Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

9 Apr

Before I get going on my latest rant, let me just say that it is very likely that this post will directly contradict my last post. I’m noticing that my thoughts on being gluten-free are not very consistent and are directly related to how desperate I’m feeling.

There is a new gluten-free girl in town. I’m not going to mention her by name because I know she means well. And I don’t fault her for trying. It’s just that most of what she makes is not that good. Not even by gluten-free standards. And the thing is, I’ve had decent, even good gluten-free, so I know it can be done. But this post isn’t about her. It’s about me. It’s about how I never learn.

This woman, let’s call her Glinda, makes bread and pizza and pie, oh my! She makes muffins and cookies and scones. She even makes donuts. She was featured in an article in our local paper. I’d heard it all before, but still I got excited. It didn’t even dawn on me in that moment that it might be bad. It was in the paper. It was in black and white. And I was in denial as usual.


I took a friend who eats gluten every day without even noticing what she’s doing or how lucky she is, to try Glinda’s goods.  The case was full of gluten-free items. I had never had so many choices in one place. It felt good to linger over the possibilities. Would I have pizza or a sandwich? If I have a sandwich, what kind will it be? And the dessert choices, well if I were someone who gets giddy, I would have. We decided on a tuna sandwich and a cupcake to share. It looked promising as it arrived at our table. The bread was big, like a baguette and was all  brown and crunchy looking. It looked like a real sandwich. I picked it up but before I took a bite my fantasy and the bread began to fall apart. I tried to put it back together and took a bite. It was bad. Just like gluten-free bread always is. My friend tried to make the best of it. She said it wasn’t that bad. I’ve noticed my husband does this too and I have a theory, gluten-free doesn’t taste that bad when you know you aren’t condemned to eat it for the rest of your life. It just a theory.

The cupcake was meant to be a hostess cupcake, complete the with loopy white frosting design on the top and white filling in the middle. It wasn’t horrible; a little on the dense side. But the thing is, I never really liked hostess cupcakes in the first place. So the question I am now asking myself is why do I need a gluten-free version of something I don’t even miss?hostess

Two days later I went back to the same bakery. I bought an oatmeal cookie, a coconut cookie and a chocolate glazed donut, each one worse than the last. Why did I do this, you ask. I did it because I could.


Donuts are Magic

15 Sep

sprinkle donutThere are things I remember about donuts and there are things I don’t.  I remember the smell of coffee and Dunkin Donuts from my childhood.  I remember going to the local donut shop with my boyfriend late at night when the donuts were fresh out of the oven. I vaguely remember how that warm glazed buttermilk bar tasted. I remember stopping at the Quick Mart for gas and a package of miniature powdered sugar donuts  on the three-hour drive to my best friend’s house. I remember taking my kids for donuts once in a while on a Sunday morning. I remember how much fun they had picking out which one they wanted.   The thing I remember most about donuts is that they delivered what I was looking for.  There is something so satisfying about a donut. At least that’s how I remember it.

donutWhat I don’t remember are the details. I don’t remember exactly what that red jelly-like substance in the middle of the donut tasted like when it mixed with the fluffy dough and the powdered sugar, or the unique cakiness of a glazed old fashioned, or whether or not I felt sick or bad about myself after eating all six of those mini powdered delights (okay, I might remember that).

jelly donutNot remembering is what makes being gluten-free tolerable. If I go long enough without a thing, if I let myself get desperate enough for the idea of something, like a Dunkin Donut or a Krispy Kreme, then I find that the pathetic and poor substitute of the thing is entirely satisfying.  If you want to further ensure this outcome, give up more things first. Don’t stop at gluten. Deprive yourself of sugar too. That way when you are standing in front of the gluten-free section of your local grocery store, you will be so  utterly tempted by the frozen donuts staring back at you that you won’t care how much they cost or that you have to microwave them to eat them or that they have  names like Kinnikinnick and Glutino , you will only care that they are called donuts and you can eat them.

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My Road Trip

27 Jul

I will never be lost or found on the Pacific Crest Trail, or sail around the world, or jump out of an airplane. For me, life is an extreme sport. Why would I invent more challenges for myself? Why would anyone?

Every day we put ourselves in the path of danger. Who knows what lurks around the corner? A distracted driver, a slippery floor, a tumor. Why add a bear or a rattlesnake, or a faulty parachute to the mix on purpose?

Every day that I don’t hike up and down a mountain is a day of aching, stabbing, throbbing pain. The mountain would kill me, I’m certain of that. So it’s kind of a no brainer.

I might survive skydiving but why risk it? For me just getting on an airplane is an act of bravery, but once I’m up in the air I prefer to stay there until we have reached our final destination.

Hiking boot plant pots

It’s not that I don’t challenge myself. I do it all the time, in little ways. And sometimes in big ways. Not the kind of things you can write a book about. At least not a book that would be made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. But challenges none the less.

The thing about mundane, everyday challenges is that I don’t usually think of them as challenges, so I don’t prepare for them in the way that one would prepare for say, sailing around the world.

My most recent challenge was a ten day road trip to Montana. For some people the biggest challenge of a road trip is the endless hours in the car, staring out the window, bored. That’s the easy part for me. That’s the part I love.

But I hadn’t been on a road trip in years. I forgot that my body has gotten older and less resilient, or that my ability to digest food or relax in any position is grossly impaired, and that my talent for obsessive thinking has blossomed into a full grown mental illness. In short, I forgot who I am.

Also, I did not give enough weight to the fact that I would be driving through Nevada, Idaho and Montana. I didn’t take in to account how awkward it would feel to ask the waiter at the restaurant attached to the Comfort Inn in Winnemucca, if the French fries were gluten-free. It just felt so completely pointless to ask. Like why would I even go Winnemucca, if gluten is a problem for me?

The road trip was a series of small disasters, minor inconveniences and gorgeous scenery. But as with all good challenges, I learned a valuable lesson; gluten, it turns out, is the least of my problems.

Some Like It Hot

31 May

Last weekend, my husband and I attended a business dinner at Manresa Restaurant, in Los Gatos. Here are some things David Kinch, Manresa’s adorable chef (see right), would like you to know about his place:manresa chef

1. It has two Michelin stars. There are only 17 restaurants in all of America with two Michelin stars (and 11 with 3 stars, but I haven’t been to any of them).  So… wow!

2. This May, Bon Appetit Magazine voted it the fifth most important restaurant in America. Which conflicts with the folks over at Michelin, but who’s arguing?

3.  The menu offers two prix fixe options — that’s it.  As I am sure you can appreciate, that means there is no classic celiac “would it be possible for me to have the starter salad, no dressing, with grilled chicken, no sauce, on the side?” negotiation table-side.  In fact, when you get the menu all it does it offer you an imaginative vision of what six or eight courses you may be getting — your server doesn’t actually tell what each dish contains until it arrives, in all its beautiful glory,  at the table.

We had an amazing meal.  It was delicious, and creative, and inspirational, and long (unless six hours doesn’t seem long to you).  So I want to be clear — I’m not complaining.  I’m just observing.  And here is what I’m seeing, from my little gluten-free seat at the fifth best restaurant in America:

1.  When I call ahead to say I’m gluten-free, and to ask if that’s a problem, and the lovely lady at the desk tells me “absolutely not”, I would rather not have my (otherwise charming) server ask me, in front of my husband’s four colleagues, whether I really mean I’m gluten-free.  “A bit of soy would be okay, right?” he inquired with a hopeful smile.

I ask you, what would you have done, at a celebratory meal that was not about you, not at all?  Wouldn’t you have asked yourself,

“How likely is it that David Kinch is splashing Kikkoman Soy Sauce into his squab marinade?”

I thought about how each course is about the size of a marshmallow, displayed artfully on a brilliant white plate the size of a hub cap.  I thought about how, just for tonight, I didn’t want to be high maintenance. Then I smiled, agreed, and ordered a cocktail.  This one, to be specific.  manresa cocktailIt’s made with Lillet (which our loyal readers will recall was one of my early celiac management strategies). And lemon.  It was definitely gluten-free and it tasted terrific.  But even a lemon drink in a beautiful glass could not alleviate the pathos of what happened next.

2.  They brought a basket of gorgeous, artisanal oven-hot breads to the table, for everyone who was not me.  And they brought me a basket of gluten-free rolls, which were cold.  Okay, room temperature.  But you and I know that once a gf baked good has left the Land of Warm, quibbling over its exact temperature is beside the point.

If there is one thing — and only one thing — I have learned about gluten-free baking, it is this: serve it hot.  Anything you bake without wheat will already be challenged.  It will not be fluffy, or stretchy, or crunchy (although it may be crumbly, but that is different).  If you pop it in your mouth the minute it comes out of the oven, though, maybe that gf muffin, cookie, or cupcake (well, okay, not the cupcake) will vaguely remind you of the glorious baked goods of your pre-celiac life.  But let it get cold, and you are screwed.  Screwed.

Why, oh why, has the undoubtedly clever and inspired bread chef at Manresa not learned that lesson?  Or, if s/he has, why was my gf roll served cold?

Don’t get me wrong.  That room temp bread did not ruin my meal.  I had a great dinner, we had a wonderful time, all was good.  But for $180 per person, and after I called ahead and gave them loads of notice, I would have loved a hot bun.

My Brain Tumor (now that I have your attention…)

21 May

I vowed that I would not use this blog as an educational platform,  but you’ll have to bear with me just this once.

You see I’m not just a girl with celiac disease, I have lots of other issues too. I’m told they might all be related. But who knows, because when I google my symptoms, they are the symptoms of all sorts of conditions and illnesses. Recently, after an hour on the internet, I talked myself into a brain tumor on my hypothalamus gland. In my defense I was having some bizarre symptoms. I have been hungry for the past four months. I mean all the time. I mean waking up in the middle of the night hungry. No matter how much I ate, no matter what I ate I was always hungry. All I could think about was food. I started to feel like I was going crazy. The symptoms progressed into a gnawing sensation in my stomach. It turns out the brain tumor was an stomach ulcer, probably caused by the prescription anti-inflammatory medicine I had been taking for another symptom called PAIN.  Any who, now there are a whole bunch of other things I can’t eat besides gluten and some new things I should eat, yummy things like raw cabbage juice and probiotics.


So for the last two weeks I’ve been popping a lot of probiotics, trying to get my digestive system back on track. Coincidently, yesterday a article showed up on my Facebook page about probiotics. http://www.more.com/health/healthy-eating/probiotics-surprising-way-beat-stress. Intrigued, I did an internet search about celiac and probiotics. It turns out that there is research going on about the role they play in celiac disease. I won’t bore you with the details, or provide you with another link to the research, I’m not that kind of a girl. If you’re interested, look it up yourself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go juice a cabbage.

I’m sorry, did you say “farinata”?

10 May

I know I haven’t written lately.  I’ve been busy complaining to people IN PERSON about how being gluten-free doesn’t get easier, or more fun, over time.  But Sarah and I love the comments that have been flowing in (okay, trickling — but still!),  so here I am, back again, with a whole new commitment to bitching out loud.

I’m going to start with a story about last week.  It is all about hope, and dashed hopes, and wine on an empty stomach.

My wine glass. Empty, for the second time.

My wine glass. Empty, for the second time.

But it starts a while ago, so I have to open with a little flashback:

Last fall, a cool new restaurant opened in town.  Even though Santa Cruz is (1) in Northern California, (2) a hip college town,     (3) relatively upper middle class, and (4) supposedly a coastal food mecca known (by a hopeful few) as “Berkeley on the Bay”,  good restaurants are few and far between.  Especially when you (by which I mean me) are a little high maintenance.  So we went.  Immediately.

The minute James and I walked in the door I was excited.  Bantam (note hip, bird-related name) had industrial metal windows and  funky light fixtures with Edison bulbs.  It had concrete floors and a bar made out of reclaimed lumber with flakes of paint still left all over it .  Most important, it had a fiery brick pizza oven out of which emerged, every minute or so, a crispy pie covered with fennel or heirloom tomatoes or fresh-pulled mozzarella.

I was sure they would offer a gluten-free pizza crust.

They did not.  They had “farinata”, topped with stinging nettles, and that was the sum total of their gluten-free offerings.   A farinata is a pancake-like thing made out of chickpea flour.  “Kind of like a fried polenta,” the waitress said, and then she told me, twice, that it would NOT be coming out of the pizza oven.  Apparently they prefer to cook their pancake-like things on the stove.

So, what did I do? I ordered the farinata (rhymes with intifada).  I ordered it even though (1) I do not like fried polenta, (2) I was a little nervous about the stinging nettles, and (3) the only reason I was there was for that rocking hot pizza oven.  But I am gluten-free and that means sometimes you have to be flexible.

James had the pizza, which arrived burned (hot HOT pizza oven) but still delicious, he says.

The farinata was hideous.  It tasted beany and it was soggy and, amazingly, the stinging nettles did nothing to redeem it.  I ate one bite.  But I had hedged my bets with a little salad and that was good, so my emotional take on Bantam was, overall, positive.  Not positive enough to warrant an immediate return trip, but good enough to file Bantam in my “sure, I’d go there” file.

Which brings me to last weekend.  James and I were trying to decide where to go to dinner and I (yes – this is my fault) suggested we give Bantam another try.  Surely by now they would have expanded their gluten-free options.  Surely by now  they would have gluten-free pizza crust.  I mean… Domino’s has gf crust (not that I go there, but I’ve seen the ads).

They did not.  The menu, amazingly, was exactly the same as six months ago, except for they had deleted the lovely salad and added pickled vegetables.

Our pickled turnips were not pink. They were white and sad.

Our pickled turnips were not pink. They were white and sad.

And this is why, last Saturday, my entire dinner consisted of a bowl of olives, a dish of pickled turnips, and two glasses of wine.

Also, our bowl of olives was a LOT smaller than this one.  And there was no flower.

Also, our bowl of olives was a LOT smaller than this one. And there was no flower.

What do you get when you take eight ounces of vino and a handful of  nibbles and add that to one hungry woman with a really crabby attitude?  A very short dinner, followed by a stop at 7-Eleven so she can buy herself a fistful of chocolate in a desperate attempt to salvage date night.

Oh, and a husband who suddenly remembered this really important work he had to do on his laptop right when we got home.

I suppose you could say that the point of this story is that, most of the time, I can find something delicious and gluten-free to eat.  And that would be true.

But last Saturday, all I could do was look at those cool Edison bulb chandeliers and the general Brooklyn-based decor, and say to myself, “We are never, ever, EVER coming back to Bantam.”

Call Me Old Fashioned

8 May

Being a gluten-free bitch is one thing. Being a high maintenance gluten-free bitch  (HMG-FB) is another thing entirely.  Maybe I’m deluding myself but I think it’s possible to be a charming, witty, adorable, low key gluten-free bitch (CWALKG-FB). Okay, I  probably definitely am deluding myself, but can’t we get our needs met the old-fashioned way? Without anyone knowing?

For those of you who are unclear on the concept, here is an example of a HMG-FB trying to order something at an easy going local coffee shop that occasionally carries some gluten-free goodies (Goodies, is perhaps, too strong a word.) Lets call her Harmony:  Harmony is your typical groovy, skinny, yoga pant wearing, messenger bag yielding type of a HMG-FB. I don’t know for a fact, but I’m guessing that Harmony is gluten-free by choice. So we are already off to a bad start.

Harmony is at the front of the line. There are five people in line behind Harmony. And they need coffee.  Harmony ponders the lack of gluten-free choices, asking detailed questions about each item. There are long thoughtful pauses in between the questions. Harmony expresses her dissatisfaction with the choices, explaining that she was in last week and they had other, better options. The very patient barista explains to Harmony that they make a certain amount of G-F baked foods every day but that they often run out of them quickly and they have a small kitchen and only one baker and they can only bake so many mediocre sweets a day. Harmony will not let it go. Harmony then explains that she had considered going to a different coffee shop that also carries G-F goods, however she has chosen THIS coffee shop. The still patient barista restates his defense. Harmony undaunted, says that she guesses she should call ahead the next time she is considering which coffee shop she should give her business to.  The barista does not say “Knock yourself out,” but those of us standing in line behind Harmony are wishing he would.  She decides to order a drink instead and spends the next several minutes inquiring about the non dairy options. There is a lengthy conversation about what lactose-free milk is.  Another employee is called in to take over. No body seems to know the answer. I do but I keep my mouth shut. Finally Harmony makes a decision.

The line begins to move. When it is my turn I consider apologizing on behalf of gluten-free people everywhere, but I don’t. I consider ordering the gluten free sandwich in the case, but the bread looks a little funny. I could get the soup, but it might have flour in it. I could ask, but I don’t. I just suck it up, and order a latte4039771527_bc92bc479c_z.

Apparently You Cannot Have Your Pie and Eat it Too.

29 Nov

I know Thanksgiving is probably a distant memory for most of you. Visions of sugar plums are replacing sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, but I’m still processing Thanksgiving, or at least my intestines are. I haven’t had a chance to talk to my gluten-free friend, Enid (hey I think I just invented “GFF” or maybe it’s ” GFFF”) Any who, I’m hoping that her gluten-free pies were better than my homemade pie fillings contained in store-bought gluten-free frozen pie crusts, which I actually put in pretty pie plates to make it look like I made them myself (big mistake). Yes, in a moment of weakness, I decided to forgo repeating the agony of trying to make a gluten-free pie crust from scratch. Truth be told I was never good at the pie crusts with gluten. But the gluten-free involved a lot of patchwork and recalibrating. They were ok, but the filling stole the show and any flaws in the crust were forgiven. This year I decided to “go for it” and ALL the pies were gluten-free. I have apologized to all my guests, but I still don’t have closure. If I could remember the name of the company who produces this product, I would send them a letter that would just say “why?”  It was too good to be true of course, and it was my own fault for falling for the perfect frozen texture, the glossy packaging promising me a regular, normal, easy-breezy Thanksgiving. In the end it was my own fault. I should have known better, but I let myself believe that I could have my pie and eat it too. I wish I had taken a picture of it, the pie shell that could not be cut with the sharpest knife in the house; the pie shell with all of the filling scooped out of it; the children  bending it this way and that. It never broke. Then there were the comments…”on the bright side you’ve discovered a new roofing material.”

Three Guys and a Gluten-Free Girl

13 Nov

Two weeks ago in Oakland, California I had a fabulous gluten-free dining experience. It went something like this:

My husband , myself and another couple were in Oakland to see Grace Potter and The Nocturnals at the Fox Theater (which was amazing, by the way). We had dinner reservations at Pican, a Southern inspired restaurant. I had mentioned that I was gluten-free  when I made the reservation.

Our waiter, Trevor began the evening by asking which one of us was gluten-free.

“Me,” I replied, proudly.

“Gluten- intolerant or celiac?” Trevor asked, looking at me as if he really cared.

“Celiac.” I replied, practically giddy.

“I’m gluten intolerant.” He said, in a tone that made it  clear he understood that I outranked him. Then he went on to  say, “We are not a gluten-free kitchen, we do clean all surfaces and utensils when preparing gluten-free dishes, but there could be some cross-contamination.”

“You had me at ‘Celiac,’  I thought to myself, still taking in the conversation. In all my gluten-free years, I have never had an experience like this at a restaurant. He asked the others if they had any questions about the menu but it was really just an after thought.

We all proceeded to order drinks, The bourbons of Kentucky and Tennessee were well represented. I ordered the Pican Old Fashioned. An Old Fashion with a new twist. The twist involved bacon and maple syrup. I know what your thinking, but you’re wrong. George Dickle No. 8, bacon infused bourbon, is quite tasty it turns out. Trevor and I shared a joke or too regarding our love of bacon and thank God, it’s gluten-free.

My dinner was tasty. Dessert was the only disappointment. Buttermilk ice cream being the only GF option. I could tell Trevor was embarrassed by the situation. But I told him not to worry and ordered a coffee with alcohol in it. And a bowl of buttermilk ice cream.

Once home, I could not get Trevor or the bacon infused bourbon out of my head, and having never heard of George Dickle No. 8, I decided to google him.  This is what I found in bold letters at the top of the website. If you only know Jack, you don’t know dickle.  I searched the website for bacon infused Dickle No. 8 but there is no such thing. I would have to make it myself. It turns out there are hundreds of search results for how to infuse bourbon with bacon. What on earth did we do before the internet? The recipe follows, but I should warn you that, like sausage and laws, you may not want to know how it’s made.

  • Cook a pound of bacon.
  • Pour .33 cups of hot fat into a jar and fill the rest with bourbon George Dickle No. 8, or similar (They don’t specify the size of the jar, which seems important, but just use your best judgment on the bacon to bourbon ratio).
  • Seal and let stand until the mixture reaches room temperature.
  • Freeze for 24 hours. The fat will solidify. The bourbon will not.
  • Pour off the bourbon and strain through a coffee filter or cheese cloth to remove any lose fat particles. (yum)

To make the Pican Old Fashion, mix bacon Bourbon with maple syrup, orange (not sure what kind as I just copied this from the Pican menu) cherries (the cherries appeared to be a darker version of the maraschino variety) and bitters. I have no idea what the proportions are but I’m pretty sure no one is going make this drink, so I’m not going to worry my pretty little head about it.)

In case you’re wondering who the three guys are:

  1. Trevor
  2. George Dickle
  3. Jack  Daniels

A Piece of Cake

31 Oct

The last thing I want to do is to start posting yummy gluten -free recipes. That’s just not me. Complaining about the gluten-free lifestyle is much more me. But once in a while a really good recipe comes along. And even more rare, a really good recipe with a story.  I have made this cake three times. I remember each time I’ve made it because it’s so good!  But before I give you the recipe, I must give you some important information.

  • The recipe is from a retreat center in Santa Barbara, CA, called Immaculate Heart Center for Spiritual Renewal. They have a great recipe book, called A Place at the Table that you should buy. (You are probably wondering what a bitch like me was doing at a spiritual retreat center, but I’ll never tell.)
  • If you make this cake for yourself you will want to eat it at every meal (see my previous post)
  • If you make this cake for a group of people, there will not be any left, so make two.
  • If you do not have a heavy-duty food processor, you may not want to make this recipe.
  • I suggest you invest in a heavy-duty food processor just so you can make this recipe.

A Cake Story

My daughter just returned from a cross-country road trip with her friend. I made a delicious dinner, pork tenderloin with fig sauce (also from A Place at the Table) mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. Yum! And flourless chocolate cake with goat cheese-whipped cream on the side. Double yum!

The recipe calls for 8 oz of dark chocolate, which you break up into littleish pieces and process in the food processor with some of the sugar. What they don’t tell you is that your food processor will shake violently as it tries to pulse that chocolate into a semi-fine powder. I was a little a worried about the shaking but I kept on with the processing, and turned out the most delicious cake. There were only two pieces left in the morning. I was tempted to eat a piece for breakfast but decided to practice restraint and ate it an hour later when I got to work.

When I came home there was a note from my daughter, with a tiny screw next to it, explaining that the screw was in the piece of cake. I checked the mixer, no missing screws. Then I remembered the shaking food processor. I checked the blade. Sure enough, two little screws missing. My first thought, who ate the other screw?

The moral of this story: THIS CAKE IS DANGEROUS

Flourless Chocolate Cake

For Cake

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cup whole raw almonds

8 oz. dark chocolate

5 eggs separated

1/2 tsp. orange or lemon zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

6 oz. butter, melted

powered cocoa or sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Butter and flour the sides.

In a food processor; process about 1/3 cup sugar with the almonds, pulsing until fine. Remove to a medium bowl. Process about another 1/3 cup of the sugar with the chocolate, pulsing until fine. Check for screws.  Add to the bowl of almonds, mix, and  set aside.

In a mixing bowl, mix egg yolks with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar for a few minutes, until thick and pale. Mix in zest and extracts. Fold in almond/chocolate mixture and melted butter.

Whip eggs (with clean dry beaters) until they hold stiff peaks. Gently and completely fold egg whites into cake mixture (this takes patience as the dough may be quite stiff). My dough was not that stiff, so patience was not an issue, but I appreciated the warning.

Pour mixture into prepared cake pan, leveling the top. Back until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist bits, 45-55 minutes.

Let rest on cooling rack for a few minutes; then remove from pan and cool completely. Dust with sugar or cocoa and serve with whipped cream.

Whipped Cream

3-5 Tbls fresh goat cheese (chevre)

1-3 tsp sugar

1/2-1 cup whipping cream

You can experiment with the proportions on this. I like it more goaty so I use more goat cheese and less whipped cream. You can sweeten to taste, but remember the cake is already sweet.

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