Grieving for Gluten (And Other Things)…

When you find out you have an allergy, autoimmune reaction, etc. to a certain food or certain compound in a given food, it’s quite saddening to say the least. Even if you do know it’s for the best, it can really fucking suck.

For me, some days are better than others. Most of the time, I can deal with it just fine. I’ve found gluten-free replacements for all of my favorite foods – Italian, Asian, sushi, pizza, you name it! I definitely do not feel at all deprived on the food spectrum. I’ve found ways to deal with it (as well as my reactions to dairy, oats, amarinth and corn) and still eat all my favorites, using various gluten/grain free breads, pastas, etc.; non-dairy cheeses and ice creams, you name it. In fact, I’d say I eat better now and I enjoy eating and cooking more than I ever have in the past.

Alas, I still find myself sometimes longing for a Bratzel from Flying Saucer (a cheese/beer brat topped giant soft pretzel), a delicious donut, a wood-fired Lucia pizza from Vagabond in my old hometown of Abilene, and above all else, a good stout beer – the last of which still aches my heart that I can’t have anymore. There have been a few times I’ve wanted one so bad I’ve fucking cried.

Last week was a prime example, and I goddamn near caved and cheated on the gluten-free thing. Due to some unfortunate events last week (which were a result of my own doing and I’ll own that – though I don’t want to discuss details), I felt so bad the only thing I wanted was a Bratzel and imperial stout, and I was “this” close to going over to Flying Saucer and getting just that. Luckily, something came up which prevented me from doing that and saved me what could have been days straight of intense pain and suffering (I guess everything does happen for a reason).

The only gluten-free beer I’ve found around here is Redbridge by Anheuser-Busch and it’s no imperial stout. Whether or not you could even brew a gluten-free beer to have the thickness of imperial stout is another question altogether – part of where it gets its thickness is from the gluten itself.

Now, some Google search results have shown some true gluten-free imperial stouts. Alas, most of them are brewed on the west coast, and all of the ones I’ve found contain oats, which lo and behold I also react to. I can’t have those either!!! EFF. EM. ELL.

I guess I should consider myself lucky because I’ve got so much great Texas hill country wine to choose from around here to fill that void, but damn, wine just ain’t the same. I love wine, don’t get me wrong, and I would often choose it over beer back in my beer drinking days, but when you crave a beer it’s just a poor substitute.

My old pipe band is having a Burns Supper in a couple of weeks. I can guarantee you nothing there will be Celiac-safe because of the nature of Scottish cuisine. I can’t even enjoy that anymore. At times it’s just too much to handle.

Alas, I know it’s for the best if I stick to it, and in due time I’ll miss these things less. Taking it one day at a time is all I can do, and I guess I’ll just trudge forward, even if a beer or Bratzel is tempting at times.

I’ll be fine, and I can triumph over my cravings, and I will enjoy better health for not giving in. A little emotional pain now is worth not having a lot more of it later (as physical and emotional pain usually go hand in hand).

New Blog: Texas Bite & Sip

Hello my friends!

In my last post I eluded to a potential new blog for Texas eatery and winery reviews. Today, that blog was born: Texas Bite & Sip!

Texas Bite & Sip is a collaboration between myself and Laina Eartharcher. In this blog, we will visit and review a variety of Texas restaurants, wineries, dives, etc. together – each giving our own perspective. We might agree or agree-to-disagree, but we’ll give it to you straight from our respective viewpoints.

We do not pretend to be experts in this field, just everyday people like you who want a down-to-earth review. That’s what you’ll find.

If you are interested and so inclined, please visit and follow! The site is still under construction, but hopefully we’ll have our first review live in the very near future.

Holiday Fun, Some Personal Updates & A Look at 2020 Ahead

So I’m chilling in my apartment this morning resting up from a past two fun-filled days. They’ve worn me out for sure but wow has it been fun.

Our holiday fun started on Saturday the 14th when Laina and I caught up with my best friend from high school and one of her close friends for a stroll down the San Antonio Riverwalk to see the lights. They do it up in a huge way, let me tell you what! We walked down and up, stopped in for a quick bite to eat on one of the restaurants on the strip (and a couple of spicy margaritas for me – which were heavenly) and just took it in on a lovely, warm-ish December night.

Christmas Eve we went over to Laina’s BFF’s house for some fun and games as well as food and drink. Upon Laina’s BFF’s request, I made what has become my signature dish – a paleo-style Asian stir fry using spaghetti squash instead of lo mein noodles, boneless chicken thighs, sliced carrots, onions, celery, zucchini, red bell pepper, chopped portabella mushroom and diced peanut and garlic bits, with a mix of San-J (all gluten/MSG free sauces) Thai peanut and spicy Szechuan sauces. (Oh, and sliced green onions on the side for those who wanted them). Everyone seemed to love it.

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We ate, I cracked out my new Taylor 12 for awhile, then we played some Bullshit (a hilarious card game where the object is to lie like a dog and get away with it!). After having killed two full bottles of wine and some Peruvian brandy, I was in no condition to drive so we stayed the night.

Laina and I woke up at 6 AM sharp yesterday morning to run back to our places, tend to a few things and then hit the road to Abilene to see my family. We stopped in at my parents’ place first thing for some small gift exchanges and to fill up on my mom’s famous ham/pineapple before heading over to my paternal grandmother’s house for her last Christmas in her place before moving to assisted living.

Needless to say yesterday wasn’t as fun as the day before, but I made it through. I’ve always been the black sheep of my family but I felt obligated to go. After some light conversation with the group, Laina and I got right back on the road to SA (in which I promptly changed out of awful full-length jeans back into my signature Dukes – lord knows my conservative, Bible-thumping extended family would have thrown a fit over me wearing them!) and met up with Mr. Kitty for dinner and hard ciders at Flying Saucer. It was a great way to cap off the night.

As far as other personal updates, I continue to heal as my health continues to improve. I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight without even trying – no calorie counting or anything. Take this photo as a prime example. These “light wash” Dukes are one of my smaller pairs. This time last year I struggled to button them. This year, I need a belt with them!

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Now that’s progress!

Sorcha is doing well. She goes into the vet again tomorrow (Friday) for her third round of vaccines and to schedule spaying/microchipping. She’s become a little Houdini – she’s snuck out on my back deck once and out my front door once, going halfway down the stairs. Methinks she’s wanting to chase some tail (as do most female cats when they hit puberty), but the last thing I need is a litter of kittens so that’s not happening. She has stopped pissing on my bed (after switching her to a full-sized litterbox) and sleeps with me in bed at night – on my pillow behind my head!

Here’s a cute little picture I took of her exploring my wine glass. Like father, like daughter I guess!

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So, what’s on the docket for 2020 for this blog? Well, more of life in San Antonio as I continue through this major transitional step in my life, exploring a newfound love life, and some collaboration work! Laina and I have been visiting several wineries in the hill country lately (mostly on Highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg), doing like a superficial once-overs and some tastings. We are planning to launch a joint venture in which we review the wineries we’ve visited, from atmosphere, decor, staff, and of course the wine itself. As our wine palates run totally opposite (she’s into light, sweet whites/roses as well as ports whereas I’m more of a big, heavy, dry red type person) we’ll each have a different angle to approach with to give you more variety. Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss this!

Is It Detox?

OK, let me preface this post by saying I’ve felt like T-total shit all week. It kind of started on Monday but took hold Tuesday into Wednesday when I’ve felt just totally gnarly. At first I thought I had contracted another upper respiratory and it was the precursor, but when I didn’t develop any upper respiratory symptoms (nor any GI symptoms for that matter!) I was at a loss.

I consulted with Laina as I always do in regards to these matters, and she suggested my body might have entered into detox mode. I guess it would fit with a lot of what I’ve noticed – fever/chills, heavy/skunky perspiration (we’re talking soak the bed at night heavy and man does it stink), pissing like a racehorse, “power shits,” a headache, you name it.

Yeah, not exactly pleasant but I guess necessary. I was feeling so icky last night that Laina out of the kindness of her heart kept me overnight at her place for medical observation, and she went the extra mile to tend to the little one while I was in only a partially conscious state.

After throwing back some water this morning, some trace minerals and having a good shower, I’m starting to feel somewhat normal again. I’m still not 100% but I’m much better than I was – maybe 80%-ish or so.

The question is what triggered all this? I’ve not started any supplements or anything to trigger a detox, but simple lifestyle changes might have brought it on – going gluten-free/dairy free (the two big food reactions I have), increasing fiber intake, healthier food choices in general, reducing consumption of alcohol, tobacco and caffeiene. If that’s enough to start the detox process, then I guess so be it.

Lord knows I’ve been in a decades-long need of a good detox. I was born with a heavy toxic load. My mother worked in a dry cleaner while she was pregnant with me AND smoked while pregnant. Those two things alone should tell you how many toxins I was exposed to in utero. Combine that with admittedly having a totally unhealthy diet for however long, drinking like a fish for the past few years of my life (starting with my stint in Dallas which was miserable and thus I had nothing better to do), among other unhealthy lifestyle habits, yeah, I was destined for either this or a very early death, whichever came first.

I guess we’ll just roll with the punches for now, as unpleasant as it might be for the time being. Laina swears if I can power through detox I’ll come out feeling better than ever at the other end. Right now it’s hard to see. I am not a person of any kind of faith whatsoever, but maybe it’s time I take something on faith, because I know that’s what I’m having to do right now. I do, however, have some evidence in that Laina has showed me a couple of her driver’s license pictures – one at age 23 and one at age 30. She actually reverse-aged during that time. She swears the same thing can happen with me.

Time will tell, of course, but for now, I guess I have to keep on keeping on.

My Recent Foray into Home Cooking

I have to admit, I never thought much of my own cooking skills. Yeah, I could do basic stuff (like heat up pre-packaged stuff, using a microwave or toaster oven, etc.) and live, but never did I venture much into cooking from scratch. I just never thought I really had it in me to do so, and the couple of times I had tried in the past were absolute disasters.

Of course, going gluten-free changes all of that. Almost all pre-packaged meals contain something glutenated, not to mention a bunch of artificial chemical shit nobody should be eating! When I look back I’m disgusted at what I was actually eating, solely in the name of convenience and, I admit, sheer laziness!

Alas, here’s where I get my hand forced. Eating out every day is prohibitively expensive (unless of course you have the net worth of our worthless orange-haired shitgibbon of a president!) so here I am having no choice but to learn to cook from scratch! Between that and that Laina is a self-admitted “disaster in the kitchen” (though she does help when possible) well, I’m kind of handcuffed into it.

I always figured I’d have to go on Food Network’s “Worst Cooks In America” to learn anything! I know so many people wonder how anyone can be that genuinely horrible at cooking, but I seriously thought I was. Well, maybe not so much.

I’ve now cooked four meals from scratch (all on Tuesday nights interestingly enough) for Laina and I, with plenty left over for subsequent meals and I have to say so far, so good! Hell, even the stuff I’ve made has been palatable to *ME*, so even own-worst-critic me is giving myself a pat on the back for what I’ve done thus far – from gluten-free pasta to sirloin steaks and everything in between!

I’d like to share with you what I’ve done for the past couple of weeks, taking one base ingredient and preparing it two totally different ways just to demonstrate that it’s OK to think outside of the box. For the base ingredient, I’ve used spaghetti squash – a large squash that literally turns stringy when cooked, like spaghetti. I scored a sale on organic spaghetti squash at Natural Grocers for $0.99/lb so I couldn’t pass up picking up a couple. It’s naturally gluten-free and has lots of fiber and nutrients, making it a great substitute for regular pasta.

For the first one, I took it in a typical direction you’d find – more of an Italian spaghetti type dish. Using one large spaghetti squash (baked at 400F for 40 minutes; split the squash, scoop out the pulp, vent and bake face down), combined with two jars of Whole Foods 365 organic pasta sauce  heated in a crock pot, 1 lb. grass-fed ground beef, and two bulbs minced garlic, one red onion and one portabella mushroom all sauteed, the end result was a healthy, delicious dinner to satisfy even the most die-hard spaghetti fan!

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Then just tonight, knowing the other one would have to be eaten soon but not wanting to do the same thing twice in a row, the gears started turning and I thought “what if I take this in an Asian direction?” After all, noodles are at the base of many Asian dishes. From that seed the idea for spaghetti squash stir fry was born. Baking the spaghetti squash the same as before, I stir fried 1 lb. of boneless/skinless chicken thighs with 2 stalks of celery, two carrots, two portabella caps, a large red onion and diced unsalted peanuts, with some green onion on the side (I’m not a fan, but Laina loves them so I did it that way). Combine this with the squash and 1 bottle each of San-J Thai Peanut and Spicy Szechuan sauces and the end result was a stir fry fit for Genghis Khan himself!

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I have to admit, this has been a blast. I never thought I’d actually enjoy cooking quite like this, but I really am. It’s almost like “you mean I made that?” Damn. I guess I can do this after all. I don’t know what I’ll come up with next, but we shall see.

Cigar Review: Oscar 2012 Barberpole

This offering from Oscar Valladares features a striped Barberpole consisting of Candela and Mexican San Andreas wrappers, Nicaraguan binder and Honduran and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size smoked for review is a 6″ x 52RG sharply box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plumes of mild/medium bodied smoke. The signature Candela flavor starts things off – vegetal, grassy, with a glycerin sweetness. A hint of pepper to start.

As the cigar develops the body ticks up to a medium as the San Andreas starts to engage. A very complex blend of flavors – still with the Candela flavor package but an addition of a rich cocoa, a slight creamy note, a heavy earth and a substantial pepper blast. Everything is seamlessly blended. No one flavor sticks out.

The flavor package was consistent start to finish, which was fine by me as it was so complex and so well done it kept my interest. Ending at 1 hour 45 minutes for a truly impressive burn time for the size and the strength matches the body at a medium.

Flawless construction throughout with a burn line about as good as you can expect from a Barberpole – no touch ups required. Short flowery ash though, so be aware of that. Band is high quality and self adhesive and removes without damage to the wrapper.

This cigar will have wide appeal. Fans of both Candela and San Andreas will find something to like about this cigar. With its middle of the road body and strength profile, it would be a great cigar for any time of day and will pair well with just about anything. At about $8-9/stick, this is a great value for what you get. Rating: 4.5/5.

The Gluten-Free Cigar Lover: What To Drink With Cigars

So it’s been about a week and a half since I found out that I have Celiac disease and I’ve been gluten-free for almost a month now. During that time, I have only had one accidental exposure and oh man did I feel it! I guess that’s why I never knew it before – I had gotten so used to the reaction I didn’t even notice it, then once my body’s defenses had reloaded, I get glutenated and bam, misery!

Anyway, today’s topic is going to be what to drink with your cigars if you’re gluten-free. Of course, some of my old favorite pairings are a no-go now (namely stout beer and Scotch/Irish whisk(e)y), but I’m slowly discovering new alternatives to pair with my cigars that I think my fellow Celiac and NCGS folks will love.

Coffee, of course, goes without saying:
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The nectar of the gods – naturally gluten-free, a great cup of plain black coffee is almost a universal pairing with a fine cigar, and is naturally gluten-free and, if you’re watching your calories, has only 2 calories per cup! Of course, experiment with different blends and roasts to find your favorites to pair with what cigars, but you’re sure to find a coffee that goes with just about any cigar.

You’ve seen me pair red wine with cigars a lot too:

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Wine goes without saying as gluten-free as it’s made from grapes. Much like coffee, red wine is almost a universal pairing. With a range of varietals of red wine (from a mild Pinot Noir to a hefty Cabernet Sauvignon to everything in between), you’re sure to find a red wine that goes with just about any cigar out there. Match the body of the cigar to the body of the wine for best results.

If liquor is your preference, a nice dark rum is an excellent pairing:

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Rum is distilled from sugarcane, which is naturally gluten-free. Think a nice Flor de Cana with a medium to full bodied cigar for a ultra smooth smoking and drinking experience. Rum doesn’t have the afterburn that a whiskey would, so it won’t stand up to the ass-kicker cigars, but it’s got quite a variety of cigars to pair with it.

Now, for my new personal favorite pairing, brandy:

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Brandy is simply distilled wine, so no grains are present in the mash. Laurence Davis, owner of Sautter Cigars in London, UK, is on record as saying “brandy goes unbelievably with a cigar,” so I tired it. Man oh man was he ever right! A nice brandy (the above shown is E&J’s Very Special) goes great with a medium/full to full bodied cigar and gives me that afterburn I crave that I lost when I had to give up whisk(e)y.

One pairing not pictured here is a nice mimosa. A mimosa paired with a mild cigar is a great way to kick-start your day, is all gluten-free and absolutely delicious.

As far as some others I’ve talked to, I know a number of people who like vodka with cigars, however I’m not a fan and some vodkas can be glutenated so be careful. I’ve heard gin less commonly being paired with cigars, but some people I think like that too. Tequila I can’t see going well with a cigar but maybe it can.

Finally, closing this post out I’d like to make some comments about whisk(e)y. I’ve heard mixed reports on it so I’ll share my impressions. It seems that some Celiacs and NCGS people tolerate whisk(e)y OK while others seem to react to it the way they would if they ingested glutenated food or beer. Whereas most whisk(e)y that’s been tested meets the US FDA’s definition of certified gluten-free (less than 20 ppm), I think the root of the problem lies elsewhere.

My theory is that distillation actually breaks the gluten down into its individual peptides. Just which peptides are present in any given whisk(e)y we’ll never know. Also, no two people react to the exact same subset of gluten peptides. As such, I theorize that the ones who can tolerate whisk(e)y are not reactive to the peptides found in it, whereas the ones who react to it are. If we have the technology to test them for specific peptides, why aren’t we doing it?

As such, I am laying off whisk(e)y for now, especially in the early goings while my body heals itself. I might try reintroducing it at some point down the road to see if I can handle it. If I can, great. If not, oh well. I’ve found so many great alternatives anyway!

If I have any gluten-reactive cigar lovers who follow me, I’d like to hear from you. What do you like to pair with your cigars? I’m always wanting to learn more and try new things. Comment with your favorite pairings!

9/3/2019 – The Day I Found Out…

…that I have Celiac disease.

Yep, it’s official. Not only am I highly reactive to gluten, but it’s even worse than that. I have full-blown Celiac disease…

The last three markers in the panel are the autoantibodies. Yep, that’s permanent. Looks like my adoption of a gluten-free diet is permanent. I knew I felt better doing it, I had no idea why it was so instantaneous until then.

Also complicating things? I have all sorts of autoantibodies – the strongest of which are heart, joints and thyroid (having a family history of Graves’ disease I wasn’t surprised by the latter).

Ugh. What a pain. The good news is that we caught it early and can contain the fire. Of course, I have the best support system ever in doing so, and here we go with a much better and healthier, happier me.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Wish me luck.

Almost Two Weeks Straight Gluten-Free

Wow. Can you believe that? I’ve stayed gluten-free for almost two weeks now! I’ve still not gotten my Cyrex Array 3 back yet but it’s a matter of days now I would think.

Alas, I naturally ate gluten-free all during my vacation (having discovered many delicious options for both eating at home and eating out), including entrees, snacks and even desserts! As much as I was dreading it, I can honestly say the discovery has been a ton of fun! It’s a new way of eating but I don’t necessarily feel deprived.

As far as changes in how I feel? Holy shit! I no longer struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I’m up and revving straight away. I’m much less irritable. My clinical depression has lightened dramatically. I don’t feel like I’m about to crash come mid afternoon. I’ve also lost some weight without even trying. My “skinny” pair of DD’s? I can button them again! I don’t have them with me right now (as I loaned them out to someone else for the time being), but that was huge when I was able to.

Does the work day still suck? Oh yes. I still hate the shit out of my job (which yesterday marked four years in the crane and rigging industry for me). I’ll still leave that toxic industry behind sometime (trust me fellow Aspies/Autists – you do NOT want to work in the crane and rigging industry), but I’m not as edgy as I was before.

Further leading credence to the gluten reactivity theory is a physical exam of my tongue. I had a large, jagged fissure in my tongue prior to cutting gluten out. I always thought nothing of it, but apparently it’s a sign of food reaction (according to a certain Functional Medicine practitioner I know ;-)).

Right now my biggest challenge staying gluten-free is a family that does not practice the lifestyle. I’m having to do my own thing and for now actually hide it from them, because I don’t want them thinking I’m a hypochondriac as they have in times past (such as my own Asperger’s self-discovery and when started having heart problems about 10 years ago, which was later shown to be WPW). Rather, I will wait until I get the test results back to disclose so I have some scientific backing for my lifestyle change.

Anyway, just some random observations. I know with 99.9% confidence now that I am reactive to gluten. What form that takes will be seen soon (I’m hoping Non-Celiac as that’s easier to manage). All I know is I feel loads better following a gluten-free diet.

So that’s where I’m at now. I’m anxiously awaiting the test results, but noting the marked changes in how I feel, for now I’m sticking with being gluten-free.

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Rose of Sharon

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This offering from Southern Draw cigars features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size smoked for review is a 6″ x 52RG box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light revealed a slightly snug draw but producing ample creamy, medium-bodied smoke. The first light flavors revealed a general nutty flavor profile supported by a big pepper blast on the retrohale. Fairly plain out of the gate, but ramped up quickly.

As the cigar develops into the first third, a rich bouquet of smooth flavors enter in – the nuttiness takes on a distinct cashew note and is followed up with notes of sweet cream and vanilla extract. The pepper is still very present on the finish and retrohale. All flavors are very well blended and nothing dominates over the others.

We see only a slight transition into the 2nd third as the pepper starts to diminish slightly, allowing a heavy, aromatic oak to enter the mix. The final third saw another subtle shift as the vanilla started to diminish and the pepper ramped back up. Finishing out at 1 hour and 20 minutes for a very impressive burn time for a Toro sized stick and bringing in a surprising medium nicotine strength.

The construction was absolutely perfect with a near razor-sharp burn all the way down and the ash holding on solidly for a third of the cigar at a time. High-quality self-adhesive bands that were easy to remove and did not damage the wrapper leaf in any way.

Wow, is the paradigm shifting when it comes to Connecticut blends? I’ve gotten a number of them recently that have defied my expectations for what a Connecticut would be. Maybe we’re seeing a market trend toward more flavorful, complex Connecticuts? I hope so, as I do like to smoke milder cigars in the morning (my palate is quite sensitive).  This one is definitely in the upper echelon, right up there with the previously reviewed Henry Clay War Hawk and the Blanco Liga Exclusiva de Familia.  Great with a nice strong, dark roast coffee. Rating: 4.5/5.