February 26, 2007

Dreaming of cake

Actual cake, that is. Not the band this time.

You know how anxiety usually manifests itself in dreams in the form of being naked in public, or forgetting to study for a big exam? For me, these days, anxiety dreams involve food, like so - the other day, I had a dream where someone gave me a forkful of cake, and I just ate it. And I then I freaked out because how could I let my guard down and eat cake without thinking about it? How??? It was one of those dreams where, when you finally wake up, you have to sit there for a moment and get your bearings and convince yourself that everything that just happened didn't really happen. It was not fun.

You're probably thinking I have developed an eating disorder, but I haven't. I'm not doing Atkins, either, although that's the first thing people ask when I mention that I can't eat cake or bread or pasta anymore (or beer, incidentally, and it's a good thing I never liked beer anyway, because I think it would awfully hard to give up if I did).

Besides moving out here to California, the one big thing that's happened in my life in the last year is that I found out I have Celiac Disease. Normally getting diagnosed with a weird disease is not a welcome development, but in this case it was, because it finally provided an explanation for why I felt like such crap (no, uh, pun intended) all the time, and had been, for years. And it also provided a seemingly easy cure: stop eating gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats.

Of course, easier said than done. Things like bread and pasta are obvious. What's not so obvious is the fact that wheat and barley derivatives are used in practically everything. It's forced me to go all OCD when it comes to food (and as you know, I can be kind of OCD about lots of things already - I didn't really need more of it) - I can't eat anything without scrutinizing the ingredients list anymore. If it has malt flavoring or modified food starch or texturized vegetable protein, it'll make me sick. Unidentified "natural flavorings" are always a risk. In the U.S., caramel color (which is what colors Coke) is safe, but in other countries, it could be made from wheat (or barley, maybe - I forget which one). You can see how it can make you crazy. And then of course, even if the ingredient list looks safe, there's always the problem of cross-contamination - if the manufacturing plant where your food was packaged also packaged something with gluten in it, your apparently safe food might not actually be.

In many ways, it's actually a good thing - I eat almost no processed food anymore. That's where most of the bad stuff is. Mostly I just eat natural stuff - tons of fruit and vegetables, meat, eggs. I can still eat other grains like rice, corn, and potatoes. I don't really miss most of the stuff I gave up - I never really loved bread all that much anyway. If I really want pasta, I just put the tomato sauce on some Asian rice noodles, and it's just as good. When I really, really need cookies or muffins, I hike out to Whole Foods and their dedicated gluten-free bakehouse (I suppose I could learn how to bake such things myself, but for some reason I've never been able to explain, I don't bake).

What I do really miss are the things I can't make myself. Sure, I can buy a pizza crust at Whole Foods and make myself a pizza at home, but it will never taste like a pizza from Uno's or Bertucci's or Pino's. I can make a hot dog on a gluten-free bun, but it will never tase like a Fenway Frank. I can cook a stir-fry at home using wheat-free soy sauce, but I pretty much can't eat Chinese food in a restaurant anymore because regular soy sauce, which is in most Chinese dishes, has wheat in it.

Actually, eating in most restaurants is hard, because you have to proactive about making sure they know what you can't eat (and if you know me well, you know how incredibly difficult this is for me), and even then, you have to trust that they really know exactly what they're putting in their food, that your food isn't being cooked right next to something with flour (because it gets in the air and can land in your food), that they won't take a spatula used in a gluten-containing meal and use it to stir yours without cleaning it, or that they won't accidentally put croutons on your salad, and then when you send it back, just pick them off, leaving crumbs, instead of making you a new one. Thankfully, this isn't like a life-threatening allergy - I won't die if my food has a little wheat in it, but it will make me sick for days, and if it happens a lot, it has other long-term effects (it kind of does something similar to your intestines what smoking does to your lungs).

Anyway, as much of a pain as it is to stick to this new diet, it's a small price to pay for my health. I'll take it.

In other news, you've probably been wondering what it's like out here in sunny California, right? It has been almost a year, I see. Yikes. Sorry.

So, I'm liking it out here. Don't miss the snow or the cold AT ALL. I go running in the hills overlooking the ocean while the sun sets. Not bad, huh? The job, however, was not exactly what I'd expected. When they hired me, it was supposedly because they needed someone to do a certain type of work, which type I happen to be qualified to do. And then when I got here, it turned out that what they were giving me to do was completely different. Needless to say, I was not too happy about it.

Since I get calls from headhunters all the time, I starting looking around, and ended up finding another job more suited to my background. The great thing is, however is that it's a job in the same field, but I can work from home. They have an elaborate online setup to send the work back and forth, and everything can be done online or over the phone. Historically in my field, the clients have never been local anyway, so in theory it didn't even really matter where we were located. It's an interesting business model, because the company doesn't have to pay for office space (or at least, office space for a significant number of the employees - the company does have an office where some people, mostly administrative, are located), which is often a huge expense, while I don't have to deal with commuting, annoying coworkers, or getting dressed up every day. I know some people would go nuts if they were home alone all day and didn't see other people, but not me. Not at all.

Plus, it obviously makes life much more flexible. I can travel more easily because it doesn't matter where I am, as long as there's an internet connection - if I want to go visit my parents for two weeks, I can do without worrying about taking that much time off, because I can much more easily spend part of the time working. And of course, I can live wherever I want. In fact, the first thing my Mom asked when I told my parents about this was, so when are you moving back to Boston? Uh, not yet Mom. Maybe not ever. I don't know.

For now, at least, I'm staying here. I want to get settled into the new job first before even thinking about moving, but maybe sometime later, I might. One of my best friends is in the process of moving to LA in the next few months, so maybe I'll move up there. I actually would love to live in New York City (I almost ended up there instead of out here last year), but it's just so damn expensive, and also, given that I now mostly have to cook for myself, I think living there would be too difficult (plus I'd have to get rid of the car I just bought). Maybe I might eventually go back to Boston. Who knows? That's what's so great about it.

Maybe I'll start investigating real estate prices in Hawaii, yeah...

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On 2/27/2007 11:51 AM, Blogger Dweeze said:

Nice post. I'd offer hugs, but I don't want to ruin my image.

On 2/28/2007 2:45 PM, Blogger Lisa McMann said:

Wow, interesting stuff there, Jolene. You sure have a good attitude about cooking all new and different. Good on you.

On 2/28/2007 2:58 PM, Blogger Jolene said:

Actually, although it's changed, most of what I eat now I ate before, but I'm just eating a lot more of it, if that makes sense. I used to get a lot of takeout, but no more. It helps that I'm not a real picky eater (some people I know would probably starve if this happened to them). The biggest problem is that it's just such a pain - many restaurants, especially fast food places are completely off-limits because I can't trust that anything there is safe. You'd think not eating fast food should not be a big deal, but it is if I'm traveling or otherwise in a situation where there are no other options and I can't bring my own food for whatever reason. It's okay, though - I eat too much anyway. :)

On 2/28/2007 8:02 PM, Blogger Sasha said:

I work with a guy with celiac. Every once in a while he gets fed up and eats whatever for about 4 hours. Which cures him for about 6 months.

There's lots of rice flour and stuff like that you can use as well as a ton of recipe sites on teh web. Good luck with it. (Your job makes going to law school attractive !!!)

On 2/28/2007 9:27 PM, Blogger Jolene said:

Yeah, if it didn't have such immediate and, most importantly, such unpleasant symptoms, it would be lot harder not to cheat.

I've been trying different flours that are out there (the biggest experiment was trying to make gnocchi), and one thing I learned is that garbanzo bean flour tastes and smells revolting, and it stays on your hands for days. Yuck. It was weird because I like chick peas, but somehow the taste just does not translate.

(And resist, Sasha! Law school is not attractive!! Itself, anyway - I don't know anyone who liked it.)

On 3/17/2007 10:14 PM, Blogger dragonflies said:

Hey there!

Thanks for the link to your blog. We are 5 days into DH's celiac diagnosis. So far so good. He says he already feels 100% better.


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