I’ve been spending a lot of time in cars lately.
Breakfasts on the back porch, long lunches at the picnic table, snacks when I feel hungry and can simply walk into the kitchen? Those feel like words on a page right now. These days, I’m eating in the car.
The two weddings required hours of driving. No onerous task, considering the end point, and the company of Tea, who made me laugh and think and want to sing along to songs on the radio. Still, there were some miles on the car.
Now that we have moved to our home, slightly farther away from the restaurant than the apartment before it, the Chef and I seem to spend more time driving down the freeway than I have since I lived in LA. We want to hold hands, but he grows nervous from the traffic. (Actually, I taught him the word gesticulate so he could say to me: “Will you please stop gesticulating when you tell that story? At least until we are off I-5?” Instead, he simply puts his hand on mine and pats it back to the steering wheel.)
And during this week and last, I have been teaching a creative-writing summer camp for teenagers at the Hugo House. This is my third year of teaching there, and I love the camaraderie of being in a room with twenty other beings, all of whom feel the need to press pen to paper. These students are fierce and funny, utterly themselves, and excited enough about writing that they voluntarily spend two weeks inside during August. (In short, they’re freaks, like me.) But the fact that this short-term teaching gig coincides with the worst construction snarl on I-5 in recorded history (if you believe the press) means that we are spending time in the car.
At least we can hold hands when we’re stopped in the fast lane.
Still, we have to leave the house earlier than usual to make it to Hugo in time for the 9:30 start. These past days, I have been eating gluten-free English muffins with almond butter as I wait for traffic to slow so I can chew. I don’t like eating in the car. It feels so rushed and defeating. Great food should be eaten mindfully, every bite a panoply of textures and tastes, memories rising past my face into the part of my brain that records good moments. Instead, I am listening to horns behind me. And the smell of exhaust does not lend itself to digestion.
The other night, at the restaurant, Suja (one of the waitresses) stood near the kitchen door, waiting for an order. She picked up a saucer with a mixed green salad, goat cheese, and champagne vinaigrette and started spinning it in her hands. “I’m driving this salad around town,” she said, and I laughed. That’s what my eating life feels like at the moment.
Sometimes, I love the inspiration of the car. The rhythm of the road matches the phrases in my mind, and I start to write by tapping on the dashboard. Stopped on the road, I see inside every car more clearly: that man is picking his nose, and not even surreptitiously; she’s singing to Sly and the Family Stone; they are arguing loudly, and she’s turning her face away from him. And sometimes, inspiration strikes from an unexpected flash on the road. Cut off by a man who insisted his car had to go faster, I jolted with adrenaline at nearly being hit. I could taste it in my mouth. Later that morning, in the safe confines of Hugo House, I wrote the start of this poem:
A First Course of Fear
Fear tastes like
Blackberries five days before ripeness
Battery acid gone dry
Nineteen tacks covered in vegemite
Heaping teaspoons of pickle juice
Two and a half cups of baking powder
Dusty dredges of shriveled cheese
Chewy crackers, gone flubby with mold
Prison bars in the cold of winter.
Fear tastes like twenty pieces of bubble gum
Shoved inside your mouth at once
And you can’t stop
The acid aching along your jaw.
It’s a first draft, out of fifteen minutes of writing with the students about synethesia, but it felt good. At least I could turn the frightening driving into something that felt like mine.
In another free write, inspired by my co-teacher’s prompt to write about America, these words emerged from my pen:
“…amazing grace and purple mountains majesty and in Wyoming the mountains really are purple and amaze me, and that spot, before the mountains, the Teton mountains, with Sharon, the Snake River winding and we are eating Screaming Yellow Zonkers and playing Mad Libs, putting the names of people who always make us laugh in all the blank spaces, and the rest are all fart jokes and dirty words and silly sounds, because we may be in our 30s at this point, but really we are 12. And the sun is coming through the windshield, and Sir Duke comes on the cd, and I say, ‘Blast it, Sharon. We have to hear this song.’ And she opens her hand to turn the knob and the music grows louder at the moment the sun bursts out from behind the Tetons. And we are dancing, my ass wriggling in the driver’s seat and she is singing and I am singing and there is this sudden surge of happiness, a pocket of air that expands in my chest and makes my head feel light. And even though I can feel the weight of the world in my shoulders, still, I can press it away from me, to just outside the windows of the car, where it flaps like my hand making cupped circles in the air, turning and open, everything motion, and my best friend is by my side, doing the same. The song ends. We play it four more times in a row.
And though this list began with a bunch of negative words, the usual suspects of complaints about this country, in the end, this run-on sentence, words tumbling all over themselves in a rush to be free of my brain, the exuberance and silly specifics — damned if that’s not America, too.”
Remembering those moments with Sharon, on our cross-country journey, made me sigh. Oh, if only eating in the car was that blithe anymore.
You see, driving and eating is more difficult when you have to live gluten-free.
No stopping at fast food places, which really isn’t a loss for me, but the convenience is what draws people in. Walking into a coffee shop is merely a demonstration of how overly reliant we are on wheat in this culture. Muffins, cookies, sandwiches, and pastries — nope. When I walk into a grocery store in search of a snack, most of the time I can’t go to the deli case and grab something for lunch. Even the turkey breast — was it marinated in something? Did they cut it on the same board where someone else made sandwiches? Did the employee change his gloves between the tortellini he pulled from the case and my baked chicken breast?
I have been eating a lot of gluten-free power bars and bananas these days.
Those of you who can eat gluten? I challenge you to walk through a typical workday and try to avoid it. Not just the obvious places, but all the cross-contamination and soy-sauce marinades and dustings of flour on the candies to make them not stick. Try to eat gluten-free for a day. Let me know what you think.
And those of you who already avoid the gluten? How do you deal with being out all day, running one errand after another without the time for a proper meal? What do you keep in your car for snacks?
I’ve been packing almonds, rice cakes, and fruit. But any suggestions would be fantastic.
The teaching gig at Hugo House ends tomorrow. Shame, in a way, since I have so enjoyed these kids. (They have portfolios due tomorrow, which is a way of publishing their work. And it is in the spirit of solidarity for that act of bravery they are about to commit that I included those roughest drafts of writing I have ever put on this site before.) But I’ll be able to go back to leisurely eating on Saturday.
Still, I have to find a way to deal with this gracefully. After all, there will be more driving to come. In just a few weeks, we will be bouncing around the Italian countryside in a tiny rental car. And it’s possible that part of the book tour will involve a road trip, the Chef and I. So I’d like to figure out how to be a gluten-free road warrior, soon.
After all, it’s easier to keep my eyes on the road when I’m feeling well-fed.
Addendum: The comments on this post have been helpful to me already. Of course, this piece is a bit of a conceit, because I am lucky. I can always ask the Chef to pack me up a lunch at the restaurant. However, this is a real problem for those of us who need to eat gluten-free, and I hope that all of you will turn to each other’s suggestions as a resource.
Also, if you feel the urgency of this and wish to put it into poem form.…Well, now you have an outlet. The good folks at Allergic Living are holding a contest for the best poem about dealing with allergies. You know you have it in you. >Go here and submit your words.
Chickpea salad with carrots, walnuts, and French feta
The other day, I grew determined. I intended to find a place where I could buy a cup of something hot to drink, fire up the wi-fi to work on the computer, and eat something more substantial than a banana. Gluten-free living in Seattle is far easier than it is in other cities — or so I have been told — but still, this seemed like a snarl worse than the freeway in the mornings. It took a trek to four places, with parking delays at each one, before I found my new nirvana: Remedy Teas. This calm, green-walled place contains a hundred teas or more. Better for me, they have gluten-free carrot muffins in the glass case, as well as a salad of spinach, walnut, cucumbers, and chickpeas.
It’s amazing what we take for granted.
That evening, I invented this concoction. I love chickpeas. Truly, I could eat them every day. Most days, I just squeeze a little lemon juice atop them, drizzle a glug of olive oil, crunch some kosher salt between my fingers, and top it all with pepper. An afternoon of clean eating and a sigh of relief. If I am feeling decadent, I add in bites of fresh mozzarella. It doesn’t take much more than that to make me happy.
However, the next time you take out some chickpeas, you might want to throw in some carrots cut slim, a handful of raw walnuts, some crumbled French feta, and arugula leaves torn in shreds. Top it with salty, creamy French feta and a splash of sherry-walnut vinaigrette, and you might feel better than you have in days.
Particularly if you have been eating power bars and bananas in the car.
2 cups chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup raw walnuts
2 carrots, julienned
handful French feta, crumbled
½ cup arugula, shredded into small pieces
cracked black pepper
sherry-walnut vinaigrette (see recipe below)
Combine the chickpeas, walnuts, carrots, salt and pepper.
Drizzle with s small spurt of vinaigrette and toss.
Compose in the bowl and add the French feta.
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup walnut oil
In a blender, combine the sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard. Mix them well. Slowly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil as the blender is running. When the liquids have blended into a coherent mixture (known as emulsifying), stop the blender. Drizzle this over the chickpeas and eat.