Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The joys of being a derivative

I'm about to turn 35, and I've discovered that I am a derivative.

Well, that's not entirely true. I am a derivative, but I didn't just discover it.

I've always been a little bothered by the fact that I have almost no skills that, if the world became some kind of Mel Gibson apocalyptic nightmare, would be of any use. I could . . . organize everyone. I could . . . write nice letters to the avenging armies. I could . . . coordinate lovely events where everyone starved to death. You get the picture.

This fear was further codified by the book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (hypnotizing book; scared me so much I had to read it all in one sitting). In World War Z, Brooks "documents" an oral history of the world post-zombie takeover. The premise is that some kind of epidemic has swept the world that kills most and turns 10% into flesh-eating people herds. Brooks imagines the horror from the perspective of people who have survived it.

In one chapter, he observes that the catastrophe has reversed traditional social hierarchies. Educated people, those who earn their livings by thinking and/or administrating, are "F class" -- they're useless. Skilled workers, those trained in blue collar occupations -- plumbers, loggers, carpenters, electricians, cooks, janitors, sanitary engineers, soldiers -- can actually physically rebuild the world, and so have greater value. In World War Z, the best you can do with F class workers is teach them to dig ditches. Seriously. And the successful characters in the book, those who have survived due to wits and sheer physical strength, have doubts about F class workers' ability to dig ditches properly.

Anyway, I think it goes without saying that a Director of Annual Fund would be an F class worker.

As Ron White says, I told you that to tell you this. We rented Julia and Julia on Friday. Lovely film. Meryl Streep transforms a woman who has been mocked, satirized and somewhat forgotten into a charming, witty tower of creativity and love. Amy Adams was also very good, albeit with fewer character challenges.

In the film (and the book, I gather) Julie cooks her way through The Art of Mastering French Cooking, writes a blog and becomes famous.

Is that what I am doing here? That is, is that what I am hoping to do here? And if so, is there value in continuing this process? Ah, the search for life's purpose.

And deep philosophical questions. Is any idea ever really new?

Then I thought, hey -- if I need something really innovative (still derivative but slightly less conventional) I could always cook my way through the 1615 culinary classic, Gervase Markham's The English Housewife. Do not mistake this for Desperate Housewives, although were this my real life I might be slightly desperate. It's an impressive but somewhat dubious list of tasks and skills required of a late-Renaissance or early-modern English housewife. The good news? A reason to cook a carb-heavy diet. The bad news? I would be required to "pot" butter (whatever that means) and scrape marrow from bones.

Hey! Now there's a skill that would be useful in the post-apocalypse.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Around the world . . . liszt, tepung, plúr, moka be damned!

I'm thinking of writing a series of books about gluten-free travel. In my brief survey of the competitive landscape, I can only locate one unfun-looking person who has been doing gluten-free tours for years -- who I wouldn't go around the bloack with unless she was my grandmother. There are also a number of websites listing celiac-friendly restaurants other countries, but they're a little disappointing.

Here's my thinking. One in every 133 people in the U.S. has celiac disease. The only manageable way to have this disease is to have enough money to spend $12 on a pound of flour (or to eat nothing but berries for the rest of your life). Since there are clearly enough people spend $12 on Bob's Red Mill flour to keep that company in business, there might be enough people who would also spend $12 on a book about safe travel.

There are also books like Let's Eat Out! and the Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide that provide explanation cards for servers and chefs in different languages. But I imagine a poor, starving JFG with his sad little card crawling from restaurant to restaurant in another country, searching for someone who can feed him.

Not really; after about fifteen minutes of hunger he'd be on the next plane.

From a few short trips in the last year, I know that there is a lot more to gluten-free travel than simply finding restuarants, it seems that guidance is needed. I guess the question is, how much of the American public will pay for guidance?

Considering the number of people who have purchased the Sarah Palin book, 700,000. Hmmm. I'm obviously looking for a different demographic. I'm pretty sure that Palin believes neither in people who want to travel to other countries, nor in people with elitist diseases.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Celiac on the road

We're in Phoenix this weekend to celebrate my dad's 63 birthday. My folks have really turned into the wind regarding JFG's condition -- before we arrived, they went down to a new allergy-aware grocery store in Phoenix and bought chips, crackers, donuts, hamburger buns and chocolate chip cookies, all gluten-free. JFG had another bacon blue-cheese burger last night for dinner, and a gluten-free pumpkin pie. We also had lunch today at True Foods, a restaurant in the Biltmore shopping center that advertises itself as gluten-friendly.

While True Foods was not as gluten-friendly as, say, P.F. Chang's, the menus did contain about ten clearly-marked gluten-free recipes including crudites with tzasiki sauce, tabbouleh made of quinoa, several salads, curry and rice noodles and several dishes involving squash (content edited due to my hatred of squash). Jesse was able to have both an appetizer and an entree, no questions asked.

Tomorrow we're going to a gluten-free open house at the grocery store mentioned above, with tastings and everything. Should be very interesting. Although we've met so many people who have relatives or friends with celiac disease, we've never attended a gathering based around the disease. How many celiacs must be present to make a support group?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What day is it?

That's right -- it's another day when, despite the lack of frightening ingredients listed on the back of the plastic bag, yet another brand of tortilla chips has made JFG sick. When is the FDA going to get it together and list any gluten included in packaged foods? Using human beings as involuntary litmus tests is, at the very least, cruel and unsanitary.

I have advocated for a "damn the torpedoes, full speed (albeit with some forethought) ahead" approach to celiac disease. I hate the idea of an incurious approach to food. However, this approach is complicated somewhat by the inability to trust nutritional panels on food. So, for the moment, Santitos is our sole choice for tortilla chips.

On the upside, kudos to Wild Pear Restaurant in Salem. We attended a wedding on Saturday evening catered by Wild Pear. Despite the fact that we did not warn the hosts ahead of time about JFG's condition, the serving staff were extremely prompt in identifying the foods that were safe and directing us away from foods that might contain gluten. JFG managed to eat a balanced meal -- meat and vegetables, at least -- and was only excluded from the cake (not too surprising at a wedding).

Three rice flours for Wild Pear!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brown sugar -- round II

Now that I've thrown out all of my brown sugar and repented for the sin of secretly poisoning my husband, I cannot find another single source on gluten-free diets that lists brown sugar as forbidden or even suspect. In fact, even the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago lists brown sugar and invert sugar, the secret potential culprit, as safe, gluten-free additives.

Trying to establish a comprehensive and stable list of gluten-free foods as about as difficult as identifying set criteria for witchcraft. Witches are poor people! No, they're rich people! They're always women! No, they might be men . . . or dogs . . . or goats! Witches can't recite the Lord's Prayer! No, the devil ensures that witches can recite the Lord's Prayer perfectly! Witches drown! No, they float!

Sigh. No wonder celiacs frequently convert to raw foods diets. No one has ever accused a carrot of containing additives made of anything other than carrot.

On the other hand, celiac does help establish a stable list of people who really care about you. Last night, we went to a birthday party at a friend's house. Our friend went to enormous trouble, for his birthday dinner, to make gluten-free brisket and sausages -- two foods almost always on the suspect list. And since JFG can't share the cobbler or chocolate cream pie, they made gluten-free butterscotch pudding for him, which was lovely. We could have easily brought our own food, but instead could feel confident that someone else was watching out for JFG's digestive track. Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The case of the vanishing protein

I'm not all that good at mysteries. JFG usually guesses the secret villain on 24 much faster than I can (although I've learned that the most benign or patriotic character usually harbors the psychotic plot to blow up the world using toothpaste bombs). I wasn't even very good at Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew mysteries.

Here's another mystery I failed to solve without my mother's help. For about a year before the diagnosis, JFG was exhausted. Too exhausted to ride his bike, too exhausted to do tasks around the house, too exhausted to stay up after 8:00 p.m. He'd start checking his watch shortly after dinner to determine how much longer he had to stay awake to be considered an adult.

Soon after the diagnosis, when we'd cleared gluten out of his diet, the exhaustion faded away! He could stay up later, he started riding his bike again . . . problem solved, or so we thought.

In the past couple of months, he's started to fall asleep in my lap around 8:30 p.m. again. He's checking his watch by 9:15 p.m., and if he's not in bed by 9:30 it's usually because he's fallen asleep on the couch. Even if he's getting stray traces of gluten, it can't be enough to throw his whole digestive system off again.

What to do, what to do? Is it too much work? Getting up too early? Does he have the flu? Is he just getting old?

So I was explaining this to my mother over Thanksgiving. My mother is a genius at problem-solving, much better than I will ever be (although my skills are improving). It's amazing how much you continue to need your mom at 35.

The first words out of her mouth: "Is he getting enough protein? Young men need a lot of protein."

Wheels spinning. We've never eaten a lot of meat or eggs at home, but before the diagnosis, he used to go out to lunch a lot with co-workers and eat pork or beef sandwiches or burritos. He also used to exercise a lot more, which meant that he ate many, many protein bars. Since the diagnosis, and since restaurants have become more challenging, he takes frozen lunches to work -- lunches that happen to be vegetarian and sometimes vegan. And protein bars almost always contain gluten, so now he eats fruit bars.

Ah-ha! How did she know?

You don't want to know about JFG's nutritional status, so I'll cut to the moral of the story. Cutting gluten out of your diet frequently, and accidentally, means that you're cutting other critical nutritional elements out as well. While you're making sure that you don't take in gluten, be sure that you are taking in as much protein, fiber, potassium and vitamins as you need to stay healthy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

When brown sugar bites you in the ***

So many things to report from our first gluten-free Thanksgiving. We had a lovely meal, and managed to overeat as usual despite the range of new food options. Successes include a lovely stuffing made of cornbread, apples and bacon (recipe in last post; double the bacon and toast the bread first), a wonderful southwest-style quiche from the Culinary Institute of America's gluten-free cookbook with a crust from Glutino Pantry, and a green bean dish made with butter, spices and dijon mustard (instead of green-bean casserole, which calls for glutenized French's onions).

Disappointments include having to throw out all of my brown sugar. As it turns out, many brands of brown sugar include invert sugar as one of the ingredients. Invert sugar can contain gluten. Other brands just list "brown sugar" as the only ingredient. I'm going to have to research which brands of brown sugar are reliably safe and stick to those. The really bad news? JFG had just consumed a pear pie that contained about three pounds of questionable brown sugar. $%$!.

Mom also brought some wonderful gluten-free chocolate donuts from a gluten-free store in Phoenix, mentioned in previous posts, along with several kinds of hamburger buns! Yummy!

So in all, a successful feast. But we forgot to watch the Macy's parade.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Alternative recipe for stuffing

My mother makes stuffing with white bread. My mother-in-law makes it with a mixture of white bread and stuffing mix. JFG used to refuse to let me experiment with stuffing recipes -- once I made stuffing with dried cranberries that was great, and I had to eat it all by myself. This Thanksgiving, our first with celiac, all bets are off. Jesse won't even consider some of the gluten-free white bread alternatives, like rice flour or flax or tapioca flour breads, but he really likes Bob's Red Mill cornbread mix. It actually tastes like glutenized cornbread (which is amazing because I think the rest of Bob's Red Mill mixes taste like garbanzo beans, even the brownies. That's a nasty shock, let me tell you).

So, we're going to make cornbread-bacon stuffing. It seems to me that, since the average American eats 3,000 calories at Thanksgiving dinner, an extra six ounces of pork fat won't kill you any faster.

Here are some of the recipes I'm considering:

Herb and Bacon Cornbread Stuffing

Apple and Bacon Cornbread Stuffing (using gluten-free cornbread, of course)

Cornbread and Proscuitto Stuffing

I thought about a Rachel Ray recipe, but her face on the website just makes me slightly nauseous, like staring into fun-house lights.

For pie, we'll just make regular pie with a gluten-free crust (I like Pamela's Gluten-Free pie crust mix, although you need to add a little extra sugar) but for the courageous, gluten-free girl's pie crust is pretty good. Just cut the amount of apple cider vinegar you use to keep it from tasting really apple-y.

I'd also like to try two recipes I saw in Cooking Light (a magazine that is not always celiac-friendly):

Pumpkin Flan

Vanilla Bourbon Pumpkin Tart

But JFG wants pumpkin pie and, even for a pie-lover like him, three pies might be too much.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Marco Polo is not the only option, people!

I've opined about restaurants that don't take the gluten-free needs of their patrons seriously. But I'm equally annoyed by people who suggest that the only safe dining choice for someone with celiac disease is a restuarant that advertises a gluten-free menu. It suggests that gluten-free food is special, magical food that can only be prepared by the annointed ones.

In Salem, the only restuarant that advertises a gluten-free menu is Marco Polo. Marco Polo serves a weird, kind of continental menu, a combination of traditional American meals and Chinese food. The atmosphere to me feels like a revamped 1950s hotel-food restaurant, and it's kind of expensive. I know devotees; after one meal we are unlikely to go back.

Here's what Marco Polo has done very well. They've identified items on their menu that are naturally gluten-free -- rice dishes, for example -- and then marketed those dishes. If you examine their "gluten-free" menu you'll discover that most dishes already appear on the "non-gluten-free" menu. Genius.

However, there are other options in Salem if you know where to look. Here are the ones we've found:

La Perla -- we've checked the packaging on the corn tortillas. No flour, so if you just order chips and tacos you're safe.

La Margarita Company Restaurant -- ditto, plus the tamales are safe too.

India Palace -- naan and samosas are out, unfortunately, but the papdam is made of lentil flour and the tandoor, jalfrezies, curries and masalas are all okay.

Ventis -- the yellow curry is gluten-free. We checked the box. Ask them to prepare on a clean grill.

Thai Beer -- the curries and peanut sauce have regular soy sauce in them, so they're out. But you can ask the server to have any stir-fries made with gluten-free soy sauce. We particularly like the mango chicken and the cashew chicken. Bring gluten-free peanut sauce for the salad rolls.

Thai Lotus (actually in Keizer) -- the curries and stir-fries have regular soy sauce in them, but the peanut sauce is safe because they make it themselves. Try the pra ram with tofu or chicken.

Momiji's -- Surprisingly, not every sushi restaurant has gluten-free soy sauce. One place actually tried to tell us it was hard to find, even though they sell it at Roth's. Momiji's on Commercial is always extremely helpful about gluten-free soy sauce, and the sushi's pretty good.

Take that, overly-expensive and kind-of-depressing Marco Polo!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Swine flu? Chicken noodle soup!

Many years ago when I read Shape Magazine (a magazine that actually makes me feel worse about myself than Vogue or Glamour), I found two recipes that I've kept and made enough times that the paper on which the recipes are printed is kind of gross. No bother -- both are "heat up the pot and start tossing stuff in" kind of recipes, haphazard collections of food heated and then garlicked to death.

One, a chicken chili, we've made many times since the diagnosis. It's blessedly easy, looks complicated enough for guests, and keeps for days.

The other is chicken noodle soup. Considering my mixed success with rice noodles, I lacked faith in how the noodles would behave while being boiled with chicken broth for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I assumed they would dissolve.

Not so! Here's the trick. Cook everything else (broth, onion, carrots, cilantro, thyme, corn, chicken). Turn the pot up to boiling and toss in the noodles (once again, I'd steer clear of De Boles). Boil for two minutes. Try to keep your husband from interfering with your plan by turning the heat up or down, trying to take the pot off the burner, re-setting the timer, etc.

Turn the heat off but leave the pot on the burner for twenty minutes. Eureka! Perfect chicken noodle soup. You're now swine-flu proof without Zycam (ick) or E-mergency (yuck). Now, if only you can avoid fans of either, who are worse than drug pushers.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Please -- don't break bread together!

We're starting to think about Thanksgiving, our first major holiday without gluten. Thanksgiving is tricky in our family -- actually trickier than Christmas, because we have a more rigid set of foods that we eat on Thanksgiving, without which Thanksgiving seems, well, less complete. Underdone. These include, for my side of the family:

  • Green bean cassarole with French fried onions

  • Cranberry salad (which, also traditionally, everyone but my dad refuses to eat)

  • Mashed potatoes

  • Turkey, of course

  • Stuffing -- which, depending on the year and the current wisdom of the FDA may or may not be cooked inside the turkey

  • Ambrosia, an interloper food added to the table when JFG joined the family

  • Pie

Some of these foods pose no problem -- turkey, cranberry salad, mashed potatoes -- but this doesn't really solve the gluten problem since JFG refuses to eat the cranberry salad and the mashed potatoes anyway. Turkey is okay as long as we don't stuff it with bread stuffing.

Green bean cassarole, now that's another story. The whole point is the French's onions, mon cher.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Just baked lovely chocolate/cream-cheese brownies from the gluten-free cookbook published by the Culinary Institute of America. Squishy, baked all the way through, what else could you ask for?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cooking like Julia

I just finished Julia Child's autobiography. First of all, she was a strange-looking woman. Secondly, she hints that her husband was frequently mistaken for gay -- something that always makes me wonder how much "mistake" there really was in the perception, especially since he seems to have married a woman who looks an awful lot like a man. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you -- it just makes me a little sad for Julia.

Finally, and perhaps most odiously, she makes me jealous enough to have fits. I actually loved reading the book but the descriptions of charming, teeny markets in French towns and apartments that overlook the port of Marseilles eventually caused my fingers to shake. How does an American girl from a conservative family from Hoboken (it's not really Hoboken, but you know what I mean, a Hoboken-like town) who doesn't speak anything but English, can't cook, and has what seem to be only average administrative skills end up living in Paris and writing a book on French cooking?

War, por supuesto. Too bad we can't arrange legend-provoking, courage-instilling, non-lethal wars that require mid-30's women with administrative skills to fly jauntily off to foreign shores whenever we need them.

That said, I don't have the patience to cook half of the things she describes. I'm endlessly fascinated by coq au vin, but the notion of an old rooster is off-putting. Anything that requires you to stuff intestines with your bare hands is a no-go. And the recipe that calls for the cook slicing open live lobsters with a knife (she insists they die immediately, thank god) is totally out of the question. So perhaps I'm not cut out for the life of a charmingly awkward pseudo French chef. Could I just have the apartment, then?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Airport food

MSN.com posted an article yesterday from the Eat This, Not That franchise about the best and worst airport food -- donuts, pretzels, ice cream, coffee drinks. Not only would I not eat anything from the "worst" column . . . most of the foods in the "best" column were fat-laden, starchy and generally not worth the calories either. As a regular flier, I'm continually disappointed with the unappetizing "healthy" foods available at airports, which include under-ripe bananas, mealy apples, limp salads (when did we decide salad meats must be cut in rectangular tubes?), and luke-warm yogurt.

With celiac disease, options are even poorer. While I can get by with a low-fat muffin from Starbucks, JFG is often stuck with said mealy apple or saggy salad. Even the nuts -- probably the best wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, bad-food-masquerading-as-good-food food product available -- frequently contain gluten (for what purpose? 'Tis a mystery).

As a result, for long trips, the only solution is to pack JFG a bag of portable gluten-free snacks. I sometimes include fruit, but have discovered that apples or pears or bananas, having been banged around during check-in and security, get bruised and disgusting. As an alternative, here's what I pack:
  • Home-made gluten-free cookies, usually with peanut butter as an ingredient for protein
  • Rice chips (god bless rice chips), which come in small bags
  • Gluten-free energy or breakfast bars -- JFG likes the apple ones made by Glutino, although I think they kind of taste like garbanzo beans
  • Chex Mix -- this is a relatively new discovery, but since General Mills now makes three kinds of Chex cereal without gluten I can toss together some butter, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and a little sugar with rice or corn Chex and some cashews and make a pretty mean and portable snack (god, also bless General Mills)
  • Crackers; JFG likes Mary's Gone Crackers in original or black pepper flavor, I like herb and sesame flavors which don't leave large pieces of black pepper in your teeth to alarmingly discover later

Thoughtfully, manufacturers of gluten-free foods usually package their products in human-size (as opposed to King-Kong-sized) boxes and bags, so all of the food described above fits into a plastic grocery bag. And while there are no actual vegetables or fruits included, there is enough of a variety that JFG can usually make it to his destination.

Airports! -- specifically, airports that include the word "international" in their title! -- travelers have food allergies. Airport food is extremely poorly labeled, leaving travelers to choose between starvation or poisen. Get it together.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Great Harvest's great leap forward

Last night, I bought my first loaf of gluten-free Great Harvest bread from the Great Harvest in McMinnville. I shouldn't be so pleased about something I merely consume -- not produce -- but the fact that the local Great Harvest has started carrying gluten-free bread on Mondays heralds two things:

1. The return of the Great Harvest bread run, which also means a free slice of whatever they just baked, and
2. Greater understanding and acceptance of celiac disease by the larger commercial market.

I have to admit that the gluten-free bread (this week, a version of their Dakota Bread, which I love) is not indistinguishable from glutenized bread. Nor, honestly, would it make good sandwiches. However, it is completely edible, does not weigh fourteen pounds, and slices without squishing down into un-spray-butterable chunks. The best part is that Great Harvest has an email list of people interested in gluten-free products and produces a different gluten-free bread every Monday.

Three rice flours for the very public effort, Great Harvest.

My excitement about this new frontier belies an area of concern, though. Outside of FDA lobbying groups, are we forced to spread the gluten-free doctrine only through consumerism? I suppose that the truth is that celiac impacts our lives only as we purchase food -- not through any great disenfranchisement or social injustice -- so solutions must be consumer-related as well. But I feel slightly uncomfortable when I am excited about being allowed to purchase safe food at crazy prices.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flour and peer pressure

I've conquered most of the concrete challenges involved in being married to someone with celiac. I know how to be suspicious of labels. I know how to avoid the secret gluten-laden foods like maple syrup, beer, vinegar, soy sauce -- foods that frequently make their silent way into other foods.

And I know when a server in a restaurant isn't quite sure that the food does not contain any wheat products. Where I failed this weekend is that I did not have the courage to leave a restaurant when I realized that the server could not guarantee the food's safety. I realize that, not only do I have a responsibility to keep JFG safe, I have a responsibility to educate others about celiac disease -- especially restaurants -- so that future food is safer (or at least better understood). In the interest of finding somewhere that everyone wanted to eat, however, I allowed myself to be cajoled into staying in the Lincoln City restaurant Kyllos. JFG was sick for two days.

So, for Kyllos, no rice flours. And none for me, either, until I learn to stand up to peer pressure from middle-aged waitresses.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I'd like to state publicly that I do not understand peoples' dedication to Pfeffernüsse as a Christmas food. Even Wikipedia describes the cookie as a small, hard, round biscuit. With pepper! Cookies with pepper! Oh, yes -- sometimes it's black pepper, sometimes it's white pepper, but either way it's a nasty surprise when you're biting into something that looks sweet and is introduced as dessert.

I've observed that many cultures retain food traditions that were clearly invented in lean times. That's the only explanation for foods like Pfeffernüsse and ammonia cookies, which my best friend's family makes religiously every Christmas. Why else would you put cleaning fluid in dessert? I can see her Scandinavian ancestors starving in some small, snow-bound village, having eaten the dog and the bark off the trees, with nothing but a bucket of window-cleaner between them. Someone says, "Well, we have to eat something!" and thus ammonia cookies were born. Obviously, in a similar snow-bound German village, food supplies low, someone said, "Well, how else are we going to make cookies? Toss in the pepper -- it's all we have left!"

That is all an introduction to my favorite gluten-free cookie recipe, which would be great in starvation times. It only has three ingredients -- one cup of sugar, one cup of peanut butter, one egg. You combine the ingredients, roll one-inch balls and flatten them with the bottom of a glass, and cook at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. If you like peanut butter or need food that provides sugar and protein quickly, these are great. I also sometimes add chocolate chips.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Graham crackers achieve reprieve

All right, so JFG not as big of a fan of the graham crackers as I was. However, in an effort to redeem the vast sums I dropped on the box, I made them into a graham cracker crust. It is lovely, especially since I accidentally added too much sugar to the mix. It's crunchy, caramelly, and crumbles just like graham crackers should. No more saggy cheesecake!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Medieval in the kitchen (or, where are my s'mores?)

I like cooking medieval food. I mean, taking recipes from medieval and Renaissance "cookbooks," such as they were, and trying to make them in my kitchen. Much like hearing Beethoven played on a 300-year-old harpsichord or touching the walls of the Sainte-Chapelle, it's one of the only ways to actually experience the past. With food, or music, or buildings, you can somehow defy the laws of matter and cohabit with ancestors.

However, cooking from these recipes can be quite a process -- not only translating the recipes, which frequently give directions like, "Take enough flour to make a coffin and mold it into a pot" -- but because many of the ingredients called for in the recipes are not easily available today: rosewater, for example, or sandalwood or marrow. So you have to make the rosewater before you can make the food that the rosewater goes into. Too many steps.

I've discovered similar problems with gluten-free recipes. The best example is pies that require graham-cracker crusts. The whole point of graham-cracker crusts is that they take very little work: you pulverize graham crackers, add butter and sugar, and mush into the bottom and sides of a pie plate. Simple, right? No cutting in the butter, no chilling for hours. But if you have to first make the graham crackers, and then crush them, etc., all of the simplicity has fled the scene. I can't get over the injustice inherent in making a food just for the purpose of destroying it.

The result of this moral conundrum is that JFG has not had any pies with graham cracker crusts. Yes, I could make him crust-less cheese cake, but what's the point? That would be a very sad, saggy little cheese cake, naked -- almost like a head when you take off the toupee.

Eureka! The absence of graham cracker crusts shall cease! Kinnkinnick Foods, which also makes some awesome gluten-free pizza crusts, just introduced S'moreables Gluten Free Graham Style Crackers ™. They look slightly different from glutenized graham crackers, smaller and a little thicker, but they taste darned close to the real thing. I haven't run them by the JFG board of professional food-tasters, but I'm hopeful that they can both be used in crusts (as the picture on the back of the box suggests) and be squished up in a bowl of milk.

Naturally, they're more expensive than Faberge eggs. Even so, S'moreables Gluten Free Graham Style Crackers ™ get three rice flours for returning yet another food to our diet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Celiac myths

Myth #1: Eliminating wheat from your diet will cause you to lose weight.

Fact: Only for the weak-willed does wheat elimination result in weight loss. The way I see it, with the celiac diagnosis you have three options.

Option A: denial. Continue to eat wheat. Yes, you will lose weight, because every bite you eat will run through your system like a river. Downside? Severe gastro-intestinal distress, exhaustion, dehydration, possible additional conditions like diabetes and cancer.

Option B: defeat. Cut wheat out of your diet, and give up donuts, cake, cookies, bread, pizza, and pasta. Feel sorry for yourself and moan about how restricted your diet is. Become impossible as a dinner guest. Downside? Isn't it evident? You have celiac disease but choose to live like you have leprosy.

Option C: prevail! Practically before JFG's diagnosis was official, I went through my cupboards and refrigerator and threw out anything glutenized -- contaminated or even suspect. Salad dressing, cereal, pasta, oatmeal, syrup, everything. We had a few days of moping.

But I've discovered that a little kitchen ingenuity, and some networking with the gluten-free community, results in being able to make or buy gluten-free versions of almost every kind of sweet and carb-loaded treat JFG loved. But it requires trial and error, and then you must eat the trials, of course. As moral support for your celiac-laden loved one, bien sûr.

And gluten-free food manufacturers often add extra sugar and fat to their foods to compensate for the wheat-ee taste. So gluten-free versions of cookies, for example, have 20% or 30% more calories than the glutenized versions.

Option C, the only real option for people with backbones, is the option we chose. And rather than losing weight, we've had to take care not to gain it. Case in point. Last night, my mother called to tell me that she found a gluten-free bakery in Phoenix, Gluten-Free Creations Bakery. Apparently, colleagues without celiac go there for donuts, cupcakes, muffins and bread. And she was so excited that she read me the menu! How can you lose weight with that kind of provocation?


Monday, August 24, 2009

Would you rather . . .

When I was in college, we used to drink beer and play a game one might call, "Would you rather?" Since I've discovered local versions of this game almost everywhere I've lived, I don't think we invented it. The object of the game is to make fellow players choose to sleep with one of two physically or morally repulsive people that everyone knows -- usually fat, hairy professors or other students who don't appear to shower or brush their teeth. Each player has to choose and then everyone laughs uproariously at each answer (or makes gagging noises). Then, if you're playing with experts, once someone decides upon one of their two options you up the stakes by forcing them to choose between lots of sex with the preferable partner or 15 minute sex with the less preferable one. Experienced players with a large pool of disgusting options to mix and match can play for a very long time.

Of course, initiating this game during a party of 34-year-old parents and friends will cause that record-scratching sound tv shows use to indicate that someone has made a huge vocal or sartorial faux pas. However, we now play a different game, also called, "Would you rather." This one hints at other types of bodily functions, because to play you must choose between lactose intolerance (no milk, cheese, ice cream) or celiac disease. I've never played the advanced version ("Okay, what if you were just a little lactose intolerant but WAY celiacked out?") but on the amateur level I've noticed a trend. Men tend to prefer celiac disease; women prefer lactose intolerance.

Here's my theory, on the male answer anyway. It's organized around the wild roving band of hoochies fantasy. Men, having organized their entire bachelor diet on cereal, don't want to give up that last, tenuous connection to sexual freedom or compromise their memories of wild and swinging days with soy milk. Women can't stand the thought of giving up bread or pasta, and since they drink a lot less milk, are willing to compromise -- but I haven't figured out why that is. Chemical? Maybe estrogen is made partially from wheat flour.

By the way, I hate plastic baking spoons. They melt.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let them eat pie

One challenge of celiac disease is that it complicates most "go-to" food, security food, comfort food. Think about it -- bread, pancakes, cookies, cake, pie -- these are the foods we turn to when life gets difficult or complex. And these foods are still possible for celiacs but they require planning and usually access to a health food store.

For JFG, it's pie. But you have to understand the symbology of pie. There are some foods that make a career in the kitchen. For Julia, souffle. For Emeril, gumbo (or something with crawfish). For men, dead meat cooked to char on the grill. But for most women, cooking reputations are made and broken on pie. And not just the pie -- because, let's face it. The innards of most pies are a form of pudding or fruit with sugar. Republicans can manage that.

No, girls separate from women based on the crust. I remember conversations where other women try (probably out of charitable intention or bonding instinct) to share their crust recipes. Why not just tell me I have hooker shoes on, or hairdresser fingernails, or age-inappropriate hair? Is it really necessary to suggest that I can't make crust?

To be fair, these shared recipes usually have heritage, and come from one of three sources -- The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, or Good Housekeeping. As did mine, a 1968 recipe from my mother's Betty Crocker. It was good, but I broke tradition after a few years of cooking and transitioned to a recipe from Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte: a Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes. In general, it's a book that leans too heavily on creme fraische and haricorts verts. However, awesome pie crust recipe. Part of the secret? Skip the butter. Use butter-flavored crisco.

But no matter how peerless your recipe, wheatless flour is strange enough that simply dumping it into a gluten-requiring recipe creates non-functional playdough. And since JFG's comfort food is pie, it's the first gluten-free backing recipe I tried. First, I tried a mix by the gluten-free messiah, Bob's Red Mill. Like most of their mixes, it tasted like garbonzo beans. I'm not making falafel. I had to eat half a bag of rice chips to forget the flavor. No rice flour -- not edible.

Next, a recipe from gluten-free girl, whom I adore. Her book helped Jesse think through the emotional fallout of the diagnosis, and I appreciate that. Her crust recipe was completely competent, although the taste is a bit over-powering and I had to re-roll it three times because it kept falling apart in my hands. Two rice flours.

Finally, my desperate-to-be-helpful-mum gave me a mix from Gluten-Free Pantry. It's hard to be a woman who makes pie crust from a box, and it was probably harder for my mom to suggest that I was a woman who needs a box. We tried not to look at each other as she handed it to me. However, this mix is great. It holds together better than most gluten-free crusts (which tend to be soft and sticky) as long as you use parchment paper to roll it out. And it tastes good, especially if you add more than the two tablespoons sugar suggested. It bakes evenly and although it's not flaky, JFG will actually eat it (as opposed to eating around it). Four rice flours. Good work, Gluten-Free Pantry.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If I wanted rice, I would have made stir-fry

There are days when you get home from work, peel your six-inch heels off your swollen feet, and try to think of ways to use the fourteen open bags of frozen vegetables in your freezer. But it's hot, so pasta salad sounds good -- and includes the word salad. Check "healthy eating" off today's to-dos.

Ha! Slightly more difficult with celiac. Fortunately, there are a number of brands of rice and corn pasta, and some of them even taste sort of like pasta (instead of like, well, rice and corn). Some of them even cook like pasta.

Not tonight's. Tonight, we made de Boles spiral pasta. Why? Well, to go with my open, half-used bags of frozen vegetables, I have a series of open, half-used boxes of pasta. I grabbed one that we purchased during early days of celiac, when anything that looked familiar felt good.

Rice pasta's tricky. The instructions say to simmer for five to seven minutes, and I already know from experience that an additional second in the pot causes most rice pastas to disintegrate into pieces of starch that look a little like rice and a little like maggots. But I am a woman worth her salt in the kitchen, so I actually set the timer. Grabbed it at exactly seven minutes.

It disintegrated anyway. Now I remember why we buy other brands. Pieces were so small that I actually thought about calling it rice salad by the time I stirred it gently into vegetables and dressing (balsamic vinegar -- don't trust commercially-produced salad dressings unless they're Newman's, say, "gluten-free" and cost three times as much as gluten-full dressing).

So, de Boles: one bag of rice flour for effort.

The value of complaints

Last night, my husband and I went to the volunteer "training" for Hood to Coast. The line was very, very long (see photo). When we were done with the actual training, which took about three minutes, we went to find some food.

As others with celiac disease know, deciding to eat at a restaurant can be quite a process. Without celiac, there are basically two decision points:

1. What do you feel like eating?

2. What is reasonably near-by?

Sometimes there's a third, 3. Where are we likely to get in without a wait?, but that's pretty much it. With celiac, there are different points.
1. What do you feel like eating that you can still eat?

2. What restaurants are near-by that we know have gluten-free items on the menu?

3. Which of them have you had negative experiences at -- either because the server/manager was unfamiliar with celiac or gluten, or because they pretended to be knowledgeable but glutenized you anyway?

Last night in Beaverton, we worked through this decision matrix and ended up with two options -- Baha Fresh, which JFG was pretty sure had gluten-free food -- and Chevy's. We love Chevy's, but have had very, very mixed experiences at the two in Portland. First, while they have a gluten-free menu, there is a company policy that servers cannot leave the menu at the table. Instead, you must tell the server what you feel like eating, and she or he tells you if that food is okay. Second, the last time we were there, the server had no idea what celiac or gluten were, and the manager could not find the relevant menu at all. It's a little scary when you can't see the nutritional information in print but must instead rely on what a (relatively disorganized-looking) weekend manager says.
Baha Fresh in Beaverton near the Jo-Ann Fabrics and Borders did not have a gluten-free menu, and the staff behind the counter was of no help whatsoever. We left.
Our other option was Chevy's. Despite a rather problematic experience last visit, we love Chevy's, partly for the salsa and partly for the nostalgia -- we ate there all the time while dating.

Here's what's amazing. We got the same server (the manager). She remembered us, and remembered that we needed gluten-free food. She double-checked the order to be sure she got the gluten-free part correct. Thanks, Megan, for very good service.

For Megan's efforts, Chevy's receives four rice flours out of five. Baha Fresh, of course, gets none.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is it dusty in here? No, that's just gluten

I read in Elizabeth Hasselhoff's book that celiacs should not even be in the kitchen when you're cooking food with flour -- the flour gets into the air and can be breathed in. Because I haven't yet identified the line that separates reasonable gluten awareness and glutenphobia, I was skeptical about how much gluten could possibly get in the air while I was cooking. After all, it's not like I take cups of flour and dance around the kitchen -- I get the flour (sedately, I might add) out of the pantry, pour it carefully into the measuring cup, tip the cup into the mixing bowl, roll up the bag and put the flour back into the pantry.

I became a believer in aerated gluten last night. I was baking glutenized banana bread for my office around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., and the setting sun was shining through my kitchen window and onto the mixing bowl. I poured the flour into the mixing bowl and turned on the mixer. To my surprise, particles of flour immediately took flight, floating around in the air with the gusts of the air conditioning. And not just a few particles -- lots and lots of flour, enough to make the counter dusty.

That's it. No more cooking with flour when my husband's around.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gluten-free living -- or, a world full of dangerous particles

Gluten-free living is not for the faint of heart. And while my husband has to take most of the burden -- painful stomach cramps, uncomfortable procedures, restricted eating -- I've become almost as protective of his stomach as he has. It's been a strange journey, and the way I look at food, and at food-related activities and paraphernalia, has shifted slightly. For example:
  • My cookbooks. I have a delightful array of cookbooks, ranging from the basics (Joy of Cooking) to the bizarre (Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World). I love my cookbooks; in fact, when we travel, I'm more likely to buy a cookbook as a souvenir than almost anything else. They are history, they are culture, they are safe and cozy. Some, I think, I don't ever intend to cook from -- I just like having them around. Post-celiac, however, I look at them like I might look at old currency (the lire, for instance). Interesting anthropologically, but basically useless. And how long do you display interesting but obsolete currency? Not very. It almost always ends up in the sock drawer.
  • My wooden spoons. My mother cooks with wooden spoons. Her mother cooked with wooden spoons. In an age of silicone baking molds and titanium pots, wooden spoons connect me to my baking heritage. Post-celiac(PC), they are the enemy. Like old towels and sink sponges, they can soak up gluten and contaminate otherwise gluten-free food. I can't bear to part with them, but they force me to choose between my husband's health and nostalgia. He wins, and they have been permanently consigned to a drawer.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I wonder why it is that we pronounce Afghanistan with "a" like "apple," but Pakistan with "a" like "awful."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seeing clearly

I got contacts last week -- well, contact. I only need one, thank goodness. Aside from nearly giving myself a black eye trying to get it in and out, I'm pretty happy with it. But it begs the question, when did I become so completely consumed with looking younger? And is it weird that the reason I got contact was that I wanted eye-liner to show? That's bizarre.

This month in Elle Magazine, there's a feature highlighting the VERY young assistants, speech-writers and deputies to Barak and Michelle Obama. These are women my age literally at the right hand of the President and First Lady. What am I doing? My dad once said that he thought that I had more promise than anyone in the family. That's saying a lot, I think. And yet, here I am minimally able to handle a low-level position at a barely-ranked college.

I couldn't stand to read the article, even though they were talking about clothes, but I read one small paragraph in which one of the women was noted for her ability to juggle three Blackberries at once. I don't want to even have one Blackberry to juggle. Is that the difference? Instead of spending my time worrying about not being successful enough by 34, I know the right thing to do is to come to terms with being the person that I actually am. It's such a struggle to have two people in my body -- one that wants to be wildly successful and one that is too lazy and fond of quiet nights and being with my husband and family and dog. But person A will always be disappointed in person B, and person B will always feel like she's letting talent go to waste in a way that is non-retrievable.

How successful is enough? Why these existential questions? What DO people say on their deathbed, if they don't say, "I should have spent more time at the office?"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reward (or, What Goes Around)

Well, the universe has rewarded me with two very good phonathon nights. That's something.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bad week

In my life, I've had days or weeks where verything seems to be wrong. These days feel like I've fallen down a black hole and am in danger of simply continuing to fall. I feel like I'm being swallowed up, and that perhaps I'll just need to learn to live at the bottom. At these moments, frequently something (or someone) happens to turn things around. I sure hope that that thing or person turns up soon.

There's something wrong with Murray. He's not using his back legs correctly -- for example, he won't jump up on the couch or bed any more and he slips on the hardwood floors. We took him to the vet who thought that the problem was that he had gas in his stomach. He's not running around like he usually does. I'm terrified that he's losing control of his back legs.

My very first mailing at work went out completely wrong, to the point that we're going to have to mail out a retraction.

This is really minor, but we're going to have to have a gluten-free household.

I don't really have an answer or solution, but I really hope that something good happens soon. I hurt.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Do you ever feel like you can't yawn hard enough to express the level of sleepiness that you are? I think my basic problem is that I am an ambitious person in a lazy body.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Facebook (and other social networking sites) are promoted on the base of lovely virtues -- maintaining friendship, meeting new people, finding new interests, professional networking. Facebook's real virtues are FAR more interesting and beneficial than these, however. Here's how Facebook should advertise:

1. Watch your friends' faces spread! Especially after you haven't seen them for ten years. Then, compare them to your own face OR only upload photoshopped pictures of yourself.

2. Gawk at your friends' ugly children. Feel relieved that you didn't have your own.

3. Wonder if your friends actually have jobs, considering the vast number of postings and photos with which they populate their profiles. Rejoice that you are far superior. And busier. And better employed.

4. Waste time at work, particularly if you can make the argument that you have a responsibility to make social and professional connections as part of your job.

5. Waste more time at work inventing fascinating and suggestive things to enter as your status. Take breaks from actual work to record the fact that you're actually working.

6. Learn more about yourself by taking quizzes about your favorite activities, how much you resemble your astrological sign's profile, your favorite movies. Change your answers to ensure that you appear clever and mysterious.

7. Wrack your brain trying to remember who these people are who are trying to friend you. Regret friending people you actually dislike.

8. Count your number of friends. Check the number of friends your friends have. If they have more than you, wonder who has chosen not to friend you.

9. Invent alibis to prove that the drunk/stoned/partially-dressed person in the photograph that your friend uploaded is not you. Hope that Facebook has some kind of policy against naked photos.

10. Hate the people who have statuses like, "John just got off the airport in Paris!" "Susie is drinking mai tais in Hong Kong!" "Jennifer is spending her paycheck at Prada!" Pretend that they are faking, and are actually wasting time at work inventing fascinating and suggestive things to enter as their statuses.

Seriously, folks. You need more to do.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I've put this off long enough. It's time to write about my New Year's resolutions, with the hope that committing them to . . . well, the equivalent of paper . . . that I might stick to some. As follows:

1. Write at least one post to this blog per week.
2. Work out at least four times a week, with some time spent on weights; consider signing up for an athletic class at Linfield.
3. Go out to dinner at least one night of each month with friends.
4. Try out one new technology each month.
5. Eat more fruit and vegetables.
6. Find a drink.
7. Stand up straight.
8. Become less consumed with challenges, problems and criticisms; also, assume less that all problems are my fault.

But here's the question. If I get to December 31, 2009 and I have completed each of these goals, will I be a different person? At what point in time will I feel that I'm accomplished enough to safely get older?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The day I abandon Victoria Beckham

Okay, not really. I would never abandon Victoria Beckham as my fashion idol. But she now has the hair I had 12 years ago. Done that.

But we just saw Transporter 3, and while the female character was WORTHLESS plot-wise, she had amazing hair. Cut, color, everything. While I wait for VB to catch up, this is the hair I have to have.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Things I learned at my local nail salon

Things I learned at the local nail salon:

1. Choosing a nail salon where the staff speaks a language that is not your primary language is critical. Not only are you not forced into a conversation you're too tired to have, you don't feel humiliated when the technician shouts to her colleague, "Hey! This woman has Hobbit feet!" However, when she shakes her head and repairs to the supply room for special tools, you get the idea.

2. It's apparently possible to have a tense ass. The hydrolic massage chair, which made a noise like a steam engine every twenty seconds, had a "butt" setting that repeatedly lifted and dropped me about three inches throughout the pedicure. It also squeezed from side to side. Not sure what this accomplished.

3. The massage chair requires unsually good timing and balance if you want to also drink your coffee.

4. It's possible to want your face to look as good as your feet.