This past week I learned that May was Celiac Awareness Month. Upon discovering this, I thought how appropriate it was. May is the month that I decided to start my blog, the month in which Chris and I finally began to visit the GF restaurants in our city, and most importantly the month that I've really begun to get in touch with what this new lifestyle really means to me.
In addition to helping me to feel well physically, being gluten-free has introduced me to a new way of eating, of thinking about food and the way I cook. I currently have over half a dozen different types of GF flour in my cupboard. Non-GF baking always has seemed (and still does) to me an untouchable science. I knew what each ingredient did, why it was important and that the way in which it was added was often even more crucial. The thought of straying from a recipe any farther than adding a new flavor extract or folding in a bag of chocolate chips, however, made me uneasy.
Now, I can't wait to experiment, to dive off the edge of recipes and transform them into something vastly different. I cannot wait to fail, to see my creations emerge from the oven imperfect so I can then contemplate what could be added or eliminated to make them better. Being a lifelong perfectionist, this is new ground for me. And it excites me more and more every day.
I love finding myself in this, love redefining my relationship with food, and I love sharing it with all the wonderful people in my life.
This morning we hosted a GF brunch to celebrate our little Nilla's first birthday. As much as the gathering was for our deserving pup (she acquired many new toys and lots of delicious treats!), it was also an opportunity to spend time and share food with a handful of our close friends.
Today was one of those days. One of those days where I rolled in and out of bed in a half-sleeping stupor, forcing myself up every nine minutes to tap the alarm clock yelping harshly on the dresser, for well over an hour. One of those days when, after waking, I couldn't help but settle onto the couch with a tired pup snuggled into my cheek for another twenty minutes more before finally dragging myself into the shower. One of those days where, even having replaced my usual weekday-morning green tea with a more weekendly cup of coffee, I just couldn't seem to clear the fog in my head and gain momentum into my busy day.
It was one of those days where I found myself longing for comfort food.
I wanted something warm and beefy, a stew perhaps, or maybe something with noodles or cream or cheese.... And then, someone was kind enough to retweet someone else's link to these quinoa-corn muffins. Many people serve cornbread with chili or barbecue, but when I was young, it somehow happened that we always had cornbread with beef stroganoff. Back then, of course, the cornbread came in those pressurized, cardboard cans that never failed to give me a partial heart attack each time I tore one open, and the stroganoff came in a box with egg noodles and a pouch of flavored powder--just add a pound of ground beef and you had dinner. I can only imagine how much gluten was packed into that meal....
Dietary restrictions aside, I've reached a place in my life where I prefer to use as many recognizable, pronounceable ingredients as possible. I find the process to be more engaging, the end result to be more rewarding and definitely more satisfying. So tonight I would try my hand at a homemade beef stroganoff and freshly baked quinoa-corn muffins.
Anyone who has ever practiced yoga, meditation, or studied the eastern religions is likely familiar with this salutation. One can find many variations on the translation, but my personal favorite is, "The light within me honors the light within you."
I first encountered the word nearly four years ago when I started practicing Bikram yoga in a funky, steamy studio on the lower east side. The woman who owned the studio had short, spiked pink hair and nearly everyone that practiced there had at least one tattoo. Participants ranged from petite and tautly muscled women to tall, round men. We came from all over the city, for many different reasons, to sweat and stretch and breathe here together, sometimes packed so tightly that our mats were mere inches apart. I still recall it fondly as one of the most open and welcoming places I've been in this city, and, looking back, it seems quite appropriate that we finished each of our hour and a half long sessions by honoring each other in unison, "Namaste."
When I began living gluten-free and seeking out alternative food options, I was instantly brought back to the hours spent in that studio upon discovering Namaste Foods. What a wonderful name for a company dedicated to producing products free of not only gluten, but many other allergens. On the About Us page of their website they explain, "The essence of the phrase is simply that the best part of me wishes you well. And we do wish you well. In seeking to offer you delicious allergen-free foods, we nourish the body. In nourishing the body, we hope to help nourish the mind and the spirit so you can enjoy optimum health."
Last night Chris (the aforementioned "food-loving, Italian boyfriend") and I went out on what was probably our first date night since Valentine's Day. It was a beautiful spring Friday in New York City, the air taking on a pleasant warmth after a few days of sporadic rain, and it felt good to walk. We were both able to leave work before 7pm--a rare occurrence for either of us--and decided to head down to Bistango, an Italian restaurant on 29th and 3rd offering options for the gluten-free.
Over the past few months, Chris and I have compiled a list of all the GF-friendly restaurants in the city that we could find, and this is the first one that we've been able to try. It's difficult to find time to go out just the two of us. We both tend to work very long hours and are often too tired to even consider anything other than falling into the comfort of our apartment at the end of the day. That and we have a furry little baby waiting very patiently for us to come home, give her lots of hugs and kisses, and take her for a walk. And I suppose there's also that pesky economy, the fact that eating at home is considerably cheaper, and that I enjoy cooking as much as I do. In any case, it felt especially wonderful to give ourselves an evening out together.
Bistango is located amidst the pubs and cute, ecelctic dining spots that line 3rd Ave. The atmosphere is classy and inviting. Clean, white tablecloths contrast against the vibrant red walls and a series of contemporary, high-contrast portraits create a funky focal point. It was slightly windy at the time that we walked up, or we would have likely opted for two of the bright orange chairs on the sidewalk outside. Instead, we headed to the back of the restaurant and settled into the table closest to the kitchen.
One of the first things that people ask upon learning that I cannot eat gluten is, "What can you eat?" Being gluten free automatically disqualifies anything made with wheat, barley, rye, as well as a surprising array of additional options from one's diet. It's hidden everywhere, disguised in various additives, lost in the unpronounceable list of ingredients in nearly all processed foods. I found out the hard way that even soy sauce--of all things!--contains gluten. It turns out wheat is the second ingredient. Wheat? Yes, wheat.
Going gluten free has certainly been a learning experience, however, it hasn't been the nightmare of deprivation that I think many people assume it to be. Yes, it has eliminated many things from my diet, but I have felt better knowing that I can't pick off the brownie tray that occasionally materializes in the office kitchen and that my afternoon snack can no longer consist of one of the many packaged goodies that used to beckon around 3pm. I mean, don't get me wrong--it's not all fruits and veggies....
For nearly everything that you can imagine that you would miss, there is a GF alternative. Or one can be created. Since eating this way graces me with so many other benefits, perhaps I am a bit biased when I say that many of these alternatives are equally as good or better than their non-GF counterparts. My own prejudices aside though, the gluten-tolerant in my life, including the man for whom I make dinner every night, tend to agree.
Of late, this is has been the eager recommendation from many of my closest friends:
"You should start a blog!"
Several months ago, however, it was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes at the mere mention of the word. Blogging was something I never fully understood, and I operated under the assumption that it was no more than a pointless exercise in narcissism. How could what is essentially a publicly accessible diary serve any other function? Who really cares what I have to say?
But, as is the case with most misconceptions, I formed all of these ideas before I'd ever actually read a blog.
And here I am now, writing my own. Who'd-a-thunk?
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Nearly four months ago, sometime around mid-January, I found myself stretched out stiffly on a hospital bed, crammed into a narrow and busy hallway in an NYC emergency room. After nine hours on my back, x-rays, a CT scan, and three different doctors, I was discharged without even a fraction of an explanation for the excruciating pain that caused me to drag myself there in the first place. The male nurse that pulled my IV out before handing me my walking papers had said unhelpfully, "It was probably just gas." I smiled politely and nodded, resisting the urge to lunge at him screaming. I'd lost count of how many times and to how many different people I'd explained my symptoms since walking in the door, and didn't care to run through my entire history yet again. The lack of communication coupled with this ridiculous game of Musical Medical Care Professionals is just one of the many problems with our health care system, but I digress....
I have had stomach pain for longer than I can truly remember, and by now I know the difference between gas pain and the pain that I was having that day (considering I've had plenty of both over the years). In trying to relate my story to friends, or even in recalling it to myself, I find I have difficulty nailing down exactly when the pain began. Five or six years ago seems to be right--I know it's been that long at least. It was always a sharp and somewhat constant pain, like an intense cramping or slicing from the inside out. I felt full, bloated, like I couldn't pull my abdominals in without pressing against the sharp point of whatever was poised within my stomach. And, likely touching on the edge of TMI for those of you who are conservative or don't care to know me quite that well, I was always constipated. I'd go days, sometimes a week or more, without being able to go to the bathroom. It became bad enough that, on one occasion, I actually threw up because my body simply couldn't hold anything more.
"Didn't you go to the doctor?" I'm sure many of you are asking. Nope. As difficult as it may be to believe, I thought this was normal.