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Food for ThoughtAug/Sept 2008 Issue

Our Gluten-Free Celebration

Cheers to a carefree evening of new friends, delicious food and cold beer.

Adiagnosis of celiac disease 35 years ago plunked me down in the middle of a culinary quagmire—eating safely, caring for a celiac son (diagnosed in 1993) and ultimately feeding an entire gluten-free nation (through Gluten-Free Pantry, the company I founded and operated until 2005).

I don’t dwell on the challenges but sometimes I acknowledge I harbor a quiet, little hum of anxiety every time I eat. It’s subtle, unspoken, tiny, buried deep – but it’s there. Based on an underlying survival instinct, it’s the force behind the finely honed radar that takes over the minute I enter a restaurant. As I very calmly look at a menu, the worry starts its humming. What’s in it? How is it made? Is it safe? Will I have to send it back? Will the server cooperate?  Will the chef understand? Will I get sick?

So when someone like Chef Dominique Tougne at Chicago’s Bistro 110 prepares an entire meal that is gluten free, that low purr of hyper-vigilance finally ratchets down and I feel myself relax. It is a nice feeling.

Such was the case when I joined 140 guests for a gluten-free extravaganza at Bistro 110 in May to celebrate
Living Without’s tenth anniversary.

The excitement of enjoying delicious gourmet food—without the worry—was echoed throughout the French bistro as diners sipped on creamy carrot soup and enjoyed fluffy dinner rolls. It was heard in our oohs and ahs as the wait staff served crustless quiche Lorraine (no one missed the crust) on thinly sliced beets. It was seen in our smiles as steaming plates of seafood and penne pasta in a creamy clam and mussel-infused sauce were placed in front of us.

The “normal” friends who joined me could not escape the contagious enthusiasm that came from the crowd. It was reflected in the distances traveled and milestones shared. Living Without’s contest winner, Lisa Kanazawa, flew in from California to feast gluten free. A couple traveled from Houston; the wife, a cancer survivor and celiac, and her husband shared that life was too short to miss opportunities like this. A family from Michigan used the occasion to mark the parents’ anniversary. Another family drove three hours to celebrate Mother’s Day. The Grist Mill Beer guys, who came down from Milwaukee to donate beer for the evening, were excited to see so many happy folks savoring their “normal"-tasting beer. Everyone had a story to tell and experiences to share. For the evening, we bonded, gluten-free travelers together.

Living Without publisher Peggy Wagener welcomed diners, saying she looked forward to the day when enjoying a gourmet meal like this would be common place, not a special occasion. 

Then Chef Dominique reassured the crowd. “Rest easy. Relax. Eat and enjoy. Put your concerns on our shoulders for the evening,” he urged. We did just that.
 
The celebration contained all the components of a perfect evening—the conversation of good friends, the satisfaction of delicious food, the company of fellow gluten-free diners, the warm understanding of a chef and a magazine that honors our food issues. It was an ideal gathering with nothing missing—except, of course, the worry.  LW  

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