Sherpa’s Colon: Celiac

Yeah, so that’s weird. Sherpa’s colon. Talking about the colon is probably not among the things you do on a daily basis. But in our house, we talk about Sherpa’s belly pretty much daily. And it usually goes like this:

Me: “How is your belly?”

Sherpa: “Bad.”

Me: “WHY?”

Sherpa: “I don’t know.”

For some reason I take personal offense to this sometimes. I know it sounds crazy. I think it has to do with how concerned I am for his health and how hard we both work to make sure he doesn’t get glutened. I am constantly reminding him to ask restaurant servers about the way they prepare their food. We even set up a system for using the toaster so that his gluten-free bread doesn’t touch the shelf where I toast english muffins. But I wish I could do more to make sure he isn’t miserable all the time.

You probably have noticed a lot of gluten-free menu items popping up at restaurants lately. You might think this is a good thing, but take this story into consideration:

Recently our favorite local restaurant started offering gluten-free pasta. Huzzah! we thought, and Sherpa ordered gluten-free spaghetti and ate it with gusto – that is, until his fork unearthed a piece of regular penne. We asked the restaurant manager if they boiled ALL of the pasta in the same water, and it turned out that they did – they just hadn’t thought that made a difference. And this happens all the time.

The fact that there are a lot  of people embracing a gluten-free diet just because they don’t WANT to eat gluten is a blessing and a curse to the Sherpa. Just the other day someone emailed me a coupon for a restaurant who was launching gluten-free pizzas. I sent it to Sherpa, and the first thing he did was call the restaurant to ask how they bake the pizza. Then he told me that their response was that they “brush off” the racks in the oven before putting the gluten-free pizzas in. They just don’t know that for people with serious Celiac disease, that won’t work.

Sherpa and I have talked about how to respectfully communicate with restaurants about offering truly gluten-free foods. He put together a letter that I want to share here in case it is ever helpful to anyone out there wanting to write to a restaurant with some information. Here is the email he wrote to that pizza joint:

I just spoke with one of your employees about your new gluten-free pizza offerings. Thank you for making the effort to offer gluten-free products. I do have a concern about the way in which they are prepared. I was told that your pizzas are cooked on the same surface as regular pizzas after the oven had been brushed off. For those of us who have serious allergies to gluten, this will still cause an adverse reaction. I realize that gluten-free preparation is a new concept for most restaurants as I run into issues with accidental mistakes quite a bit. Actually, I was just at a restaurant that offered gluten free pasta and they were cooking it in the same water as regular pasta simply because they didn’t realize that would cause a problem. There are a ton of little “gotchas” that most people would not even think to ask about preparation of gluten-free meals and I’m sure those issues are magnified in a commercial setting. There is a great online course for restaurants that teaches about gluten-free preparation in a commercial environment:
I do recommend that you advise people ordering the gluten-free pizza that it is prepared on the same surface as regular pizza. I have talked with a lot of restaurants about gluten-free preparation in an admittedly selfish attempt to be able to eat at more restaurants. If you have any questions, feel free to email or call me and I’d be happy to talk with you.

And while we’re at it, here’s a Google blog search result page for “gluten free.”


Braving Barcelona

I am inspired to write this story because I’ve been fondly remembering it and then Sherpa decided to make paella for dinner tonight. Most often, if you ask someone who has been to Barcelona tips about the traveling there, you’ll be warned to watch your wallet. Apparently Barcelona is known as the pickpocket capital of the world. I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories. And I just Googled “pickpocketing rates Barcelona” and got 1.5 million search results. So when Sherpa and I spent a few days there, we were hypervigilant of my purse and his wallet.

We had to be even more careful when we split up for a few hours. He wanted to try gambling at the casino, and I just didn’t feel like going back (yes, we’d tried to go together the day before and they wouldn’t let us in to the table games area without passports). So, after a long hike through Parc Guell, then wine tasting, then more Gaudi tourism at the Gaudi house, then a long hike to the Miro Foundation, we parted ways on the subway. We wouldn’t be able to communicate because we assumed he wouldn’t be able to get wi-fi in the casino. We agreed to meet across town at the restaurant where we planned to have dinner in a few hours, Tapeo (which was recommended to us by the woman working at the wine shop we went to, Clos Mont-Blanc).

As soon as he was gone from the car I was like a crazy drone spy, eyeing up everyone, yet trying to pretend I belonged. Do I look Spanish? Do I look like a student? I wondered. Of course I didn’t. I looked like a 31-year-old American tourist, trying not to freak out in the Barcelona subway. I had a death grip on my purse. I made it to my stop, Fontana. I got off and walked, crazy drone spy, back to our hotel. Leg 1, SUCCESS.

Not long after I got back to the hotel, my phone buzzed with an email notification. “At casino, bored, ready to head to dinner! :)” So, I got ready and headed back to the subway. CRAZY DRONE SPY! DEATH GRIP ON PURSE! NO ONE CAN ROB ME, I AM THE SMARTEST TOURIST ON THE PLANET.

Sherpa considers letting his guard down at El Xampanyet.

I got off at my stop, Jaume, which I was already familiar with because we’d walked around the neighborhood the day before to go to the Picasso museum. I started walking to the restaurant, amidst a sea of people, and about 4 blocks from the restaurant I see walking down the street a Sherpa, walking and staring up at the street signs, looking confused. It was just the funniest feeling to run into him in the street in Barcelona. Also it was pretty funny to be watching him while he had no clue I was there. I stepped in front of him so he had to stop and recognize me, and it was quite a reunion. LEG 2, SUCCESS.

We started our night with cava at El Xampanyet, which was a really fun cava joint full of locals having a drink before dinner, and then we had dinner at Tapeo right across the street, where we had amazing wine and tapas.  Here are some of the things we ate/drank: Toro (a local Spanish red wine), pork rib with honey mustard, sausage and beans, tomatoes and fresh cheese with olive oil and balsamic, lentils, chocolate mousse, vanilla creme brulee, and great Spanish coffee. The owner, Chris, was English and we had a great time chatting with him, too. We were also glad to have someone English-speaking to relieve some stress about gluten-free dining. He was very helpful.

So, that’s that. We spent several fun-packed days in BCN and did not get robbed. We were lucky, but I hope that our vigilance actually had something to do with it.

Gluten-Free Dining Disaster

I am fired up about something that happened last night. I am fired up, and I’m not even the one with Celiac Disease. I think last night’s experience tops every other gluten-free dining mishap I’ve seen in the last 2.5 years Sherpa and I have been together. Other mishaps Sherpa has had include ordering mashed potatoes that turn out to have wheat in them, ordering foods that have sauces with hidden wheat in them, ordering burgers with no bun and the bun comes anyway. His symptoms seem to be getting more severe lately, so he has even stopped ordering fries if he knows the restaurant is frying breaded foods in the same fryer. And if he knows bread has touched his food, he’s been asking for a completely new meal. Quick refresher, when someone with Celiac Disease eats wheat, it inflames/damages the cilia in the intestines, preventing them from absorbing nutrients and causing pain and bad GI symptoms — for about 2 weeks, or at least that’s about how long it takes for Sherpa to feel better.

So, Sherpa and I went to a show last night at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. Before the show, we met up with my brother and sister-in-law at the restaurant across the street, the Waterford Inn. Granted, this restaurant is very old school and the servers probably have never heard of Celiac. But our server treated us incredibly poorly on ALL levels, so I just had to tell the story. Sherpa and I both ordered a salad with grilled chicken – “no croutons!”, which we repeated twice and our waitress repeated back to us while apparently writing it down.

Half an hour later when we are starving and our salads finally arrive, I poke through mine to check for croutons. This was of course after I had moved the toothpick-speared green olive from my salad to his, ’cause I know he likes olives. Anyway, I check for croutons and my first forkful of lettuce yields a crouton.

“Aaah!” I yelp, and show him my fork. Defeated, he drops his fork into the salad.

“I can’t eat this!” We call the server over and remind her we asked for no croutons, and while it doesn’t matter for me, he can’t have them in the salad. She just swipes his salad and is off with it.

Not even a minute later, she comes back with a “new” salad and drops it on the table. Right away I see two green olives on toothpicks.

“Is this the same salad with the croutons taken out?” I ask.

“No, it’s a new salad,” she says. Oh, it’s on, bitch.

“Yes it is! The olive that I took off my salad is still in it!” Liar McLiarson is caught, and now she’s pissed.

“Well, what do you want, a whole new salad?!” she asks us, like we are the most inconvenient table she’s ever had.

“Yes – he has a food allergy to wheat,” (technically a lie, but she started it) “and bread can’t touch his food.” She swipes the salad away again in disgust.

She comes back again with a “new” salad, and I try to make sure to ask her if the restaurant has a salad mix with croutons already in it, but she has run off before I can. Sherpa tells us he feels bad making a scene like this and we assure him that it it NOT his fault. I am also still worried that she dressed up the same salad, because there are flecks of bread-looking substance on the black olives. I start combing over the olives and pecking off the crumbs to test them, and they taste bready to me, but by now Sherpa is ravenous and angry and cares less about knowing for sure than he does about getting some food in him. He eats the salad.

When we can finally flag her down again, I ask if the restaurant uses a salad mix that comes with croutons in it, and she says, “No, there are NO croutons in that salad!” Very helpful.

I ask Sherpa, “What would Laura do?” because our friend Laura is an amazingly diplomatic complainer. “She would have the manager over here right now!” Sherpa shakes his head; he doesn’t want to go that far. He and my brother go to the bar and he leaves me to do what I will with the bill. I give her a 10% tip and write on the tab, “Please don’t lie to customers with severe food allergies!”

Too far? Not far enough? Anyone else out there with Celiac who have dealt with this situation want to chime in?

(Image via.)

European Vacation With a Sherpa

I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I haven’t been to Europe since celebrating New Year’s there in December/January 2001/2002, more than ten years ago. And the last visit was really an incredible blur for some scary personal reasons.

And THEN, my ex husband did not want to travel to Europe with me, because I am fluent in French and he felt he’d be lost while I was having a grand old time using my French. Or he couldn’t get off work. Or some junk like that. Everything was an excuse. So there went a bunch of years. And then I spent a few years doing the divorce thing and getting my financial feet under me.

Now excuses are a thing of the past! Sherpa and I both love to travel and we saved up and I am now counting down the hours to my first real French coffee and French baguette and French cheese (the list goes on) in ten years. It’s been an incredibly stressful few months, so much so that I have hardly remembered that I even had a blog. So I haven’t shared my excitement here yet. But maybe I’ll be able to blog while we’re traveling. We’ll see.

We are renting a car. I learned how to drive a stickshift for this purpose and I am terrified. I’ve been using to brush up on my French. Sherpa has been practicing with me. We’ve been going over phrases while we cook and eat dinners. I say things and he tries to translate to English.

“Je ne peux pas conduire cette voiture,” I say. (I can’t drive this car.)

When he finally figures it out, he says, “No, you just don’t WANT to drive the car!”

One more funny Sherpa story to leave you with before the journey begins: I was reminded and amused by our age difference last night as I was organizing music to bring on the trip. He says, “Make sure there’s a lot of good upbeat driving music…

[wait for it]

… like the Cranberries.”

Eh bien, on y va!

In Memory of Grammy (alternate title: “La Madeleine”)

My Grammy passed away the day before Thanksgiving. She had been suffering from dementia for years and finally her time was up.

I had seen her less than 2 weeks before. My dad heard she wasn’t doing well, and we made a point of visiting her. She was awake, dressed, and in her wheelchair, something that the employees where she lived said hadn’t happened in weeks. She sat with us in a quiet reading room while my parents, my uncle, and I chatted. We didn’t expect her to join in, but we had learned she liked to be around us.

My grandparents on their wedding day, June 20 1945, on a 48-hour leave from the Army.

Every time she looked at us in the eye, an enormous grin spread over her face. Previous visits had been touch and go; I was never sure if she’d know who I was. But this day, she knew us. We made a point of telling her some stories about things we were grateful for her doing, like cooking us family dinners every week for years. The only time she spoke was when we reminded her that my Grampy always helped with the dishes.

“Always,” she squeaked.

Then, a few minutes later, she looked at me and gave me the same big smile, but then this mischievous twinkle came into her eye and she winked at me, the way she always used to when I was a kid. I had to hold back tears while plastering a big smile on my face.

I leaned over her and kissed her cheek and gave her a small hug when we left, and I wondered if it would be the last time I saw her.

My dad called with the sad news the day before Thanksgiving, and we celebrated the holiday with her in mind – grateful for all she’d done for her family over the years.

As her memorial service approached, Sherpa told me that he thought he’d like to try making Grammy’s oatmeal lace cookies to bring along. I had mentioned them to him but was SO touched that he even thought of it.

He made the batch with my supervision, and I thought I would hold off on trying one until the service. He brought one up to me as I was doing some work.

“Here, this one broke…” he said, with air quotes. He left me with the cookie and I burst into tears the instant I bit into it. It was a perfect memory of my Grammy. I realized then that I hadn’t had one of those cookies since 1994 when my grandparents moved into the “old-folks home,” as Grammy put it, and she stopped baking. This cookie was like Marcel Proust’s madeleine, transporting me directly back to my childhood.

The day of the memorial came and my dad offered me a slot at the mic to say something about Grammy. I wanted to, and I wrote something. I tried to keep it simple and short so that I wouldn’t cry, but that effort was FUTILE. I couldn’t shut off the water works, especially not when I was speaking. There were just a few friends of hers there, and when I got up, I heard, “Oh, it’s the granddaughter.” That really did it for me. Here’s what I said for Grammy, and it will be much better understood here than when I read it then:

I’d like to say that I’m very grateful for all the happy childhood memories Grammy made for me. She was a very loving grandmother. She made excellent dinners for our family every Friday night for years and years, and she hosted many holidays at their home. During the weekends I’d spend with her and Grampy, she’d spoil me with shopping trips and breakfast in bed, especially during visits with my aunt. She had a closet full of bath toys and an office full of art supplies for me. She put a lot of love into her family and I won’t forget that.

My dad and uncle gave very nice eulogies, reminding us all of her love for all creatures great and small. Dad told the story of their time in Oxford, MS, living with William Faulkner as a neighbor. Faulkner heard they were moving up to PA, and although he did not interact with the locals, he saw Grammy and the kids on the street, swept his hat down in front of him, and said, “Good evening, Mrs. Ford.”

Sherpa’s cookies really won the crowd over at the reception. It was amazing to have Grammy’s lace cookies – which are difficult to make and even harder to keep from breaking – to share among the people who loved her.

I’ll close this post the way Dad closed his eulogy: “Goodnight, Mrs. Ford.”

Cicada Comedy

We learned earlier this year that there was a cycle of cicadas that was supposed to hatch, and that there are actually many different cycles that hatch at different intervals, so back in 2004 or 2005 when I was in D.C. I didn’t have to be so sad for Sugar to see the cicadas go. I thought they only came every 17 years and that  Sugar would never see them again.

Last year she got a good crop. And now they’re back. On Friday, Sherpa and I were on a ride when I noticed several cicadas on the path.

“Sugar’s going to be so excited!” I gushed.

Wanna go out there, wanna go out there...

Yes. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: The dog LOVES eating cicadas. Sherpa didn’t experience the full force of the dog’s obsession with cicadas last year because we weren’t living together. But once she realizes they’re out there, she actually becomes animated. After dark (hell, any time) she will wait with her nose on the door until you let her out to inspect any area with a porch or patio light. I’ve seen her actually leap in the air and nab cicadas in flight. They make an awful buzzing sound while she happily chomps away.

I definitely created a monster when I showed her all those years ago that she could eat them.

Sherpa found the first one on our porch on Saturday. He gleefully directed the dog to it, and her cicada switch flipped. Since then she has been waiting at either the front or back door whenever we are around.

When we took a break from cicada hunting, she stood and stared, wagging her tail furiously.

Last night, things escalated. Sherpa saw a cicada flying around the back patio light. We opened the door and were excitedly trying to get the dog to catch it when it flew INTO the house. It started to careen all around the first floor, bouncing off the walls. We became a vision of an old silent film comedy. Imagine the cicada, me, Sherpa, and the dog, all running in circles around the house, ducking, falling over things, he and I getting spooked when we lose and find the thing again. We turned lights off strategically to lure it to one place. Come on, Sugar! Get it! GET IT!  Seeing that she wouldn’t be catching it without our help, Sherpa made it his mission to get the bug.

He got out chopsticks (his go-to Asian MacGuyver tool) and was trying to fish it out of a lamp when he fell off the couch. Then he knocked a picture off the wall and caught the corner of it with the top of his bare foot. Things weren’t quite so funny anymore.

We practically ripped the curtains off the dining room window when we’d find the bug in there and it would buzz our faces as it flew away. Sugar hopped around, following us closely, wanting her treat.

Finally, and I don’t know how, Sherpa caught it with his fingers. TRIUMPH! The dog was ready. He presented it to the princess and WHOMP! She grabbed it. Sherpa recoiled from the beast.

“OW!” … she bit his finger.

I’ll Never Get Remarried

That’s right. My second-husband-to-be, Prince William – now the Duke of Cambridge – is off the market. Sigh.

Why do I feel so strongly about him? I don’t know. And I don’t, really. But I had dental surgery years ago and the surgeon was kind enough to put me under for it. When I woke up, everyone in the room said, “You’ll have to call and tell us how your date goes.”

“Hmmpphhh?” I asked.

“You said you had a date with Prince William.”

Apparently while I was “going under,” I blabbed on about my planned date with the prince. Alas, the date never came to pass. Ass.

In any case, sherpas are far preferable to princes, in my experience! And while I give not two sh!ts about the royal wedding, I did at least find one very amusing Royals parody site: Kate Middleton, For the Win.