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TND – Irrational Fears

May 25, 2011

Some people are afraid of clowns. Some people have nightmares that one day their friends will suggest them as a contestant for “What Not to Wear”. I double check that the front door is locked before I go to bed even if I’ve just watched someone else lock it. I also sometimes wake up at 2am thinking that I’ve heard the doorbell ring. I then lie there for 10 minutes wondering whether (a) I hallucinated it; (b) it’s a really polite serial killer; (c) one of our friends having a crise de foie; or (d) someone who has been attacked, made it as far as our front door and managed to ring the doorbell but can’t go any further and when I leave in the morning to catch the bus I’ll discover a dead body on the doorstep and feel really guilty about how I didn’t get up to check. Then I usually roll over and go back to sleep.

Mostly, however, what I live in abject fear of is developing a food restriction – lactose intolerance, celiac disease, adult onset diabetes. I am not, as far as I know, in any particular danger of developing any of these things, and honestly I blame my mother for this particular hysterical tendency. Why do I blame my mother? Two reasons. One, as a child any time I had a stomach ache that lasted for more than a day or so my mother would start worrying out loud that it was appendicitis. What was particularly bemusing about this was that despite this being an apparently recurring fear of hers, she could never actually remember on which side of the body the appendix was located. Clearly marginally informed irrational fears are hereditary. Secondly, she periodically obsesses about developing one and/or all of these things (usually adult onset diabetes) and passes it on to me via email.

Just the thought of having to restrict my diet – having to give up cheese or, heaven forbid, bread – is enough to make me break out in mental hives. A couple of months ago my roommate and I went out to dinner with someone who is gluten intolerant, which I think has to be one of the worst allergies/intolerances to have. With shellfish or nut or dairy allergies there are bound to be 2-3 things on any given menu that you can eat, or you usually ask the chef to leave off an allergy laden garnish. Gluten, on the other hand, is not only essentially one of the four basic food groups, but it also turns up in the oddest things, like ketchup, and deli meats and lipstick.

We played a few rounds of who can be more accommodating where we asked if there was anywhere in particular she wanted to eat given her food restrictions, and she replied that we should pick somewhere that we wanted to eat because she could always find something on the menu. While I’m sure that this is true, making her do so when I’m as capable of googling gluten-free dining options in Boston as the next girl is as much an anathema to me as wearing white shoes after Labor Day or wearing black to a wedding. To give credit where credit is due (particularly since I just blamed her for something else), this is totally my mother’s doing.

Thanks to a greater and greater awareness in the US of food allergies/restrictions (fueled I suspect equally by law suits and advocacy groups), googling gluten free dining options not only gives you a list of national chains who have a range of gluten free items on their menus, but also gives you local restaurants. We ended up at Elephant Walk which is a Cambodian-French fusion restaurant that my roommate and I had been wanting to go to anyway. It was not only as tasty as the menu suggested it would be, it also had an entire gluten free section of the menu so our companion had a wide range of menu choices and wasn’t just stuck with the one thing she’d be able to eat. I highly recommend it whatever your dietary requirements.

As I was writing this I realized that this week’s Dinner did actually appear to be gluten free. This wasn’t deliberate, just a random coincidence. Out of idle curiosity I ran a google search on every ingredient I used in this week’s Dinner to see if it was actually as gluten free as it seemed at first glance. The answer is, yes and no. Gluten lurks in weird places. It gets used as a flavor enhancer in a lot of balsamic vinegars (on the tomatoes), as a thickener in some mayonnaises (potato salad/broccoli slaw), as an emulsifier in some mustards (potato salad/carrottes râpées), and in some brands of root beer for who knows what purpose (the barbeque sauce). With a little research this could be a gluten free menu, but what I served last night probably wasn’t (particularly since even if my mayo and mustard are gluten free brands I’m sure I’ve cross contaminated them with a bread crumb laden knife at some point).

I have a running list in my head of the things that the people I feed regularly are allergic to, and what the exceptions are – i.e. one friend is allergic to all things marine, but Worcestershire sauce is okay because the amount of anchovy that it contains and the quantities in which one generally uses it are low enough not to trigger her allergy. And, because I both live in the US and cook for people who do have allergies I’m probably more aware of the sources of the big allergens than some people, but I am by no means hyper aware of them. I’m conscientious about sourcing my fruits and vegetables (note to coworker, this doesn’t make me vegan, it just makes me pretentious), but the idea of having to read the label of every product I buy for potential allergens is just exhausting to contemplate. So yes, developing a dietary restriction is my recurring nightmare – along with discovering I have an expired passport. Now that is a fear I will actually get out of bed at 4am to alleviate; shows where my priorities lie.

Potato Salad
Broccoli Slaw
Chicken with Root Beer Barbeque Sauce
Carottes Râpées
Tomatoes

Potato Salad
This week’s dinner was all about how late last week one of the places we cater office lunches from brought us a free lunch (presumably for being such good customers) which included potato salad. I tried a forkful because I was holding out a vain hope that it would taste as good as it looked. Why I was holding on to this hope I’m not sure since I don’t like most potato salads, and I’m not particularly fond of the food from the caterer in question in general. Predictably, the potato salad was, heavy and oily and exhibited no discernible potato flavor. It did, however, leave me craving good potato salad. For the record, mine was so much better, if I do say so myself (even if I couldn’t get a good picture of it).

Recipe previously given: You Want Me To Do What?

Broccoli Slaw
Also, I’ve been kind of craving this slaw recently. With this plus the potato salad I was more than halfway to a Dinner menu, and the chicken was kind of a gimme at that point.

Recipe previously given: Each Peach Pear Raspberry?

Chicken with Root Beer Barbeque Sauce

Recipe previously given: Seasonal Ennui

Carottes Râpées
Acid and crunch to balance the sweet of the barbeque sauce and the creamy of the broccoli slaw and the potato salad.

Recipe previously given: Stuck a Feather In His Cap

Tomatoes
Out of season and imported from Canada, and I don’t care.

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