeah, that is all of the reasons that I think we should all be gluten free. Because it would just be easier on everyone. That way no one needs to worry about their dicks flying off. It’s just healthier for everyone just based on that, not to mention all of the other health benefits. And it makes everything easier on me. And we all know that is what the most important thing here.

Again this post was full of alternative facts, but also alternative opinions. They do not reflect the actual thoughts of the author. Well…most of them do not…but I’ll never tell you which ones are true.

a-holes 

If he loves you, he won’t eat McDonald’s in front of you (or at least apologize for it)

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that I miss is McDonald’s French Fries. I mean, it’s the memory of the prefect McDonald’s French Fries, and those were few and far between. Still, I kind of miss them. Right after Christmas, the husband brought McDonald’s into the house. It’s not something that he does often, especially if I’m around. But it was Christmas day ,we had driven home from Portland, and we had no food in the house ready to make. So we needed to get take out.

I was lucky, because there was a pho place that I knew I could eat at that was open. The husband, who can eat anywhere he wants, was not. He’s not a fan of pho, which I don’t understand, but I don’t push the issue. He wound up driving around for 30 minutes looking for something easy that he could grab and bring home to eat. What he found was the golden arches. When he came home with the food he looked at me and apologized, but I didn’t really care, because my pho smelled a lot stronger than his fries (and had large pieces of ginger, yum!)

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The truth, and you can’t tell him this, is that it doesn’t bother me as much as it did a year ago. I mean, a year ago, I hadn’t found all of the things that I could eat. I wasn’t as comfortable with my diet. I have some pretty good coping mechanism now. I’m still paranoid about everything. I watch people’s hands. I ask a million questions. I read and double check everything that I eat. But I’m better about the McDonald’s thing now.

My memory of McDonald’s isn’t as sharp as it used to be. It used to be a pining for Chicken McNuggets and Fries. I wish I could say that I found better foods to replace them, but really I just kind of forgot about it. Sure when you drive by a McDonald’s that smell is still there, but now it’s just kind of a thing. Kind of like the smell of yeasty bread rising when you go past Subway. It doesn’t really do anything for me anymore.6c53faa0-35d9-0132-408c-0ebc4eccb42f

Olfactory memory is commonly implicit memory which can be created over time. For those that don’t know what that means, is it’s a conditioned memory, like a Pavlovian response. You get practice associating a sensation, and as you repeat it, your body begins to create neuro pathways, until you have an memory of the sensation burned into your brain. If you would like a really good explanation, watch this video. MatPat, over at Film Theory, does a really awesome explanation about implicit memory using diet coke and (of course) does it by discussing superhero movies. If you’re not interested in the whole superhero aspect of this, skip to minute 6, that’s where he starts the discussion on memory, but really the whole thing is pretty great.

So, how does this apply to me not craving McDonald’s from smelling it anymore? I haven’t eaten McDonald’s in 2 years, this means that the habituation of my neurological patterns for McDonald doesn’t have practice anymore. The smell/recall process isn’t as strong as it used to be. This means that the craving that the smell of McDonald’s used to trigger in me isn’t as strong as it used to be, and will eventually fade. This is why the smell of fresh baked bread doesn’t trigger the same sensation in Celiacs or Gluten-Sensitives as it does everyone else.bd46198633a7768150c7ce3d8b000c78 And is the reason that we don’t even remember the taste of gluten bread anymore.

 

We’ve all said those words. We can’t remember the taste or the mouth feel. That’s because our brain associates bread with our new reality of bread. For adults, our memory adapts for bread to be these heavier, dense, moist loafs. When we think bread we this of Udi’s and not Wonderbread. For children that are diagnosed young, they might not even remember having a loaf of store bought sandwich bread, like Wonderbread. With all of the cures on the horizon, I wonder what it will be like for these gluten free kids to take a pill and have some of that full gluten, cloud light bread. Will the think, “there’s nothing to this, there’s no substance, no body” and automatically dislike it? Will they taste McDonald’s and think “This is nothing but salt!”

25426314198bcbdad3eacc0955af1466There’s some conditioning in our lives that make us like McDonald’s or Diet Coke or Wonderbread. It’s comfortable. And when you have to change your diet, that comfort is taken away. McDonald’s is good, sure, but it’s not great. We have good memories of Happy Meals and play areas, or high school dates, or late night post bar munchies. It’s the food of our youth, so we’re attached to it. But now that I’m 2 years from eating McDonald’s’, I don’t crave it when I smell it anymore. I remember some of the good times. I remember the treat it was when I scraped together enough money to go and eat out when I was broke and in college, but I don’t really care about eating it right now. And I’m okay with that.

You can’t always eat what you want…

Happy New Years everyone!

So, post Christmas was interesting. I got the stomach flu. I honestly never really thought I would ever be excited from the stomach flu, but only having the body aches and need to run to the bathroom for a limited time (and not having all of the rest of the glutened symptoms afterwards) is kind of amazing. I get excited knowing that the flu is a limited time illness, and it’s kind of sad.

Anyway, after the stomach bug I cut my thumb open. Literally, I was sick the Monday and Tuesday after Christmas and on Tuesday night I sliced my thumb open. Below is a recreation of the actual event.

black-knight

But seriously, I cut about halfway through the tip of my thumb. Kind of makes typing hard. And then the in-laws descended on my house. We got away with eating without incident (in the home) but the one meal outside of our house that we had, I got glutened.

It was a really stupid one. We went to Maggiano’s Little Italy, which pride themselves on doing gluten free (and all allergies) really well. They had a chief come out and speak with me (nice touch) and assure us that there was a separate gluten free part of the kitchen with special gluten free pasta water. They make all of the pasta in house and make sure that there’s no cross contamination. And I get my plate of fresh-made pasta prepared gluten free (and it’s pretty good, still a little grainy but not half bad pasta). And there, in the middle of my plate, is a strand of not gluten free spaghetti. How do I know, because I had penne and when I mentioned that there was spaghetti on my plate, the waitress got this look on her face and said she’s get the chief. But the chief didn’t come back, the manager came back and comped my meal. And got me a new plate of pasta. And gave us $50 in gift cards because they were so embarrassed that is happened. I mean, I was down for the count for 3 days but there was 3 free meals out of it. Doesn’t make up for the intestinal damage, but I would be willing to try again in case this was just a fluke.

So, my stomach has been a little tender as of late. And I’ve been a bit emotional. And I totally hit the post holiday funk. And I can’t really type or crochet or video game until this last week (Pokemon Go doesn’t count because it only uses one hand.) So, I haven’t been writing or really doing much of anything.  Until this last weekend.

I subscribe to the Gluten Free on a Shoestring newsletter. I really like their recipes and used several of them over Christmas. A couple of months ago I found one of her cookbooks in our local half priced book store (creatively called Half Prices Books) and bought it. Inside I found one of my favorite things, molasses break. It’s a quick version of the bread that you get at Outback Steak House, but gluten free. I’d been trying to 2 years to make something close, so I tried it. I modified the recipe a bit to make in my bread machine, and it was perfect. Literally perfect. Light and fluffy and moist. I made for Thanksgiving dinner and it was amazing. I also tried to make Monkey bread for the first time since the diagnosis, and it was also amazing.

This started us down the road of seeking out foods we haven’t had in a while. There was the cider pub in Seattle that had gluten free fish and chips and fried cheese (it was 100% gluten free restaurant). There was the fried rice after New Years (which almost, but didn’t, include part of my thumb). There was our trip to the local Asian market near our new house that included buying of mochi ice cream. And then this weekend we chased the dragon (so to speak.) I made Chinese barbecue pork and the husband made fried chicken.

I’ve tried making barbecue pork before and it was…okay. This time was a million times better. The fried chicken, that was from Gluten Free on a Shoestring. A KFC copy cat recipe was sent in the newsletter last week, and I just wanted it. We had been watching video of kids trying Christmas food was around the world, and in Japan KFC is traditional to have on Christmas Day. I starting having a craving for some fried chicken, and I was obliged last night.

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Seriously, I don’t remember fried chicken being soo good. It was crispy and moist and yummy. I think I was 8 all over again eating chicken from a bucket. I just needed some of that overcooked, dry corn on a cob and a biscuit slathered in butter and honey from packets.  Next time we make it, I’ll work on biscuits I think.

We all have these foods that we love, and honestly, not all of them come in easy to find gluten free varieties. Sure, my new molasses bread isn’t the same texture as the one at Outback Steak House. It’s a bit more dense and moist than that one is. Sure my barbecue pork doesn’t have that bright red skin that the ones in the grocery store have (that food coloring BTW.) And sure that fried chicken wasn’t as thickly coated as the KFC, but it was still pretty amazing. And yeah we can’t just go to the store and buy it, but this isn’t a lament of the loss of convenience, but celebrate the resourcefulness of our people.

Celiacs and Gluten Sensitives have been finding a way to get their favorite things for years. It’s been years of struggle to get to this point. We live in an age of regulation of labeling and blends of flours that can create whatever you want. Sure we can’t get the protein structures like gluten baked goods, but we can get close. And we are on the cusp of a cure. As we speak there’s clinical testing on possible cures. This is the best time to need to be gluten free. Sure there’s a lot of room for growth. Sure there can be better testing and education (I mean look at Italy) but we’re in a pretty good place.

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So, just because you can’t have EXACTLY what you want, be glad with what you do have. Because everyday we’re just a little bit more comfortable. Everyday some inventive cook out there figures out another way to make something gluten free. And we know how to do things that most normal people never think about. We know the careful alchemy of mixing whole grains and starches to create just the right surface tension for fluffy bread. We know how to do things that people just didn’t need to do anymore, that people forgot because the industrialized food machine has been doing it for them. We 1hduzeare the people who can’t be lazy, can’t decide that there’s just no energy to make something and I’ll just go out. Where most people start on their cooking, with boxed and frozen foods, that’s where we get lazy. We are the Celitariat, doing all of these things because the gluten free life has chosen us. We have our hustle on just to put food on the table and not be sick afterwards. That is what the gluten free life really is.

 

So, as the title of this post says, you can’t always eat what you want…but if you try really hard you can get pretty close.

What did you think I was going to Rolling Stones here…?

 

You have a whole new reason to dread the holidays

www-gifcreator-me_birjwjIf you hadn’t noticed, Christmas is coming. I know it’s a total surprise. With Christmas there are family gatherings. I don’t know about you, but I’m already getting the regular holiday meal questions. It feels a little like a Doge meme.

gluten-doge

We’re doing both the hosting and the visiting this year. With a new house, everyone is curious about it, so people want to come over. At the same time Christmas is finally on a weekend, meaning I can honestly get time off from my job to visit family over the holiday. With this comes the all of the normal pitfalls of not eating in your own home. To say I’m a little stressed, is an understatement.

Part of being a Celiac is the need to control your environment, and when you go to someone else’s house there is no control. You have no idea what the last 5 things cut on the cutting board were. Or if someone used that butter to make toast that morning. And the difference between going to a restaurant and to your family or friend’s house is the potential to offend. You can give a server a big tip when you put them through their paces, but bringing your own food to Christmas dinner and someone might be upset for the year to come. Personally, if you have to deal with the cooking for a family as large as my extended family, it’s better to not have to deal with all of the individual dietary restrictions, and we have a lot. To compound it with my needs to control every spoon transfer and keeping wheat away from every article. I’m just cooking something for myself to make it less stressful on you.

family

Then you add to it the family members that just want to help…oh the possibility to offend someone is VERY HIGH! Is this going to keep me from going, heck no, I want to see my family. Am I going to go to the bathroom and wash my hands all day long…you bet. I’ll also keep an eye on my cups and drinks and wipe off my plates and pretty much anything else that I can do to keep from getting sick over the weekend.

The weekend of New Years, we’re hosting Christmas for my husband’s family at out house. They have one big tradition for Christmas, and that’s Christmas cookies, gluteny glcookie-theroyuteny Christmas cookies. We bring gluten into the house sometimes, but those are controlled moments and my husband does all of the clean up. These Christmas cookies get left out all weekend, because my husband’s family likes to graze. That means grab a cookie and eat and move around the house and touch things. So, another weekend, I will need to just make sure that I wash my hands a lot and clean the house really well afterwards.

And you better believe I’m going to be making all of the GF cookies to eat that weekend and they’re getting stored in the fridge.

Not having navigated through this before (last year was a Christmas at home and a trip to my Celia-Sissy and brother-in-law’s house)  I have no idea what lessons I’m going to learn going out to visit our family members. My mom is…excited…(I think) to try and accommodate me. Or maybe it’s more of the making sure her baby is not being left out. Still, it’s a couple of weekends of experimenting. The husband keeps reminding me that all of the questions are good, because she’s trying to understand and make sure that I’ll be safe. I know she’ll do a good job, it’s just a learning experience. She has to learn a whole new allergy (of sorts) and something that she hasn’t had to do before.

You know, all of this sounded so much less experimental and scary months ago when we made the plans. As it’s approaching, I’m startling to look at the details of what it’s going to entail, and I think I need more planning. Can we push Christmas back a couple of weeks like to maybe next year? I think I’ll be ready by then.

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