“Can you have corn?”
“What about rice?”
“You can’t have pizza?!”
“Wait, what? A life without bread! And cupcakes!”
“Well that sucks! I’m sorry!”
“I’d just suffer and eat it anyway.”
“I wish someone told me I had to give up sweets/carbs/gluten.”
“Oh, we can’t share this, can we?”
“I don’t get it. What’s gluten?”
“So you have Celiac?”
“Ok, you’re just allergic to wheat then?”
If you’re gluten intolerant, or have Celiac disease, you’ve undoubtedly heard reactions like these throughout the course of your gluten-free life. In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed many meals with friends and family that haven’t dined with me since I made the change. I think my favorite reaction was when my aunt moved the basket of bread away from me, proclaiming, “Why should she have to smell that if she can’t have it?!” And each time someone reaches for a gluten-filled treat within my sight, they always dart me a sad expression and deliver a heartfelt apology.
While I truly appreciate this sympathy, I can’t help but laugh at the irony. What I think my friends and family still haven’t grasped is that I’m honestly not mourning the loss of the foods I can no longer eat, but instead celebrating what I’ve gained in quality of life. Plus, with each food that I find I can’t have, I get excited at the idea of experimenting to make a healthier version that I can enjoy. It’s forced me to evaluate everything that I put into my mouth, and frankly, that’s something all of us could probably use.
Now, this isn’t to say that my diagnosis hasn’t come with some letdowns or challenges. The hardest part for me is eating out with others. For years as a vegetarian, I hated when anyone would ask me where we could eat so that they could accommodate my diet. I could generally find several options at most restaurants, and I never wanted to be the reason for depriving someone else of a meal they wanted to enjoy. I’ve always told friends not to make a big deal out of my diet or go out of their way for me. This type of attention to my eating habits has now quadrupled. I try to insist I can eat anywhere, but the truth of the matter is, this really isn’t always the case. I try to pick places with fish, but that can get pricey after awhile (especially in an already high-priced area like New York City), not to mention boring. And several times I’ve arrived at a restaurant starving to realize that about the only thing I can eat is a salad. Sure, this keeps me healthier, but sometimes a girl just wants some filling gluten-free carbs (like after a wine-filled wedding… just saying).
The second—and biggest—challenge for me remains figuring out what’s safe while eating out. I visited my family over Labor Day weekend, and on one of the days, they asked me where this new, energetic Natalie they kept reading about was hiding. Part of it was the trip followed an extremely stressful week and a very thrown-off sleep schedule. But part of me wonders if I hadn’t been accidentally eating gluten along the way. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty busy and therefore, unfortunately, eating out often. I hadn’t really been doing that my first couple months of becoming gluten-free. I’ve started to grow more comfortable in asking my waiters for allergy menus and asking about ingredients. On two occasions, though, when I asked for a gluten-free menu, I was shocked and saddened by its sparse pickins. Several options that I definitely would have thought were safe were in fact not. It made me wonder how many times while eating out lately had I accidentally ingested gluten, as the truth is, I haven’t felt as awesomely energized as before (and had a few headaches). The one letdown that really did have me taking a step back was at Chili’s. I noticed their tortilla chips weren’t on the g-free menu. Anyone that knows me knows that if given the option, I could happily exist on nothing but chips and salsa. I’ve known that multigrain tortilla chips are out, but I’ve stupidly been assuming restaurants use 100% corn tortilla chips, particularly the places that make their own. If there were ever a food to mourn the loss of, this, for me, would be number one. I guess I better ask about those in the future too.
The big takeaway for me in the last few weeks has been that I need to stick to foods I truly know are safe when eating out and go back to cooking for myself a lot more. But also, I’m thankful for my supportive friends and family. I did wonder how some would react, or if they would question the validity of the whole thing, but everyone has been nothing but understanding. Some even step in, worried, and ask the wait staff questions themselves (I couldn’t help but laugh at the “is your pizza crust gluten-free” one. Wishful thinking!). Plus, at the end of the day, I can still enjoy many of my favorites (wine, hello). And for those that I can’t, there’s often an alternative. The easiest to alter: pasta… which brings me to a dish I made a few weeks ago and would happily make again.
Avocado Pesto Pasta
(Recipe from Oh She Glows. You know I was clearly drawn to the “15 minute” part!)
What you’ll need:
- 1 medium sized ripe Avocado, pitted
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1-3 garlic cloves, to taste (I am garlic happy, so I went with 3)
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh basil
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6 oz of your choice of g-free pasta (I used brown rice)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
What to do:
1. Cook pasta as directed.
2. As the pasta cooks, make the sauce by placing the garlic cloves, lemon juice, and olive oil into a food processor. Process until smooth. (I completely screwed this up by accidentally putting the avocado in too soon… I don’t recommend… as it takes way longer!) Now add in the pitted avocado, basil, and salt. Process until smooth and creamy. (I was so hungry, I forgot to take pictures of this part. Still learning!)
3. When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse in a strainer. Place pasta into a large bowl, pour on sauce, and toss until fully combined. Garnish with lemon zest (if desired) and black pepper. Serve immediately. Makes about 2 servings.