When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of a rulebreaker. In fact, I pretty much did what I was told. Homework done, chores accomplished, goals met: I was regular and plodding as bleached white bread. Well, not entirely. Not internally, where I lived a wild life. But on the outside, I was the model student and model daughter.
Believe it or not, I actually waited to start drinking alcohol until I was 21, just like the law said I should.
It’s only as an adult that I’ve learned how to make trouble. Now that I’m the loudest one in the room (at least when I laugh), my friends don’t believe me when I say I suffered from mortifying shyness through most of my high school years. And when we used to go out for drinks, and I’d be sipping at my inch of dark-amber Scotch, no one ever believed I’d been such a goody two-shoes, waiting, primly, until the state said I could imbibe.
I’ve always been a Scotch girl. Actually, that isn’t specifically accurate, because that lovely slithery liquid is only allowed to be called Scotch if it’s entirely distilled and aged in Scotland. I love Irish whisky, with its beautiful blends — it always makes me think of green fields, rousing good music in crowded pubs, and James Joyce. So I should say I’m a whisky girl. But really, with apologies to the memory of dear, obfuscating Mr. Joyce, I do prefer Scotch.
The first whiff rushes at the back of the nose. Sniff too hard and take a big cough — this stuff could eat right through you, if you’re not careful. Peer into the clear brown liquid and take a moment to pay homage to the journey it has taken from its barrel to your hands. It must be aged for at least three years before it’s allowed to be called Scotch. (And I have a feeling that no Scotch lover would ever drink a three-year-old spirit.) Depending on how old you are, this Scotch may have been maturing with you, half your life, just to reach your lips.
And when it does? That first little sip of Scotch prickles at the edges of the tongue. Immediately, heat rises up. What was clear and thin suddenly fills the mouth. That sharp bite at the back of the palate. There’s a slight sweetness, but only so slight, followed by an insistent angularity that spreads over the tongue. Everything burns for a moment. Everything widens. The lips tingle. And then there’s that slow, cool burn, down the esophagus. It fills the entire chest, which feels as though it’s breathing Scotch. A pleasant warmth, everything soft and sharp at the same time. And the tongue darts out, over the lips, for one last taste. Until the next sip.
The word whisky comes originally from a Gaelic word, meaning breath of life. Indeed.
As someone has written on a website called Whisky Web:
“Of all the spirits mankind has distilled, refined and enhanced from nature’s huge store of goodness, Scotch whisky is the noblest. It is a natural drink, a distillation of the riches with which Scotland is so abundantly endowed — of fields of golden barley and wheat; of clear waters tumbling down glens of granite and over moors of peat; and of the cool, pure air of Scotland.”
Wait, say that again? Golden barley and wheat? Wait a minute. I have celiac disease. I can’t drink Scotch anymore.
Or so I thought. Like that long-ago good girl, I followed all the rules laid before me. I’ve never “cheated” on my gluten-free diet. That’s never made sense to me. Who am I cheating but myself? So, following the tenets written in the celiac literature I had read, I resolved to cut whisky and beer out of my diet for the rest of my life.
Beer truly wasn’t much of a loss. I liked a good beer, on a hot day, particularly an Alaskan Amber. But drinking beer always meant a nap afterwards, and an overly full stomach. Until my celiac diagnosis, I thought everyone in the world grew red-faced, bloated, and really, really sleepy after drinking beer. Now, I know it’s the gluten. So, no more beer. And no more gluten reaction.
But Scotch? That was a loss. Now, before you start forming the wrong idea of my alcohol habits, you should know that I’ve only been truly drunk about three times in my life, and each time was increasingly unpleasant. Apart from one glass of full-bodied red wine with a great meal, which I have three or four times a week (as recommended by the medical field now), I just don’t drink. But there are times of the year, or certain people, that make me want to sit in a capacious bar, laughing hard and sipping my inch of great Scotch, neat. (And it always seems to impress the boys, when a girl drinks her Scotch neat, no water, no rocks. Just straight up Scotch.)
But no more. What’s wonderful about the increasing awareness of celiac disease is the increased research on what we can eat as well. A friend of mine, about a month ago, listened to me say that I can never drink Scotch again, and was appalled. In fact, he went home and spent some time researching on the internet. He found out some good news for me. My non-Scotch diet was now outdated. Here’s part of what he sent me on a BBC site on the gluten-free life:
Beers, lagers, stouts and real ales must definitely be avoided by coeliacs. However there are a number of gluten-free beers and lagers now on the market. Wine, champagne, port, sherry, ciders, liqueurs and spirits, including whisky, are all gluten-free. Although whisky comes from barley initially, the distilling process involved in its production means it is suitable for coeliacs to drink, as there is not
gluten present in the end product. Of course, as with everyone, coeliacs should only consume alcohol in moderation!
I stared at my computer screen when I read his email, then whooped out loud. Of course, before I went out to buy a bottle, I did my own internet research, and found this little ditty from celiac.com:
“The new standards set in this publication conform more closely with current international standards. Included on their safe list are items that have been on Celiac.com’s safe list for over five years, including: amaranth, buckwheat, distilled vinegar (no matter what its source), distilled alcoholic beverages (including rum, gin, whiskey and vodka), millet, quinoa and teff.”
So, to celebrate, another friend of mine brought over a bottle of Macallan. We ate my homemade shepherd’s pie with ground lamb and poured ourselves stiff drinks of Scotch. Gad, but it tasted good.
Of course, tonight, I hope that no one drinks too much. That’s no way to celebrate the start of a new year of our lives, everyone. And please, don’t drive if you’ve been drinking. Just don’t.
But, I have to say, when I’ve tried to adust to not having many foods I took for granted, and overcome that with joy, it’s wonderfully unexpected to have something given back. My life feels even richer now.
Cheers to that.
Braised Chicken with Scotch and Major Grey Chutney
If you don’t like drinking Scotch, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind eating something simmered in it. Last week, when some friends came over for dinner, I made up this recipe, using what I had in hand. In joyful experiment mode after finding out I could drink Scotch, I splashed some of the amber liquid in the pot and came up with this. Two of my guests were under twelve, but I felt fine serving them this, since the alcohol burns off in cooking.
More and more, I’m cooking meals based on what’s fresh that day, and what my internal taste sense tells me should go together. Earlier that day, when I was strolling through the aisles of my favorite food store, I reached for a jar of Major Grey chutney. Made with mango and ginger, this has been a standby of Indian cuisine for decades. It’s slightly sweet, slightly hot, and a surprising combination of flavors. And this brand I bought is gluten free. This chutney, along with Scotch and wasabi mustard, works beautifully with chicken.
eight chicken thighs, preferably organic and locally produced
two tablespoons high-quality olive oil
one medium onion, diced
four cloves of garlic, finely minced
one cup of Major Grey chutney
one tablespoon wasabi mustard (I use Amy’s organic) or a good Dijon
one cup of Scotch
one cup good chicken stock
salt anc cracked pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized, cast-iron Dutch oven, then throw in the diced onion on medium to medium-high heat. Sautee the onion until it starts to soften. Add the minced garlic and stir it all with a wooden spoon, continually.
Lay the chicken thighs on the sizzling onions and garlic and brown them on one side. Turn, then brown on the other side. Set them aside in a large, wide-mouthed bowl. Spoon the onions and garlic on top of the chicken thighs, then add the chutney and mustard. Stir to mix it all together, until the chicken is coated.
Return the chicken thighs to the pan, then splash in the Scotch and chicken stock. Put the lid on the pan and put it in the oven for one hour, or until the chicken is tender at the bone, and the liquid has simmered into an intoxicating concoction. Serve immediately.