They sidle up to you in the hallway at work when no one else is around. They approach you with the hangdog expression of a sinner headed to the confessional for the same reason they went last week. Or they send you a hesitant text, dangling uncertainly between apologetic and grief-stricken, unable to tell you directly in person. They are embarrassed, bewildered, ashamed.
They are….Foodies with Allergies and they are coming to your house for a dinner party!
This happened to me during the planning of that play-reading party you’ve been hearing a lot about in my recent posts.
Let me clarify. The food allergies didn’t happen to me, the guests with food allergies did (see how quickly I distance my own foodie self from any suggestion of an allergy?). Two friends, food-lovers both, came to me with their tales of woe. One, (who is already vegetarian, for the love of God) has celiac disease, which means her small intestines can’t tolerate gluten – found in wheat, rye and barley. The other is getting tested for possible lactose-intolerance.
Now it does seem like food sensitivities and intolerances and flat-out allergies are on the rise in our population. The whole peanut thing has taken over many schools, which have nut-free areas. Gluten-free has been the latest way for companies to flog their products as ostensibly healthier because it has less of something.
As someone who has never had any of these things, it seems pretty weird and sometimes a little over-the-top. Can all this hysteria be real? But these friends are people for whom food is life, an anchor of their identity and existence. They are definitely not making this shit up. So, what to do? My approach is to enjoy the adventure and challenge of making sure that everyone has something to eat that they enjoy. For me, entertaining is a way to show people how much you value them; finding ways to feed them well. So here is one adaptation to gluten-free — Spanish-style mushrooms in garlic sauce. Rather than thicken with flour, I used cornstarch. It was different in texture and if I do it again, I think I would just skip the thickening altogether, as the sauce might be thinner, but equally flavorful. I also skipped butter for the lactose intolerant person, but she is actually able to eat good-quality butter (because it is cultured, maybe?). The important thing is that my dear friend did not have to hang her head in foodie shame, but was able to eat, drink and be merry right along with the rest of the company!
I will post the gluten-free vegetarian shepherd’s pie soon! (no Worcestershire sauce and no flour…)
Champiñones al ajillo Gluten-Free version (Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 Tbs reserved
1 ½ Tbs cornstarch
1 Cup broth (I recommend mushroom stock, but a deep veggie stock will do the trick too)
Pinch hot red pepper flakes
¼-1/2 tsp dried oregano (Or, more traditionally, 2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley)
1 tsp lemon juice (more to taste)
½ lb mushrooms, whole, sliced in half or in slices
Salt to taste
Heat garlic and 2 Tbs olive oil together at medium heat, turning down as soon as the garlic begins to color. Stir in the conrstarch and mix to a paste. Cook one minute or until thickened. Add the broth in a thin stream, stirring constantly to incorporate Then add the pepper, the oregano (or half the parsley) and lemon juice and stir until smooth and thick.
In a separate pan, heat remaining olive oil on high until quite hot. Add mushrooms and brown. Add mushrooms to the sauce and cook for five minutes. Add remaining parsley, if using, and serve.