Valentine’s Day Weekend (and Other) Reflections…

So here I am, another Monday morning at Laina’s place working and doing my laundry, but after a fun weekend prior.

This was the first Valentine’s Day since 2011 that I have not been single. It’s weird in a way. I guess you can count 2014 as partnered, but that was the day my most recent ex and I split so I don’t know if that even counts.

Anyway, it was the first V-Day in that long that hasn’t totally sucked. Though what we have is the farthest thing from a traditional relationship, it was fitting to celebrate what we have on the day, and that we did. I cooked us a dinner of Salmon, Thai peanut buckwheat noodles (buckwheat is not related to wheat and is gluten-free) and French-cut green beans, after which we went for wine and chocolate at San Antonio’s own Stray Grape winery (review coming soon over on Texas Bite & Sip). It was a night of reflection, affection and looking to the future ahead.

It was crowded so we retired early to my place for a Walking Dead marathon, then continued the theme into Saturday by taking a drive up to “winery row” (US 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg) to sample some more wine.

As we look into what lies ahead, of course nobody knows, but I still know I’m in a better place now. To love and to be loved feels great.

Other interesting reflections: my weight is holding steady after a drop, but my body composition continues to change in my favor – to the point I can rock swim briefs at the pool with complete confidence.

I feel even lighter mood-wise also, and would you believe I have completely lost my taste for cigars? I’ve tried a few here and there recently (ones I used to love) and I can’t stomach the taste anymore. Maybe as my body detoxes itself it’s being repulsed by the taste to not introduce new toxins? Who knows, but all I know is I’m pretty much completely cigar-free these days. I’m not complaining – they’re expensive and it frees me up to do other things with my time.

I’m trying to read a novel for the first time since 2017 – Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. So far an engaging read for sure, and this coming from someone who doesn’t get much pleasure from reading novels.

Of course, should a business venture come to fruition, the plan will have to be different moving forward as I no longer smoke cigars. That’s ok – I’m thinking maybe an entirely gluten-free tavern featuring a variety of food offerings and some of the very best wines from Texas hill country (as well as maybe some hard ciders, etc.). That’s still a concept in its infancy, but it’s worth it to explore.

Anyway, that’s what my life looks like now.

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.

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!