Goats Are My Heroes; Or, How What I Don’t Know Keeps Biting Me

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Recently, Shaunta posted about the problems she was having adhering to a gluten-free diet, and it got me thinking about my own situation. During the last six months, I have not intentionally eaten anything gluten-filled (nor have I knowingly eaten anything else on my own personal Sick List) — and considering how much I loved the living shit out of all kinds of gluteny goodies, that’s pretty danged good. Credit given, head patted, oh goody joy.

However. There have been plenty of times when I didn’t look carefully enough, and then got glutened. Back in December, I joked to a friend that I wished someone could “double-blind” me and maybe slip me soy sauce when I thought I was eating tamari or something, that way I’d know this wasn’t all in my head. Well, it ain’t no joke, I’ve “double-blinded” myself plenty since then, and let’s just say that if there were still pay toilets out there, I’d probably be broke by now. Let’s see. There was the yummy dessert tea (Almond Sunset), which turned out to have barley in it. There was the store-bought mole sauce, which had frigging wheat crackers as an ingredient. There was that oh-so-delicious house-made root beer at a local pub…yep, barley again, dammit. There was the oatmeal (*coughMcCann’scough*) processed at an oats-only facility, but likely cross-contaminated during transport. Oh, and don’t even get me started about the number of times I’ve ordered fried food in restaurants without asking if they fried their wings or potatoes in the same oil that they did their onion rings or chicken tenders in, or if any of those things were dusted with wheat flour before cooking. And even when I did get confirmation about a wings-only fryer, I neglected to ask if the jerk sauce I was about to order had gluten in it…ayup.

Why does this keep happening? What’s the point of adopting a special diet if all I’m going to do is cross my fingers and pray that what I just ate doesn’t have any sickmakers in it? I might not make myself ill as often, but if the purpose of this is not to get sick at all by my own doing, I’m falling down on the job. Pretty much literally.

Part of this, I think, goes back to the constant admonitions I experienced as a kid that I was being weird and difficult and a pain in the ass and people were tired of hearing my annoying voice and answering my dopey questions. In Gluten-Free Girl’s book, she talks about not wanting to seem like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, that woman who drove waitstaff and dinner companions to poo-flinging monkeyhood by asking for sauces on the side and things warmed up to just the right temperature. Yep. I’ve had that thought, too — I don’t want to be one of those people, picky picky picky, it’s just food, damn it, one meal out of your life, cook it yourself if you want it just so. Only it’s not just for a meal that I might not find exactly to my liking, it’s for a meal that might well put me out of commission for the rest of that day, and maybe the next day, too, maybe even longer.

So yeah. I have to be one of those people, if I don’t want to get sick. I have to. And that also means limiting my restaurant options to places I know for sure are nontoxic for me, and potentially foregoing stuff I might really like, because it’s not safe for me to eat it, even if the ingredients look okay on paper. Same goes for food at parties, conferences, other people’s homes, whatever. That’s the other mondo sucko part of this. Not that I don’t enjoy cooking, and do lots of it, because I do. But I don’t want to cook 21 meals a week from scratch week in and week out, okay? I just don’t. Who does? So that pretty much means that before I go anywhere, or have anything delivered to me, I have to, underline HAVE TO, do my homework. Call them ahead of time if need be, to make sure that what I’m about to put in my mouth will make it past Checkpoint Charlie at the entrance to my belleh. Ugh. I just have to remember that I’m not the first person in the world to ask them about the gluten (or dairy, etc.), every restaurant gets calls like that all the time. They won’t hang up on me.

Not, of course, that a little experimentation is necessarily bad, because that’s how I find out what I actually can have. Which brings me to the goats — or more specifically, their milk. Since I started accumulating lists of No foods, I pretty much assumed that all dairy products were off limits to me, because I had such terrible problems with anything having to do with cow’s milk (exception: clarified butter, which has no milk solids). But after about five months of total dairy abstention, during which I tried pretty much every vegan cheese substitute there was to try and hated all of them except Daiya mozzarella (which still feels a little weird going down, for reasons I’ve yet to quantify), I finally broke down and bought a small piece of chevre at Trader Joe’s and said, “What the hell, if I can’t eat this, I’ll pass it on to someone who can.” Y-reka! It was SO GOOD. None of that plasticky, rubbery taste I’d been suffering through, and my stomach felt fantastic after eating it. Oh, man, did I ever miss cheese.

And from there, you know what I did? I bought a quart of goat’s milk. And I made some damn mac and goat cheddar cheese (with Ancient Harvest corn/quinoa elbows). Heaven on a fork, and my tummy was so pleased with me! Then I made a milkshake with the goat’s milk and some Tempt hemp-milk chocolate frozen dessert. YUM-MEEE! And I could make my beloved Siamese Chicken Curry with Broccoli and Peanuts, which I’ve made for over two decades and which always tasted “off” when using milk subs, and it was just how I remembered it. And oh, the goat cheeses and sheep cheeses that were out there for me to have. A Brie-like soft cheese that I could have with my gluten-free King Arthur bread! Some ricotta (goat) which I combined with Pecorino Romano (sheep) to make eggplant freaking Parmesan! So two of my former “regular rotation” recipes came back to me, just like that. (Cow’s milk in any form continues to be a no-no; I had some butter the other day, just a small amount, and my stomach gave me the finger.)

So now artisan cheese, or at least some of it, can be part of my life again. If only someone would make a great gluten-free artisan bread…

Happy Musical Blast From the Past: The Rubberband Man

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Because I thought we could all use one. I know I could.

This is a live performance of the 1976 smash hit (#2 pop, #1 Hot Soul in Billboard) by the Spinners (The Detroit Spinners in the UK) featuring the late, magnificent Philippe Wynne on lead vocal, as shown on the 1970s US TV series, The Midnight Special. According to The Billboard Book of #2 Hits (yes, such a thing exists, although they only did it once), Thom Bell and his lyricist, the late Linda Creed, wrote it to cheer up Bell’s son, who was being picked on at school for his weight. It’s all about a “short fat guy” who uses a giant rubberband to make funky music. (Lyrics here.) Check out the rubberband dance action at the finale!