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.