NANOWRIMO, Gluten Poisoning, & More

It’s been a while since I’ve visited with my own thoughts. Chief among the reasons was NANOWRIMO. I didn’t win this year, but I think I have the start of a very promising novel. I’ll come back to the novel sometime in the future. Anyhow, the combination of work and NANOWRIMO didn’t leave much time for anything else.

Plus, I celebrated the week of Thanksgiving with my family. And the festivities ended with me winding up unintentionally poisoned. Over the years, I’ve almost come to expect getting sick after a visit with my family. Despite my persistent warnings about the severity of my intolerance, my mom still thinks it’s ok if I have “just a little” soy or gluten. But my mom wasn’t even the one that left the crumb trail on Friday morning. At least, from what I can hypothesize, I got sick from the once-gluten-free spring rolls that were placed next to a whole tray full of various breads. I’m guessing between the shared utensils and the multiple hands touching the food and the bread crumbs scattered all over the table that I devoured a bunch of gluten-contaminated spring rolls. The day quickly turned into a Black Friday, indeed.

I did briefly think I’d been lucky and that I’d managed to escape with a dermatitis herpetiformis blister under my nose. I plowed through the weekend, thinking I could stave off any further illness. But come Tuesday morning(4 days after gluten contact) I was delirious, feeling slightly feverish, and had an achy lump under my chin. My gluten sensitivity seems to harshly affect my lymphatic system. My immune system launches into hyperdrive and launches a full assault on itself. The achy lump was an enlarged lymph node that turned into a hard mass, almost like I had developed an Adam’s apple (in an anatomically incorrect location, but close enough). The lump protruded into my airway, causing my voice to go hoarse and my breathing to become more laborious.

I was miserable. And then my body just gave out on me. I fell into a restless comatose-like state for 36 hours or so. I didn’t eat or even drink much. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt so horrible. Even now, more than a week after the first contact with gluten, I still feel like I’m recovering from the flu. The lump under my chin just disappeared yesterday. My appetite is just starting to return, and I’m feeling like a functional human being again. So here’s to hoping everyone else’s holidays are safe and happy and gluten-free!

How To Live GF/SF In Large Groups

Living with lots of people in a family-style arrangement definitely has its moments of strain and tension. However, the best benefit of living with around a dozen people is having a dozen different cooks in the kitchen, with varying taste buds and specialized dishes. And, unfortunately, that same benefit is the worst/most feared thing for a gluten and soy intolerant individual, having a dozen different people constantly handling all the food.

Despite my reservations on this point, I’m finding that it’s not as bad as I’d feared. Everyone is aware of my dietary restrictions. I’ve put up a sign in the kitchen that lists my intolerances and my allergies. It’s not entirely comprehensive, but I think everyone gets the point that there are things I mostly shouldn’t eat, and things I definitely can’t eat. But even better, they ask me if it’s ok if they use this or that when making group meals. It’s a relief to be able to chow down without worrying about dying on a regular basis.

I have also had to educate the family on the possibilities of cross-contamination, which can be just as deadly as eating a slice of whole wheat bread. And it may be that I’m just not as sensitive as I have been, but I still haven’t gotten sick. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to eat a wide variety of very tasty dishes, many of which were prepared gluten/soy free especially for me.

LYFE Kitchen

My LYFE Kitchen interaction has been threefold in the past week. I went for brunch last Thursday, and had a pretty good meal with great company. I ordered the Farmer’s Market Frittata with a mocha. It wasn’t the most flavorful frittata I’ve had, but it was pretty good. And as far as I could elicit from the server behind the register, the frittata is gluten-free (most times I don’t ask about soy because it just makes them confused). And the mocha was just the standard mocha. All in all, it was pretty standard organic fare for a decent price.

What I really like about the place is the decor and ambiance. I wish I had a living room that felt like that. There’s an openness and airiness to the place, and there are plants and herbs growing strategically throughout the restaurant. And their bathroom sinks are cool. I know none of these things really have an effect on how good the food is, but it does showcase the creators’ aesthetic capabilities. And sometimes the best thing about food is how yummily pretty it is.

Well, the second interaction came when I was walking through Target on Saturday. I happened to glance into the frozen food cases, and what do I see but LYFE Kitchen’s logo on some boxes. It took a moment to register where I’d seen the logo before, but once I did, I was very intrigued. Not that I would buy it, but it’s interesting how they’ve diversified.

My last interaction was dinner tonight. I’d planned to meet NI at another restaurant, but to my chagrin, found out the restaurant is closed on Sundays once I got to the place. Oh, the horrors! So, I quickly devised a backup plan that included LYFE Kitchen, because I was curious to know about their dinner meals. I ordered the roasted salmon, and NI ordered the unfried chicken. My salmon was ok at first, but then I got the subtle hint of fennel in the 3rd or 4th bite, and then I was smitten. The fennel added something to the salmon that brought out different flavors. NI really liked her chicken. She thought she had ordered the gardein chicken, but she couldn’t be sure. Either way, we left feeling pretty happy with our meal. And I think we agreed that we’d both be back.

Things I Don’t Understand – The Movie

I had the pleasure of watching Things I Don’t Understand with one of the stars, Grace Folsom, at the Lady Filmmakers Film Festival. Though I enjoyed watching the movie with Grace, I almost wish I had watched it by myself. I would probably have enjoyed a cathartic bawl throughout the storytelling, if I’d been alone.

This movie was completely engrossing, and the characters were portrayed so convincingly I did shed a, hopefully discreet, tear or two. The other leading actress, Molly Ryman, has Jennifer Lawrence-esque qualities. She’s got that fresh-faced appeal that barely masks the talent brimming within. As Violet, Molly challenges everything around her–death, eviction, love, desperation, and all the other unfair pains of life.

And Grace was almost unrecognizable as the terminally ill Sarah. I empathized with her character the most, which I think is telling of her ability to emote and connect with her audience on the other side of the screen. And after years of volunteering with a hospice organization, I am truly impressed by how convincingly Grace plays a dying girl. Though, come to think of it, that may also be why I empathize with Sarah the most.

And don’t worry, I’m not giving away any of the plot line by letting you know that Sarah’s dying. She enters the story specifically for that reason.

The only minor drawback for me was Parker. He’s very nice to look at, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the actor’s performance, and I just couldn’t connect with the character. However, even he has a few great scenes.

Things I Don’t Understand, directed by David Spaltro, has won several awards at various film festivals. And for good reason. The film is expected to hit theaters on Halloween–it’s a great alternative to trick-or-treating.

5th Annual Lady Filmmakers Film Festival

I was pleasantly surprised by almost all aspects of this film festival. The one thing I was not surprised by was the turnout. I would guess there were between 60-80 people at any given time. However, in all other respects, this itty bitty film festival had a lot of heart and some outstanding films. I’ll have to cover some of the shorts and feature lengths in another post. But, I just wanted to say that the Aidikoff theater has some amazingly comfortable seats. The theater only seats 60 people, but the seats are so cushy and relaxing I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go to a movie theater’s hard and uncomfortable seats again. I’ll even admit to dozing off in one of the seats (during a break, of course).

I can’t wait to see what they have for next year’s lineup!

True Foods Kitchen

True Foods Kitchen is one of the rare chain restaurants I feel totally confident eating in. They have allergen-free offerings listed very clearly. And the foods without gluten are always made without gluten, versus restaurants that have plates that can be made without gluten. The soy may be a little harder to catch, but I still think it’s worth it. I visited their location in Santa Monica.

Their Pomegranate Limeade is good. Not the best variety of limeade I’ve ever had, but it’s definitely refreshing on a hot summer day. I’ve heard their other drinks are delicious, but I have yet to try them. Judging from my 2-year-old niece’s face, the hot version of The Natural was tasty, but the Cucumber Refresher was something she could live without. Next time I plan on trying either the Medicine Man or the Watermelon Lemonade.

In terms of meals, I tried the Chicken Sausage Pizza on GF crust. It was pretty decent, but not outstandingly memorable. But then again, I devoured it without really taking the time to savor the different elements on my taste buds because I was on my 1-hour lunch break. Plus, I had to help feed/entertain my rambunctious niece. Next time, I’m going to try their Margherita Pizza.

The other dish I tried and absolutely loved was their Turkey Lasagna. It was very flavorful, with a little kick. The “noodles” were formed with corn tortillas. It was something I’d definitely order again.

Overall, the food is great, the service is good, and they have easily cleanable, bouncy, booth-like seats in case you have hyper toddlers in tow. The prices are on the higher side, but I’d gladly pay extra for the comfort of my GF/SF mind.

Ala Al Deen

I missed my usual posting because I was in a perpetual state of food coma this weekend. And let me tell you why. The source of the problem (or the delightful cause to such a glorious state, depending on your perspective) is that I love Ala Al Deen, and apparently I can’t get enough of Joe’s cooking. I love Ala Al Deen so much that I ate Joe’s soft and savory chicken twice in one weekend. To be more specific I ate crunchy, delicious falafels 2 meals in a row. I ate so much food I couldn’t eat breakfast. Here’s a glimpse of the food I heartily consumed: rice, Arabic salad, hummus, baba ghanouj, garlic tahini, falafels, chicken, kufta, and shish kebabs. I did this Saturday night and again for lunch on Sunday. And I downed it all with some hot, fragrant, naturally sweet-tasting black tea.

Yes, I’m a glutton for great GF, SF food. If there was an anonymous meeting for that, I’d happily join. You can’t beat a solid, home-cooked meal made in someone else’s kitchen. Plus, one of these days, my hope is to wrangle the secret recipe for Joe’s chicken and falafels from someone in the know.

Yum! My mouth is literally drooling with the thought of all that delicious food. And if you’re gluten-free, just let Joe or anyone on staff know. They will tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat. And the list of gluten-filled food is pretty simple: pita bread (which they don’t make in house, so very little loose flour flying about), tabbouleh, kibbeh, and their bread-based desserts. Almost everything else is GF and SF. If you’re headed over, save me a spot! I’d hate to miss out!

Mustard-y Chebe Bread

Since I’ve gone gluten-free and soy-free, I’ve found that my bread cravings don’t get the fix that they deserve. There are 2 reasons for this. First, most gluten-free breads are pretty expensive. Unfortunately, I don’t see a solution for this problem, except buying rice flour and tapioca flour in bulk and taking the time to make bread at home, with no guarantee of a yummy, delicious result. And, at that point, I’d rather just pay the extra money to purchase the already-made GF bread. The second reason is most gluten-free bread is about as dense as brick and just about as tasty. There are, however, a few brands that I’ve enjoyed that are worth the extra expense. Katz Gluten Free and Udi’s are the two exceptions I’ve come across. And there’s one brand that sells a reasonably priced bread mix that I’ve come to rely upon when I decide I want to take the extra effort and bake the bread at home–Chebe.

Original

In an effort to eat something different, something healthier (and also to use the mustard greens I’d accidentally purchased), I decided to try mixing mustard greens and Chebe Original Cheese Bread mix. It was a great mix, and one that I’ll definitely be doing in the future!

IMG_3274I chopped the mustard greens into pieces as small as I could get them. Then I wilted the chopped greens in light oil (until they turned a darker green). For the bread mix, I followed the instructions on the box. After the dough had been thoroughly mixed, I added in the optional Parmesan cheese and the mustard greens. I stuck them in the preheated oven (375 degrees Fahrenheit) and waited for 20-25 minutes (per the directions on the box). Out popped these scrumptious, nutritious bite-size bread balls. Yum! I can’t wait to make some more!

Golden Mean

Golden Mean Vegan Cafe, Santa Monica, CA

Unfortunately, if I were on Yelp rating this restaurant, I think I’d have to give it 2 stars. Not because the food was bad, but instead of giving me the gluten-free cactus wrap as I’d asked, I got the spinach-wheat wrap. I didn’t realize it til I was halfway through my meal. It also took us an unusually long time to get our food–about 40 minutes.

What keeps the place from getting a 1 is Golden Mean’s selection of GF foods is great, and SF/GF is labeled pretty clearly. And the food tastes pretty good. Plus, we were offered a free GF dessert in effort to pacify us for the long wait.

All things being considered, would I go back? I’m not sure. The risk of having to wait or getting gluten-ated again makes Golden Mean much less desirable. I felt like I had a cold for 3 days after, but I recovered quickly enough. Though, I would have preferred not to have been exposed at all, in the first place. I hate to say I’d rather go to a chain instead, but I do think I’d have more luck at Chipotle. And with the option of eating meat or vegan, I’d choose meat.

A Confession

I’m drinking again. Apparently, one of the inconveniences I can’t live without is coffee. I made it about 3 weeks without a single drop of coffee. And now I’m back to consuming about 1/2 a cup a day. It could be worse, I suppose. So far, with this small dose I’m not feeling any of the symptoms from before. But I’m sure it’ll only be another week or so before I’m back to 2 cups a day.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that I’m only drinking decaf. Which makes it even more apparent to me that it’s not a physical addiction I’m fighting, but rather a purely psychological battle. What can I say? Nothing beats sipping a warm cup of coffee in a cold office with the computer whirring away in the background.

Perhaps I should consider starting CAA (Coffee Addicts Anonymous). But I don’t think it’d be so anonymous, because everyone in the building seems to consume large amounts of the stuff. There seems to be something synonymous with coffee and writing and/or creativity. There’s a reason every Starbucks is brimming with patrons. Regardless, I can’t seem to keep away. I just get sucked right back in.

And so my obsession with coffee continues.