My Story begins like this:
I love food.
Most likely not any more than the average person. I don't cook at home. I don't shop organically. I don't go to farmers markets or produce stands. I don't watch the food network. I don't follow famous chefs the way an overzealous tween follows Robert Pattenson's every move. I'm not a "foodie," and, subsequently, find the term a bit irritating. But I do love food.
For most people, this is an off-the-cuff statement you might make without even thinking twice. Much like people say "Oh I love this song" or "I love your hair like that," the fact that someone loves food, loves to eat, to consume nutrients for nourishment and sustainability, is about as earth-shattering as converting oxygen into carbon dioxide or blinking your eyelids.
For someone with, as my dear friend Ben likes to say, a "food handicap," finally being able to say these words, and mean them, can be life changing.
I wish I got great parking with my food handicap. A sticker on the back of my Toyota Yaris that would allow me to pull in front of any Whole Foods maybe?
When I was sixteen years old, I was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue, a genetic, autoimmune disease which prevents my body from being able to break down gluten, the stuff in wheat that makes bread spongey. I'm not going to go into the specifics of the disease because I figure, if you are reading this blog, you probably have it, or are related to, dating, or trying to sleep with someone who does. In my experience, those are really the only people that feel the need quiz me on the specifics of the disease. Long and the short of it is, wheat, oats, barley and rye are OUT.
The first few years were tough. Not Lifetime-Original-Movie tough; believe me, there are way worse things to be diagnosed with. But it takes a serious shift in mindset and lifestyle to literally think about every single thing you put in your mouth. Little things become huge milestones: finding a pasta substitute, eating a slice of pizza that doesn't suck, finding a bread substitute that doesn't crumble into a billion pieces.
And then there's the bigger things. Finding a restaurant that you trust not to kill you. Finding beer. Finding dinner rolls. Finding sandwiches.
Like I said, for the first few years, it's really more about basic food survival. Relearning everything you ever knew about food since the first time your poor, oblivious mother put a little, poisonous deathtrap called a Cheerio into your hand and you fell in love. Seriously, thanks mom.
But once you master the basics, surprisingly, life goes on. Once you relearn how to like food, you get to learn how to love food again.
And that is where I am.
Writing this blog.
Because I feel that learning to love food when you are gluten-free is something that every Celiac should get to do. Because really, where is the fun in just liking food?
So I thought I would share my journey as I relearn how to love food.
Warning. Here be backstory.
The journey began at 217 Chestnut Street. I know where it began because I was in college and I needed a part time job and I walked by and stopped in and got a job hostessing for some guy I never heard of named Jose Garces. (Remember when I said I don't watch the food network?)
So anyway, I fell in love with this place called Amada. I worked there as a manager, and learned to love everything and everyone there. One of the things that I loved the most was being surrounded by all these people who LOVED food. Here's a little restaurant industry secret: I don't mean the guests. I don't mean the people who wait three months to get a reservation, or who spend $200 on dinner for two or who drink expensive wine and enjoy the Chef's Tasting Menu because it just sounds so damn chic.
I mean the employees.
I mean the managers who work fourteen hour days just so they can be exposed to some of the finest cooking in the city. I mean the servers who, if you actually take time to listen to them beyond the specials list, are some of the most well-versed people in the city about where to eat because anyone who is anyone who is "in the business" gets majorly hooked up everywhere they go. I mean the sous chefs who are probably the most dedicated, hardest working people I have ever met, next to the bussers and the dishwashers.
These people love food. They love food in a way I could never imagine loving food. They have an honest, and almost beautiful appreciation for the color, texture, mouth feel, and taste of a dish. They don't eat because they have to. They eat because they GET to. It is a privilege to partake in the simple pleasure of a dining experience.
I felt very out of place. For me, going out to dinner was as stressful as going to the dentist for a root canal. Explaining my allergy, trying to find something that would taste good modified to suit my dietary restrictions- these were hassles that I could very much have done without. Eating was something I did because if I didn't I would die, and that would suck.
I worked at Amada for two and a half years. In that time period, two of the best things in my life happened to me. I met my boyfriend, Aaron. And I fell in love. With food, I mean. (Sorry, hun).
Aaron is one of those people I was talking about. He is one of those people who has a fascinating (to me anyway) respect and appreciation for food. He cooks. Really well. He goes out to eat. Really well. He watches The Food Network (I know what channel it is now). When we first met, I thought, this is never going to work. Here's this guy whose eyes light up when he talks about the best meal he ever had the way mine do only when I see a pair of Christian Louboutins. And then there's me, whose friends have dragged her to Olive Garden to watch them eat unlimited breadsticks and fried and breaded everything as she pokes her crouton-less Ceasar Salad (yeah, thats lettuce and cheese) with a fork. It will never last.
I underestimated Aaron. He threw himself into the art of gluten-free cooking in a way that I have not seen since my father sought out on the quest to find the perfect rice pasta. I should add, my parents were incredibly supportive to both my sister and I. They bought us as many frozen Amy's macaroni and cheeses as we could eat for school lunches, and kept updated with all of the products and specialty stores. I cannot thank them enough for their support. Aaron was not simply trying to make gluten-free food, however. He became determined to create his favorite, most beloved dishes into little delectable offerings to the gluten-free food gods that I could partake in and worship the way he did. He also wanted me to be able to enjoy his other favorite past time: dining out. We have been on the quest to enjoy dining the way it was meant to be. We found restaurants who did more than tiptoe around my allergy, leaving out imperative ingredients to send out a sub-par dish with little more than a shrug and a "Thats what you get when you don't eat carbs." We found restaurants who created gluten-free dishes. Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes by mistake. But always, with one purpose: delicious food.
And so, in this extremely lengthy maifesto, it is my goal to enable others to learn to become Cibophiliac Celiacs*, and learn to love food. Again. And again and again and again.
So, here goes.
*AUTHOR'S NOTE: Those of you who are not Celiac, but gluten-sensitive, gluten-intolerant, or living a gluten-free lifestyle due to health issues, other diseases, or out of solidarity to a loved one are no exception. It just didn't rhyme.