Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guilt, capitulation and a weekend with wheat

I visited my parents in Arizona again this weekend, this time without JFG. It was an interesting opportunity to experience non-celiacs eating wheat without guilt, and if I learned anything it was that my fright or flight response to wheat products has become instinctual and reflexive.

My mother always keeps baked goods next to the refrigerator, and when she expects a full house (like this weekend) to say that she overstocks is like saying that Stalin held a grudge. Literally, piles of bread, cookies, cake and pie teeter crazily in big gluteny heaps on the counter. She's even purchased a special shelf so that she can build a two-floor townhouse of sugar, flour and chocolate to feed her family.

Don't get me wrong. While she tends to overcook the sugar cookies I love her pumpkin bread, scones and Texas sheet cake -- all of which were in attendance this weekend.

But I spent the entire weekend like a sleeper who is afraid she'll miss an early-morning interview, drowsing but waking up suddenly every fifteen seconds. I was truly slightly terrified to see all of that wheat, undifferentiated and exposed to air. I almost stopped people from using one knife on all breads. I almost scrubbed down counters when someone cut bread on the granite itself (without a specific gluten cutting board). I almost read the nutrition label on everything we bought. I almost refused to share plates of crackers and cheese.

It was lovely to eat wheat without constant analysis and suspicion. But it taught me two things:

1. It's not a bad thing to think deeply about your food. Without that kind of reflection, you swallow meals without appreciation for the time and effort that went into creating them, and without considering whether or not you actually need the nutrition. Result: 2.5 lbs.

2. The guilt is overwhelming. When JFG picked me up at the airport, I felt like I needed to confess. He laughed but had to be disappointed, especially since he'd DVRed Glee and saved it so we could watch together. Can you sweat gluten in your sleep?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fear not the albino asparagus

Ten years ago, a supervisor took me to the Havana Cafe in Phoenix, AZ where I ordered a salad containing white asparagus. I'd never really thought about colorless vegetables before, but the asparagus reminded me of the children's book series Bunnicula, where a vampire bunny drains carrots and cucumbers of color and terrifies the household. Anyway, I assume that Havana Cafe is not a lair for blood-sucking pets and yet the asparagus terrified me nonetheless.

So this weekend, when my parents took JFG and me on a return trip to the Havana Cafe, I carefully avoided anything with white asparagus in the dish title. However, we were very pleasantly surprised to learn that Havana Cafe has an extensive gluten-free menu (this is the second Cuban restaurant we've encountered with a gluten-free menu . . . if anyone understands the connection please let me know!) which ranges from salads to paella.

JFG ordered a terrific ceviche, sauteed chorizo and an arroz con pollo with plantains, chicken and chorizo that we had to polish off the next day.

He rounded the whole meal off with "Mango, Mango, Mango" -- mango ice cream, mango sauce and mango itself. It looked like an orange traffic light but he and my dad adored it.

I must warn you -- despite its attempt to define itself as "Phoenix's premier destination for Latin cuisine" (an ambitious claim in a city dominated by thousands of Mexican and South American restaurants) it's a hole-in-the-wall in a Phoenix strip mall with fake trees painted on the walls and a tiny, moody bar in a corner.

But in addition to a great gluten-free menu and excellent empanadas, the Spanish torte and ensaladas are divine and the server was sincere and compassionate.

They serve a Latin gluten-free Thanksgiving -- and you can get it to go if you feel freaked out by the weird plastic sheet over the door. Go. I don't think there's any albino asparagus involved.