Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "Going Gluten-free"

It's not easy to be gluten-free; particularly if you live someplace where pizza and Italians (subs) are the only viable take-out and the nearest health food store is 45 minutes round-trip and closes before you even get out of work. Since I've only recently returned here after two decades in more...shall we say..."developed" areas, such as San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Northampton, MA, part of the quest is not just knowing what I need and how to prepare it (big challenges on their own), but where to gather all the ingredients--and then making the time to forage while also working 40+ hours, trying to exercise, having a life, looking for health insurance, and first looking for a house and now owning one that needs work.

I spent an hour in the Shaw's in Ellsworth on Saturday, for instance, looking for non-dairy yogurt. They sell it at Hannaford so I assumed it would be at Shaw's. Truth be told, it took me nearly an hour to remember I wasn't in Hannaford. Nevertheless, even with the help of three determined staffers who insisted it was in the store, we were utterly unable to locate the soy- or coconut-based yogurts for which I quested. (I wanted them because breakfast is one of my real problem areas and since I don't eat meat, gluten, or dairy (mostly), I wanted the alterna-yogurts I'd been used to--the ones I bought in bulk at Hannaford in Brewer.)

Once I learn the ropes, I think the time it takes to acquire things will go down, but for now, there are still a great many hours spent looking for vegan cheeses and miso that could be spent doing something more useful, like painting my laundry room or watching four hours of NCIS on DVD (or actually trying to cook something).

One thing I know for sure: there is no shortage of information. Quite the contrary. If you mention to anyone--even a stranger at the grocery store who spies you loading Bob's Red Mill gluten-free-something in your cart and asks--that you are gluten-free, you will be immediately asked, "Have you read the blogs?" No matter what your answer, you will then be showered with information, suggestions, a torrent of details and stories about afflicted loved ones that is so well-meaning and yet just too much to take.

As I told my friend Mav (in the ancient tradition of mixed metaphor) when she offered to provide copious amounts of great cooking and eating tips in response to my last gluten-free blog post, but first checked to see if I could handle any more input: "I mostly feel like I'm a sturdy little thimble positioned at the mouth of the great Mississippi. Open wide and try to filter *all that information* into something you can eat. So, yes, thank you for the loving restraint when it comes to tips. I DO want them, but my little sponge of a brain is nearly soaked. I'm tired and hungry and frustrated. One meal at a time. Must go slowly. Can't cope with onslaught of advice. You have my e-mail, though: you could drop me gluten guidance there, if you want? And I'll pop in when I can and have a nibble?"

And that's just it. I love Mav for understanding that I couldn't just get battered by tips: because that's what they usually feel like. Battering. No matter how lovingly given, I'm like a plant that's been overwatered. (Hurray! Another mixed metaphor!) I do want help, but first I just really need to absorb what I already have.

I do thank Renee from Hannaford in Bucksport, though, who saw me checking out with Mike's Hard Lemonade this summer and let me know that malt means gluten. Rats! And to Mark (my sweet friend and realtor), who was the first to tell me that Hannaford in Bucksport sells Redbridge, a gluten-free beer. Problem identified. Problem solved. (Want more gluten-free beers. Here's a super site.)

Some tips are really helpful. Other tips, like, for instance, "You can Google it," are not. One is a tiny, well-aimed drop; the other is like turning the hose on me.

I do thank everyone who is trying to help. And I ask you to please poke your hand gently in my soil before you dump in any more water, lest I drown (or catch you with a thorn).

The exception is actual food delivery. Presenting me with recipes or lists of blogs means I have to do more reading, more thinking, more foraging, and potentially more failing at preparation. Then I have to clean up. But, if you want to invite me to a gluten-free, semi-vegan meal--or, say, drop a suitable hot dish off at my place--well, then, my friend, you are always welcome to feed me.

I decided to start blogging about being gluten-free with my own particular parameters (the nearly vegan, onion-allergic, mushroom-averse me) because I do think it's worthwhile and helpful for all the celiacs and gluten-challenged among us to speak up and share on this great cyber river of muddy information we like to call the Interweb. If you are looking for help or hope or company, here I am. I'm glad you found me. Just don't expect me to read your blog.

Here's the latest one-day-at-a-time menu update:

November 17, 2009
1.5 cups coffee w/2 cubes raw sugar
coconut milk yogurt (from Hannaford in Brewer!)
gluten-free granola (I can't remember now where I landed that. Rats.)
soy chocolate pudding (which I think is located either in the dairy case or the produce section at Shaw's in Ellsworth)
1 bowl homemade vegetable soup (You can find the recipe on page 251 of The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone.)
gluten-free french roll toasted with raw, organic honey and earth balance margerine
one glass Riesling (I hope it was gluten-free? I don't know. Can wine have gluten?)
Grilled salmon with mashed potatoes and cole slaw (restaurant)
water
Andes mint

November 18, 2009
1.5 cups coffee w/2 cubes raw sugar
water
3 gluten-free waffles with margerine and real syrup
organic applesauce
homemade veg. soup (note to self: make LESS soup next time!)
gluten-free crackers (they're made from nuts!)
vegan cheese (it's made from nuts!)

3 Junior Mints Deluxe Dark Chocolate Mints (both gluten-free and vegan, I think)

1/2 Fuji apple
soy chocolate pudding
Shahi Korma, 3/4 lunch-sized portion (Taste of India, Bangor)
papadam (it's made from lentils!)
basmati rice
Polar orange dry seltzer

That damn soup is finally gone. And I think I might be out of non-yogurt-yogurt. Damn! I should have had Peter get some today when he was in Bangor. See? This is what's hard about it. Stock up and re-supply. It's like planning for a freaking revolution.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Gluten-free diet: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Eating gluten-free is a total pain in the ass, especially when you're first learning. There's a lot of frustration, mix-ups, and starvation. There's a lot of effort and aggravation--and slip-ups.

In my first month of being gluten-free, for instance, I drank non-alcoholic beer frequently, never imagining I was guzzling gluten. Slowly, I'm learning. I try not to beat myself up or worry. I'm doing the best I can. That's my motto. And, about half-way through my third month, I am actually feeling better.

Now that I have my own home, which means my own kitchen, it's much easier to work on eating gluten-free than it was when I was living in the camper. Living in rural Maine, I don't have easy access to gluten-free products or other necessary supplies, but now that I have my own space, I can bulk buy and store multiple loaves of rice-based bread or tofu steaks in my freezer, if I want to.

Because I'm also a vegan-leaning vegetarian who eats fish and "happy" chicken, but who gets sick from eggs and most dairy and is allergic to onions, I'm extra-special pinched when it comes to feeding myself. Most gluten-free cookbooks rely heavily on meat dishes; most vegetarian cookbooks rely heavily on gluten-infested breads, pastas, and fake meat products--or the dreaded hummus or mushroom-based meal. (I don't like most hummus or mushrooms and I can't stand olives, goat cheese, or sundried tomatoes. Gag me.)

With everything that's been going on in my life since the advent of the gluten-free diet decision, I haven't had the energy or time to dig up recipes that are palatable and realistic. Living where I live, it's not easy to find a daikon radish or some ghee. Or seitan? Forget about it. Plus, have I mentioned? I am a terrible cook. No. Really. I am. I burn toast. I under cook and over cook. I make good flavors go bad. It's a giant comic tragedy almost every time I try to make food.

But, I *have* to eat. And I have to eat healthy. So, in a gesture of solidarity with anyone else out there with the same dietary restrictions as me, I offer a sample menu. Here's what I ate today:

1 bowl gluten-free organic cereal with rice milk, sort of a knock-off yet pricier version of Cocoa Crispies.
Lots of water
1 glass water doused with packet of Emergen-C
1.5 cups coffee with two raw sugar cubes
1 bowl homemade vegetable soup, leftover from a surprisingly successful attempt at cooking (by me) this weekend. You can find the recipe on page 251 of The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone.
1 gluten-free "french roll" (really more like a biscuit) toasted (so as not to be frozen any more) with organic raw honey and smart balance margerine. (So yummy!)
one large serving organic jasmine rice, frozen (microwaved)
one gluten-free, vegetarian chili meal, frozen (microwaved) ("Helen's Kitchen Simple Health Hearty Bean Chili with Vegetables & TofuSteaks")
dollop all natural sour cream
3 Junior Mints Deluxe Dark Chocolate Mints (both gluten-free and vegan, I think)
1 sandwich made with gluten-free bread (frozen) toasted, with melted almond-based vegan cheese and vegenaise, and a leftover tofu steak (originally frozen, also Helen's Kitchen brand and totally delicious)
Two organic celery stalks
Handful of Lay's potato chips

I'm still hungry, but it was a successful day--the kind of day that makes me think I can actually do this.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "Question 1"

Earlier this year, Maine legislators took the admirable step of granting equal marriage rights to all Mainers, including same-sex couples. The governor signed the legislation into law and ever since the spring, it has been legal for any two adults to marry in this state, should they choose to. The governor, who once spoke out in favor of civil unions instead of true marriage, says he signed the law because he came to realize that separate is inherently unequal. He is now an advocate for equal marriage rights (bless him).


Unfortunately, shortly after the new law was passed, some Mainers gathered signatures to create a ballot initiative similar to California's tragic Proposition 8, which took marriage rights away. Tomorrow, Mainers will go to the polls to decide the issue.

I moved back to Maine this year in part because of this law. I might like to get married someday soon, but as a bisexual citizen and native Mainer who happens to have a male partner, I feel that any law which denies civil rights to lesbians or gays denies them to me, as well. For this reason, I take the No on 1 campaign personally (as with Californa, a No vote means yes, gays can marry) and it's been deeply upsetting to see Yes on 1 signs sprout up all around me. I have at least one friend and, I suspect, at least two close family members who will be voting to deny me my right to marry tomorrow. This hurts. It hurts so much that I decided not to engage with them about it. Will they have a revelation, as the governor did, before tomorrow and either vote No or abstain? I hope so. Could I have persuaded them by engaging in debate? Definitely not. So, I've left them and their consciences to it.

While for me, the denial of marriage rights is personal, for my straight friends, there is no reason they should be compelled to vote No--no reason, apart from a passionate commitment to equality, freedom, and American values. I have been profoundly moved by the fire with which my straight, married and unmarried friends have fought on behalf of my minority. (For the record, I would have rather been a lesbian, but I had no choice in the matter. You love who you love and there it is.)

We, the not-heterosexual people, cannot attain equality without the consent of the majority. We cannot be equal unless enough people who aren't like us believe this to be so. Fortunately, amazingly, almost all of my straight friends get downright furious when they even think about Yes voters. And I love them so much for this fury. This fury is love, it is fairness, it is the good fight. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I am buoyed by this love and righteousness.

I am also moved by the continuous stream of unexpected No voters. One straight, married friend's dad, an elderly man with conservative views, for instance. He is legally blind, so my friend was tasked with doing his voting for him. She was very tempted to vote No for him--he'd never know!--but of course, she would never actually do such a thing. She had to make her peace with the act of ticking that Yes box for her father.

When the day came (he voted early) she read him the question. Then she read it to him again. After one more time, he gave it some thought and then he said, "I think I'll vote No. Let's give them a chance."

As much ugliness has risen up around Question 1--a great many No on 1 signs in our town have been found flattened with tire treads embedded in them, for instance--there is also this beauty. For every neighbor who stakes a Yes on 1 sign in her yard, there is someone like my friend's dad who says, "Let's give them a chance."

In the picture (above), my first girlfriend (a native Mainer) and her fiancee (whose Mom lives in Maine) stand in Bucksport with me and my sweetheart, Peter. We are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While some joke that marriage is not happiness, we would all like a chance to try. If you agree we have that right, please vote NO tomorrow on Question 1 and urge your friends and loved ones to join you at the polls.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "I Know Exactly Where That Is"

One of the things I love--I mean, really and truly love--about rural Maine is the way people give directions.

My family has been here in this same town on both sides for more than two centuries, and I myself have never been away for more than six months at a time in 37 years, and yet I don't know the names of most of the streets. People don't say, "Go up Mill Street." They say "Go up the Post Office Street." (In fact, I don't think it is "Mill Street." I genuinely don't know the name of the street on which the Bucksport Post Office is located.)

And I am not alone in this. I don't know the name of the street because almost no one local uses its name. Most directions are given with points of reference being, not street names or number of blocks between things, or even in miles, as might be common in other places, but rather in terms of details based on where people live or where something happened or what is located on the street (such as the post office or the library).

My favorite part is that the directions are always correct and reliable, but utterly inscrutable to outsiders because they most often begin with where something (or someone) used to be.

I enjoy re-telling particularly excellent examples of rural directions as anecdotes and recently attempted to regale my father with a narrative about the directions a friend had given me to his house in Happy Town. Peter and I had been invited to have dinner with him and his wife, and he issued us the following directions via e-mail:

From your Dad's home take Upper Falls Road to Bald Mountain. I don't have mileage from there but from Bald Mtn you go down over the stream, then up two steep hills, after the hills go a couple of miles, the road sweeps to the Left with some cows on the side of the hill at Wee Bit Farm. Look for Winkumpaugh Road on the Right, take it and go to the next stop sign at Happy Town Road, the sign is frequently stolen and I can't recall if it is there at present. Go 1 mile up the hill on Happy Town Road and we are on the Left @xxx. Our house has a carport, shingled exterior and green trim. Most importantly my cell is xxx-xxxx should you get lost.


I was cracking up by the end. I mean, isn't that a riot? Aren't those directions just so awesomely rural-perfect? Start at your Dad's, go all these crazy ways, turn (no idea which direction) at the stop sign with the missing road sign all to end up in some place called "Happy Town"? Awesome, right?

But my dad, who had been following along intently to my narrative, picturing all the roads and turns in his head just said, totally straight-faced, "I know exactly where that is...But he should have told you the cows have long hair."

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: Something’s Gotta Give

Peter and I came to Maine because it was time. We were miserable where we were. We examined every other possibility and we decided, for a variety of perfectly sensible—and a few more intuitive—reasons that Maine was the place to be for now.

Our plan hinged on a few things, however. The most essential was the weather. Second to that: a job for Peter.

We have been here now for three weeks living in a small camper on my father’s lawn. Part one of the plan was to live rent-free in this manner, the upside of living in a tiny, awkward space was that we could enjoy a Maine summer while also getting Peter out of debt and saving toward a home of our own. We would barbecue on the deck and swim every afternoon. It would be great.

Those of you who live in mid-coast Maine are already laughing a rueful laugh. For those of you who don’t know: it’s raining. It doesn’t matter when you read this—today, tomorrow, next Thursday, September—it will still be raining. It’s rained almost every day since it stopped snowing and the forecast for the next ten days? Rain. In fact, the forecast for the foreseeable future? Rain. Having almost entirely given up any real hope of summer, I am now beginning to tiptoe toward the genuinely dreadful thought of what this precipitation will mean when the temperature drops. Do you have any idea how much snow ten inches of rain translates into? Or what life is like here if it snows day after day after day for months? Especially if you didn’t get a chance to regroup in the warmth of summer? It’s a thought so horrifying that I can’t even think about it. I start to…but when I get close, I turn and run away. That door must stay closed for now or I’ll never make it.

As though you hadn’t heard, the recession is also making it hard to find work, even here, where we thought old family and friend connections and the boom of a summer economy would mean at least temporary or part-time work for Peter.

We were wrong.

And, maybe worst of all: the camper smells. I have tried everything. Baking soda. Vacuuming. Spraying various potions both natural and chemical, which claim to remove odors of all sorts from fabric. Almost every inch of the interior of the damn thing is covered in this terrible, scratchy brownish/tan fabric from 1986. We don’t keep smelly trash, dirty dishes, recycling, or dirty laundry inside. I run a HEPA filter 24x7. Essential oils are diffused, windows are opened, and litter box deposits (and twice daily wet food leftovers) are whisked away so quickly our stunned Norman cat can only stand looking dazed as his whiskers blow back in my wake.

We’ve washed all our bedding and doused it in fabric softener. We keep shoes locked away. But nothing, I fear, nothing can save me from this smell. (Where is it coming from??)

What is truly problematic about this is that because I work from home (which makes this move possible—hurray!) I have to sit in that smell all day when it’s too wet or too cold to work outside (boo!).

I could go work inside at my dad’s—or impose on friends or family—but there are a couple of problems with this. One is that it’s inconvenient. The other is that, apart from foul odors, faithful friends and readers of my blog know that noise unsettles me. You might say it has the potential to destroy me. And even when my dad’s house is completely empty (which is rare given that a teenager, a teacher, and a retiree with a vicious, barky dog also live there), the house itself makes unbearable noises. Like today, I sought refuge in the empty house only to be driven back out again by a loud and creepy repetitive noise coming from the freezer. It sounded like the creaks a big ship makes. (Peter said that’s called “delisting,” so at least I learned a new word today.)

While this place is a huge improvement over the horror that was Hampton Terrace, locals know that the traffic on the Upper Falls Road is constant and fast-paced. The deceptively rural and unassuming road, green and lovely, bordered by blueberry fields, the tail end of a lake, forests, and a few quiet homes, is a pass-through for all manner of vehicle, from passenger cars to large delivery trucks to rumbling farm equipment, racing to or from Route 1 and Route 46. I was warned about the noise, but after the booming bass, shrieking hordes of unwelcome children, and the chainsaws—oh, gawd, the chainsaws!—at our previous address, I really thought…how bad could it be?

It turns out, it can be pretty bad. I know this because even Peter is bothered and he slept for four years on an aircraft carrier in a tiny metal “bed” beneath fighter jets taking off and landing. (Don’t even get me started on how bad the sleeping accommodations are…that’s probably a whole other blog, but suffice to say…we are both tired and sore.)

Today, despite the gray skies and high humidity, it wasn’t actually raining when I got up, so when I just couldn’t take the stink of the camper any more, I carted all my work junk out to the picnic table, dried it off, and went to work. But the rush of wheels on pavement recurred just often enough and just loud enough that I couldn’t get my work done. I was trying to watch an informative video about a product I’m reviewing, but whenever a car passed, it drowned out my audio, even on the loudest setting.

I finally packed up and went into the house. But then the delisting freezer—and the arrival back home of grandpa and dog—drove me back outside.

Which is how I’ve come to be here, on the back porch, listening to the soothing hum of the hot tub and the gentle swish of the breeze through the trees—and trying to ignore the dog that’s been barking for the last hour and, of course, the traffic.

I haven’t mentioned that for most of these three weeks, I’ve also been starving. Finding dairy-free, gluten-free, semi-vegetarian food in this burg is a project. Take out is an impossibility. I drove all the way to Bangor just to get some microwaveable Amy’s meals—at Target. And the cat throws up at least twice a week, sometimes twice a day. And for a while he had a diarrhea so pungent it brought tears to my eyes and woke me several nights from a rare and precious deep sleep.

Like the icing on our cake, for several days, the septic system was also blocked up—turns out it was a tree branch, not Peter (phew!)—so we had to commute three miles each way to my brother’s whenever we needed to poo or bathe. (Good thing we have our own house key!)

On the up-side, our expenses are minimal. I can hug my niece and my nephew whenever I want. There’s a weird little yoga class on what used to be the stage at my elementary school twice a week. And Peter’s not being at work means that today, when I was absolutely on the brink, he washed the stinky cat dishes, took out the trash, found our missing plate and bowl, hugged me, got the mail, and drove to the grocery store for two different kinds of air freshener—keep hope alive!—and the ingredients for my favorite meal, which he is now cooking.

I will finish this review, dammit, despite the traffic noise and my hunger and fatigue (you’ll be able to read it later at www.wi-fiplanet.com<==plug). I will eat a delicious lunch, which will improve things greatly. Later, we will look at houses with our realtor (who is the first boy I ever spent a Valentine’s Day with) and then we will return home, to spray the air with our new cans of Fabreeze and settle in for the next installment of Torchwood on our tiny, satellite-equipped TV (god bless my father for making that happen). We may even take a dip in the hot tub.

That is, of course, if I don’t just refuse to leave whatever house we look at last…

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from Graychase.com and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at www.graychase.com.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to Tom, Excerpt

beloved,

...perhaps I am a few years behind you in a parallel cycle? having cast
off the burdens of an address and stowed essentials in a storage unit,
I am living now in an RV, with cat and boy. in Maine. on the same land
I first lived on with my parents in the early 70s. i stood at the end
of this driveway and waited for the bus to kindergarten. I walked in
these blueberry fields and thought I was Sal. I lost my favorite kite
in this sky to this wind. and at the age of five I ran away from home
and sought my fortune down this steep and dangerous road (resentfully
returned by my mother's best friend's teenage son, Johnny, who found
me in the woods--and killed himself a few years ago).

i write you a long e-mail because I cannot help it. It feels good. I
know you haven't time to respond, barely time to read, but I expect
you won't mind if I pour some thoughts into your glass anyway.

with loving love and some curiosity about what happens next. and many
good wishes for burning man, and the hope that you will not stay away
so long this time, i am yours,

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from Graychase.com and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at www.graychase.com.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: Extra! Extra!

I love reading our local weekly paper, The Enterprise. A few days after arriving, I actually found myself sitting on the couch experiencing tears of joy after reading a front page news story about how the (only) stop light in town was listing to the south. Orange safety cones were reported as being imminent.

While I may quickly tire of small town life, for now, there is something so unbelievably sweet to me about the fact that when the stop light leans one way or the other, it is undeniably front page news.

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