Thursday, November 17, 2011

Going all in

I think I’m allergic to gluten, my husband told me.
Really, I said. What makes you say that?
It’s these itchy bumps, he said. They’re on my elbows and my arms and legs.
Skeptical, I looked at his elbows. There were some red little bumps, but they looked harmless. How itchy could they be, really? Was he exaggerating a teensy bit in some kind of bid to get more attention? I’ll admit it can sometimes be hard for Dad to get heard above the daily din of life with three girls.
I looked it up online, he said. The bumps could be one of three things: psoriasis, scabies or a gluten allergy.
I don’t think it’s scabies, he said reassuringly.
That’s a relief, I said.
I think it’s a gluten allergy, he said. I talked to a doctor friend during my last poker game and he agrees with me, he said.
Hold on, I said. You got diagnosed at a poker game?
Yeah, he said. I’m going to go gluten-free to see if I can get rid of the itch.
Great. I’ve already got one daughter who won’t eat vegetables, another one who only eats plain pasta with “no green stuff,” and another who, depending on the day, is a vegetarian.
Now I’m supposed to cook gluten-free?
And what exactly is gluten, anyway? Is it in bread, or is it in potatoes? Is it a wheat thing or a starch thing?
I was hoping it wasn’t bread. I love bread. Sourdough, sweet rolls, pastry puffs, bagels, croissants, those soft chewy pretzels you get at the mall … the list goes on and on. It would be a cruel world without crunchy breadsticks and some nice garlic butter to dip them in.
Bad news. It turns out that gluten is a protein found in wheat, which is pretty much a key ingredient of bread. Bummer.
This “no gluten” thing threw meal planning for a loop, not to mention eating out.
A trip to a favorite fish-and-chips restaurant was a bust.
Yes, the fish is fried in batter, the server said.
A local burger joint could make a hamburger with a lettuce wrap instead of a bun, but it wasn’t quite the same.
Pasta, always a good go-to meal on a busy school night, was suddenly off the menu. So were the frozen pizza and potstickers I had in the freezer. And flour tortillas used for quesadillas or burritos.
I started paying more attention to food labels. There was some good news. Did you know that most Frito Lay chip products are gluten-free, including Doritos, Funyuns, Cheetos and Ruffles? Alas, chips alone do not make a meal.
Googling “gluten-free restaurants,” I came up with a café in Petaluma that offers gluten-free menu items, including pizza and beer.
Arriving at the café, we were presented with a menu. Besides pizza, they also served gluten-free bread and pasta dishes. Jackpot!
This is great, my husband said. I’ve been dying for some pizza. I’m getting the gluten-free beer too, he said excitedly.
When his beer arrived, we both took a sip.
Tastes like beer to me, I said.
Not bad, he said.
The pizza also got a thumbs-up. It was made with some kind of gluten-free flour substitute on a thin crust, but with plenty of cheese and meat.
The owner of the restaurant, who it turns out is gluten-intolerant, came over to say hello.
I put on my reporter hat. Do you get red itchy bumps on your elbows?, I asked. How big are they? How long have you been gluten-free? What are your other symptoms?
My husband gave me a look like I was embarrassing him.
Hey, if he could get diagnosed during poker, I could get a second opinion over pizza.

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