February 23rd, 2011food
Note for those of you who arrived here to actually find out the answer to the above: the answer is, not really. Most experts say that the distillation process breaks down the gluten in spirits and makes it safe for celiacs to consume. The standard testing has found this to be true. NIH says cocktails are okay, but the Celiac Sprue Association thinks it’s best to stick with cocktails made from non-gluten grains. Crown Royal and Jack Daniels both say they’re gluten-free. One possible factor to worry about is whiskey being put back into the original mash for added flavor. It’s best to contact the company, but I’ve found all the whiskey I’ve sampled to be completely agreeable. (7/22/11)
When I worked at the Grateful Bread Bakery and Cafe, we would often get people coming through and asking whether we had any gluten-free offerings. We would laugh at those people. Chris, the manager, knew everything about the food we offered, every allergen, every possible contamination. “If someone is concerned about flour contamination in oats,” he said, “why would they be walking into a bakery like this?” In the back, there was flour everywhere, coating every surface, the floors, our skin. I would leave work smelling like flour. I mean, it was a bakery.
The results of my Celiac panel: Anti Endomysial, IgA, negative; Anti Gliadin, IgA, 14 (negative); Anti Gliadin, IgG, 41 (indeterminate); Anti tTransglutaminase, IgA, 8 (negative); Anti tTrasglutaminase, IgG, negative. The doctor’s email says, “Your celiac panel is positive in a single part of the test. (antigliadin IgG) This could indicate some celiac disease, but generally all levels are elevated if this is the case. Please call me to discuss.” Just like with my bipolar disorder, or my shoulder and knee injuries, I receive as soft diagnosis: we have no proof, but you should give up on gluten, because we suspect it has given up on you.
Last gluten consumed (that I know of): February 14, a sip of beer (Rainier). Before that, contaminated oatmeal, soy sauce, probably some whiskey put back into the mash, all sorts of restaurant foods, sips of beer. Diagnosis: January 26. Before that, Starbucks breakfast sandwiches daily, mac and cheese, Manny’s, any gluten in sight. My capacity for wheat was endless. I could’ve swallowed whole every cookie I saw. When the doctor told me it was time to say goodbye to gluten, I felt relieved: now I could stop eating.
On January 26, I texted my friend Kate Lebo. Since her boyfriend Jason went gluten-free, Kate has been blogging about their food trials, so I wanted to know what she knew about gluten-free alcohol. “Whiskey is poison,” she wrote. I had been prepared to give up (good) pizza and beer and Starbucks breakfast sandwiches, but not whiskey. My stomach felt scared of the world for the rest of the day.
The things people say when I tell them my doctor told me I have to completely stop eating gluten:
1. I heard that really sucks. I heard it’s really hard. Sorry. (This is true and so I try not to think about it.)
2. Your body will thank you. (This is true and is what I tell myself often.)
3. I should probably try that. (Good luck with that.)
4. Wow! Gluten is in everything! (Not eggs, chia seeds or apples.)
5. I’d rather die than not eat gluten. (Many people, including my doctor, have said this.)
I’ve been reading up on this thing, my newest thing. I just finished Shauna James Ahern’s book Gluten-Free Girl. I admire her enthusiasm for food—or, no, actually, I should say, I feel a little nauseated when she writes, “I don’t understand people who don’t love food. People who view food only as sustenance. People who don’t moan when they eat mango ice cream with fig-ginger jam on top” after describing meeting “a thin, wan girl with no discernible personality” who, in what sounds like “moon-man language” to Shauna, explained that she didn’t like food or “understand why people talk about food all the time.”
I am not that wan girl at all, but I am also not Shauna, moaning and using words like “joyful.” Maybe I will be, eventually, when food stops kicking me in the puffy gut, but right now, I wish I could get an IV drip mainlining raw egg and a feeding tube jamming ground chia seeds down my throat. I’ve had lots of memorable meals, but my cooking is beyond disappointing, and I am too poor and busy for the failed kitchen experiments of which Ahern writes, “What happens if it falls apart? Oh, well. It couldn’t taste too terrible. Even if it does, I have a garbage disposal.” I’d rather plan for a life of almonds, apple slices, hard-boiled eggs and the occasional meal cooked by anyone other than myself than think about more failures like last week’s butter chicken thighs. Nasty. There’s nothing worse than a slow-cooked, high-quality-ingredient-based meal that sucks.
“Please be advised that Crown Royal products, which have been distilled, do not contain glutens or gluten residues. However, as this relates to a medical condition, may we suggest you consult your own physician concerning the consumption of alcohol beverage products.” To hell with beer: I can do this thing. My stomach is soft as a Crown Royal bag, and just as fill-able.
That most people don’t actually know what gluten is, and that some of those people will serve me food, is overwhelming to me. When I leave the house, I think of the flour film that coated every surface in the Grateful Bread. It didn’t seem like a big deal until my stomach would tell me when some gluten had snuck into my diet: contaminated oats, tacos filled with diced chicken breast that may have been flour-coated, a little beer in a stew. I have become one of those people I used to laugh at.
My friends alleviate my panic. They are considerate and want to help me to not be sick. Jaime whips up completely gluten-free meals from scratch, and she knows exactly where the stuff hides, way better than I do. Tabitha made sure to have gluten-free cookies, chips and cheese on hand when I RSVP’d “yes” to her party. Steve’s mac & cheese recipe became gluten-free for the Superbowl. Sue brought fancy gluten-free Flying Apron pastries to Hugo House in consideration of another gluten-intolerant person and me. I’m glad that people are nice to me, because the only thing that scares me about being gluten-free is coming across as a bitch to the people who serve me food.
I feel better. I’m not hungry all the time anymore. My stomach doesn’t feel like it’s been wrung out like a dishtowel. And the choosing of foods? Not so bad. The simpler a food, like an egg or an apple, the happier it makes me, because no gluten hides under shell or skin. This morning, looking over the gluten-stuffed treats in the case at Starbucks, I realized I already didn’t feel sad. Sure, I’ll miss Flying Squirrel pizza and Manny’s and being able to ever again eat something mindlessly. But I had two hard boiled eggs in my purse, and I knew they were going to taste pretty good.Tags: beer, celiac, gluten-free, Gluten-Free Girl, whiskey, white bread
October 1st, 2010food
I do not remember my first encounter with frybread, but I do recall my first pow wow. I was about three or four, and my mom took my photo in front of a teepee. The photo ended up on the annual calendar of the hospital she worked for. I thought every woman there was a princess. I had my photo taken with a woman dancer dressed in white.
That pow wow happened annually at Matarazzo Farms, not too far from where I grew up in New Jersey. I don’t remember ever having frybread there. I probably started eating it in college—I’ve got two standout frybread memories, one awesome and one awful, among many other forgettable ones. First, the bad: a few months before I had gallbladder surgery, when my nonfunctioning gallbladder was making eating animal fat painful, I had an Indian taco—frybread loaded up with ground beef and taco fixings—at the University of Maryland pow wow. As I walked home, nausea and gut pain hit, and by the time I made it into bed, I was in the throes of the worst gallbladder attack I would ever experience.
The good: when I participated in the Washington Internships for Native Students program during college, my friend King used the dorm kitchenette to make us some frybread. His mom had mailed him a sack of Blue Bird Flour, which he said was the only flour he would use.
I watched and photographed the process, but I didn’t bother trying to learn anything. I’d had enough mediocre frybread to know that I wasn’t going to be able to replicate King’s skill. Frybread was in his family.
Frybread is sort of a traditional food, sort of not. It’s certainly not paleo—made of white flour, fat, baking powder, and salt, it’s definitely a post-Neolithic food. Frybread came about in 1864, when the Navajo endured their forced removal known as the Long Walk. Their new land couldn’t support the agriculture they had practiced, so they came to rely on U.S. government commodity foods like flour, sugar, and lard.
Now, frybread is enjoyed at pow wows everywhere. Some people, like activist Suzan Shown Harjo, see danger in what many think of as an emblem of Indian cultures. “Frybread is emblematic of the long trails from home and freedom to confinement and rations,” Harjo wrote. “It’s the connecting dot between healthy children and obesity, hypertension, diabetes, dialysis, blindness, amputations, and slow death. If frybread were a movie, it would be hard-core porn. No redeeming qualities. Zero nutrition.”
I don’t really get excited about the thought of frybread like some people do as they make their ways toward pow wows. Perhaps it’s because I remember the outcome of King’s frybread-making session: simultaneously, we took our first bites. I was taking my second when he grabbed the piece from my hand and threw it into the trash. “Not good enough, he said,” which is what I think of most frybread now that I’ve had two bites of the best I can imagine. Everything else (except for my Aunt Dee’s, which is very different from King’s but certainly a contender in its own thick-but-airy way) tends toward overly heavy and doughy.
Still, when I volunteered to man the raffle and merch table at the Cowlitz Pow Wow last weekend, I realized pretty quickly that the apple slices I ate during the car ride down were not going to do the trick. I scored two pieces of frybread for my cousin and me. I’m not gonna lie: once I was surrounded by dancers and fellow Cowlitz, and could smell hot Crisco, I was excited about frybread.
Try as I might to embrace truly traditional foods like elk and salmon, this is where I always end up: devouring white flour and liquefied fat. Really, considering the cupcakes and pizza that chase me around as I’m trying to eat dandelion salads and grilled sockeye, it seems like frybread has had its place around my waist for as long as I can remember.Tags: white bread
August 30th, 2010eating
I haven’t written a thing this summer, and I haven’t had time to feel guilty about it. On July 1st, I was hired by the University of Washington’s Department of American Indian Studies as their permanent half-time Academic Counselor, ending my year-long stint as temporary Office Assistant there. At the end of July, I began teaching my first solo class, “American Indian Memoir and Autobiography,” a course of my own design. I knew that teaching four days a week would keep me plenty busy, but that didn’t stop me from throwing another big change into the mix: a cross-town move.
I didn’t really mean to heap a bunch of stress onto my shoulders at once. I came home to my distant Lake City apartment one day in mid-July to find a note from the management taped to my door. It was a friendly reminder that my lease renewal was coming up. I could renew, go month-to-month and pay more, or leave. I’d been in my dear apartment for three years, and I was afraid to take the plunge and find a new place, but the idea of moving deeper into the city was appealing enough that I treated myself in a big way: I moved to my favorite neighborhood, Madison Park.
You’ll hear plenty more about the neighborhood in future posts. Today, I’m writing about the move. I began looking for apartments in the Madison Park, guessing that the search would take a while, since I was only considering one neighborhood. But I found the perfect spot almost immediately, so I signed a lease and hoped I could get my stuff from point A to point B over the course of a month.
Lugging three years’ worth of accumulated stuff across the city while teaching a university class for the first time was stressful. When I’m stressed, along with my sometimes-pleasant disposition goes my ability to eat like a grown-up. Good food choices become impossible. I turned into my ten-year-old self, refusing all food but pretzels and cupcakes. All the good stuff I’d been eating weeks before—like eggs from free-roaming chickens, the meat of grass-fed cows, and the vegetables I receive from Tiny’s Organic every week—started to seem inexplicably unappetizing. All I wanted was Rold Gold.
So I ate pretzels. I also ate cupcakes, Goldfish, pizza, chocolate, chips, and ice cream. Then the move was over, and the grades were in, but the pretzels were still ending up in my shopping basket. Now that class is over, I’ve got plenty of time to feel guilty. But, as I learned from the move, change is hard, and even fixing my diet is a tough change to implement.
But I also learned from the move that change isn’t as hard as I often make it out to be. I thought it would be impossible to transport my crap, unfathomable to move my bulky IKEA bed frame. But I packed my stuff into boxes and tubs when I had a little free time here and there and moved a little bit every day. All the furniture—bed, boxspring, mattress, sneaker bookcase, dresser, futon, three bookcases, two armchairs, a dining room table with four chairs, and a file cabinet, plus a drop-off of two big desks to Value Village—moved from Lake City to Madison Park in six hours using a $73 U-Haul rental. Sweaty and tiring, but very possible.
My next big project is to get back on track with appetite and eating. Not easy, but not impossible. Most of my time in my kitchen has been spent arranging my mason jars and getting the decor just right, but today, I decided to make a little step forward. I had a cucumber from my Tiny’s CSA. I had a Bittman recipe for his favorite kosher dills—vinegar-free, which is right up my vinegar-odor-loathing alley. His recipe calls for two pounds of cucumbers, but I’m living in this lovely little apartment all by myself and have one ten-ounce cucumber, so I adjusted the amounts and method to fit my newly-improved little life. The salty brine is close enough to pretzels to help me transition. I messed up the first batch, making it too salty (but otherwise bomb), so the recipe below is the careful adjustment. They’re brining on the counter right now. Whether they’re any good, we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ve got a good feeling.