Continuing the Gluten-Free Discovery

I spent yet another weekend in San Antonio hanging with Laina, sniffing out some other parts of town and visiting tourist locations (downtown, the missions, etc.) and of course food destinations, in which I jump in to gluten-free mode.

The more I get into the whole GF thing (with Laina practically holding my hand through it all), the more I discover so many new favorite flavors. Saturday mid-morning we ventured into the Pearl Brewery area (which is no longer a brewery by the way) for the farmers market, intending just to peruse for the time being but she spotted a stand making gluten-free crepes. Naturally we had to stop, for neither of us have had a crepe in years. We both ordered one to our tastes and they were absolutely delicious and filling. We totally skipped our planned lunch spot as it held us over until dinner. Like wow.

Also at the farmers market there was a winery with a stand (Bending Branch). I decided what the hell and got a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon. It was delicious, so much in fact I went back and bought a bottle.

Over the course of the weekend we also visited two sushi places, and while I wasn’t able to order what I am accustomed to, I found other great, flavorful alternatives. Pitfalls to avoid include, but are not limited to, imitation crab, wasabi, soy sauce, eel sauce, none of which you would think have gluten but in fact do. That’s ok, with help I navigated to safe options, axing wasabi and doubling down on ginger instead. Oh, and GF soy sauce is a thing, and I cannot tell any difference between that and regular soy sauce. Why then do they add wheat to soy sauce I haven’t a clue. Oh, and I can still have sake too, which I love and will order with sushi when they have a hot sake option (I don’t care for cold sake, has to be hot for me, for that’s how my great-grandmother drank it and what I developed a taste for).

Sunday morning I munched on some GF crackers with roasted red pepper hummus while we ran some unexplored territory (at least on my account). Oh man that was delicious. We then stopped into a Mediterranean place. I considered a lentil soup appetizer but that was quickly shot down as I asked and it was in fact thickened with flour (dammit!!!), but afterward I was glad I forwent it as the entree was very filling indeed, with lots of very exotic flavors from the sauces used (which were totally safe).

So then the weekend comes to a close and I venture back to my dwelling place, where dad had grilled hamburgers. Not having any GF buns on hand, I grabbed a normal bun and had dinner. First bite of gluten since the Thursday evening prior to my trip. I also had a scotch with my cigar after (which is distilled from barley – and while there is no consensus as to whether or not it is GF, I would assume it at least contains traces of gluten). I had no ill effects at the outset, but I woke up this morning with terrible stomach cramps. OMG I hurt something fierce, and whereas I can’t tell for certain that the gluten was the cause, I can’t think of any other variable that would account for it.

At this point, given my own personal anecdotes and experiences it seems to be that the evidence is stacking up – I would say there is a higher chance that I am reactive than not. Again, I’m not jumping to conclusions and I will have the Array 3 run to verify, but it just seems that way to me. And if it is, I’ve decided I’m ok with that. I’m quickly discovering great new flavors that I love. My palate is morphing the more I consume GF foods, many of which I’m finding I like better than the mundane things I was eating day to day. Like this has gone from “well shit, this fucking sucks” to “oh wow, this is actually fun!”

I’ve learned that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can still have many of my existing favorites, some with just a slight modification, and I’m exploring all sorts of uncharted territory and finding great new-to-me flavors. Whereas beer and probably whisk(e)y is a no-go, I can still have wine, hard cider and a variety of liquors I’ve yet to get into. I can still have sushi (while avoiding certain pitfalls) and sake.

I can totally do this. If my suspicions are confirmed, I’m ready to make the switch full time. I’ve proven to myself I can do it, and I will do it if my well being depends on it.

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Cigar Review: Smokin Joe’s 34th Anniversary

For cigar smokers looking for a stellar stick at an unbelievable price, definitely stay tuned to this review. You’ll be glad you did.

This commemorative cigar, available exclusively from cigarandpipes.com in New York was blended by E.P. Carillo Cigars and features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. This cigar comes in three vitolas – a 5″ x 50RG Robusto, a 6″ x 52RG Toro, and a 6″ x 60RG Gordo. All three vitolas are less than $5/stick, so definitely budget smoker specials.

So let’s just get into the review and talk about why these sticks are so special. For this review, I am smoking the Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plentiful thick, medium/full bodied smoke. Notes of cedar and pepper dominate out of the gate, along with a smooth leather. Quite a surprising start to such an inexpensive stick.

Getting into the first third the cigar develops in complexity, still holding a medium/full flavor profile. The notes above remain, but are joined by a rich cocoa on the draw and unsalted roasted nuts oh the finish. The smoke is very thick textured and creamy on the palate.

The second third sees the same great complex flavor profile but with the balance of flavors shifting a bit. Whereas the first third emphasized the wood and pepper notes, the cocoa and leather really take over in the second half. That’s really all there is to report as the stick is fairly consistent otherwise, which is fine by me as it has a complexity and richness to the flavors. Ending at 1 hour 15 minutes for a solid burn time for the size and entering a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn and an ash holding on damn near half the cigar. High quality self-adhesive band that came off without issue and did not damage the wrapper.

I told you that you were going to want to read to the end. You are just not going to find a better cigar in this price bracket. Full of flavor, a nice kick, and an unbelievable price. I hope they make these regular production. Do yourself a flavor and buy a bundle in your preferred size and try it out. You’ll thank me later.

Pair with red wine, rum or imperial stout beer for best results. For what you’re getting for such a diminutive price, I’m giving this cigar a 5/5. It blows away many cigars 3 times its price point and sometimes more.

Cigar Review: Sobremesa

This offering from Saka cigars features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Mexican San Andreas binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is the Elegante en Cedros – a 7″ x 50RG Churchill vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing ample medium-bodied smoke. Core flavors of earth and leather out of the gate with a substantial but not overbearing red pepper blast on the retrohale. There’s also a tinge of bright cedar on the nose.

Getting into the first third we see many of the same flavor notes, but with the addition of a light roast coffee – akin to a breakfast blend – on the draw. The body flavors also see a bit of an uptick and they are now solidly medium/full. The smoke is very creamy and thick on the palate. Overall the flavors are definitely on the savory/zesty side.

The second third brings a very welcome transition as the earthiness takes a back seat and brings in a note of dry unsalted nuts and a distinct creamy note with a slight tinge of sweetness. The pepper and cedar notes remain, as do the coffee and leather. Very complex blend but no one flavor dominates any of the others.

The final third sees another shift, but this one more subtle as the coffee takes on a distinct dark baker’s chocolate bite. The pepper also dies down somewhat. Ending at 1 hour 50 minutes for a truly impressive burn time and bringing in a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a burn that wasn’t totally straight but didn’t need any manual correction, which was impressive given how windy it was when this was smoked for review. Ash holds on solidly for a third of the stick at a time. High quality self adhesive band that removed easily without damaging the wrapper.

Overall a very robust and complex smoke that leans strongly toward the savory side. I would have liked a bit more sweetness to round out the package but otherwise it was a very nice smoke for sure, though I do prefer Saka’s Mi Querida over this one. Pair with a sweet red wine or a nice rum to balance out the relative dryness of the stick. Rating: 4/5.

Some Brief Reflections on Going Gluten-Free For a Weekend

As the sun set on the biggest day in motorsports, with a stomach full of all gluten-free food and plenty of Ace and Angry Orchard hard cider, I smoked the day’s last cigar and wound down for the day, completely satisfied that I had accomplished my major project for the weekend: going gluten-free for a couple of days.

Of course, it’s not because I had to. I don’t know yet whether or not I am gluten reactive, though I still think there’s a high probability that I am for reasons mentioned prior. Rather, I did it because it was because I wanted to. I wanted to experience the struggle first-hand, as sort of a sympathy/empathy thing for those who have to fight this battle every day. I wanted to learn about what all has gluten and what doesn’t, and just how careful gluten reactive people have to be day to day. I wanted everyone at my viewing party to feel fully accommodated so that nothing was off-limits. And…there might have also been some other ulterior motives for this personal project. šŸ˜‰

At any rate, I was shocked by two things – not only how much stuff actually is gluten free, but how much stuff is NOT that one would think is. In looking at getting hamburger patties, my jaw hit the floor when I saw that the lesser priced ones actually had soy flour in them! Like what the actual fuck? Why does that shit even need to be in a hamburger patty? Needless to say I quickly rejected those and paid the premium for the “real thing” – the real thing probably tastes better anyway.

So after figuring out what all I could and could not have, it was a huge learning experience to say the least, not only about the logistics, but some about how I personally felt this weekend. For reasons I cannot explain, I did feel like I had more energy this weekend than I had in a long time. Maybe it has something to do with the fact I did eat gluten free this weekend, maybe it was some other factor. I don’t know and I’m not going to make a call one way or another.

Lastly, I also figured out just how flavorful gluten free food can be. I actually found out that I prefer the taste of a gluten free hamburger bun over a plain white bun, especially after toasting it (though I should say I absolutely despise the taste of plain white bread). Gluten free barbecue sauce? I couldn’t tell the difference. Of course, base spices, etc. are also great and dress up just about any food, and everything in the end came out just fine.

I guess at the end of the day, I proved to myself that if I do wind up having to be gluten-free, it is something I can do. There are as many different varietals of hard cider out there as there are beer, of course I already love wine and rum. I could still have sushi, minus wasabi and imitation “crab”and with gluten-free soy sauce (yes, there is such a thing!). Who knows? Maybe even sorghum beer is better than it used to be, and I forget what it’s called by a prominent bagpipe maker who is also a homebrewer has to be gluten-free and brews his own beer with normal barley malt and adds an enzyme that removes the gluten. Maybe I could try my hand at homebrewing and still have my beer and drink it too?

Of course, I can’t go completely gluten free yet. I need to wait until the test because I’ll need to continue consuming gluten at least intermittently to keep the antibodies up to show in the test (assuming I do have such antibodies). Alas, nothing says I can’t experiment with doing so on a part-time basis in the immediate future, and I plan to do just that.

I guess whatever happens, does. So be it.

 

The ā€œGā€ Word…

…and I don’t mean “gay” either. I mean another one, and one that might be the mystery as to why I am totally unresponsive to antidepressant medication despite fitting the description of clinical depression. A word that is, in the eyes of many alternative/naturopathic medicine practitioners as well as some MDs, “the root of much evil.” A word that almost took away the budding opportunity in front of me.

Gluten.

Given my medical history, a more than casual correlation between neurodivergence and gluten reactivity, and certain parallels I’ve drawn in a story similar to mine, here I am faced with a painful reality. I now realize there is a very real possibility that I am gluten reactive. Of course it’s not a certainty and won’t be unless I have a full diagnostic performed, but given my family history of autoimmune disease (my biological father having been diagnosed as Grave’s but possibly was something else, and my mother having some unknown but definite autoimmune disease) and what presents as clinical depression in myself, there is a consistency there that is impossible to overlook.

Obviously this is a real shakeup of my life story and one I had never considered before as I have absolutely no GI-related symptoms with consuming gluten (though maybe my chronic piles are aggravated by it?) and I obviously do consume a fair amount.

Which brings me to why I am just down in the dumps about it all and I’ve been crying sporadically throughout the day. You know I LOOOOOOVE beer and whisk(e)y. Beer is obvious as gluten is found in abundance in barley, wheat and oats (the first of which is a common ingredient in all beer and the latter two in many styles of beer), and though distilled, whisk(e)y is debatable and there is no consensus as to whether or not it contains gluten. I also love artisan pizza, especially from a local place here in Abilene.

As such, facing the possibility of being gluten reactive depresses the shit out of me. If it turns out I am gluten reactive, all of the above has to go away, lest I face a future where I have no quality of life and suicide/euthanasia would definitely be preferable. As depressing as the thought of having to go gluten free is, the alternative is even scarier and more depressing – loss of motor function, coordination, life bound to a wheelchair. I definitely don’t want to go there.

Given this information, I’ve decided I have no choice. I have to be screened for gluten reactivity. I have to know so I don’t inadvertently fuck myself up 10-20 years from now.

So why now, of all times? Well I’m now at a point where I am receptive to making changes if I have to. Up until now my thinking on these matters (including not only gluten but getting trashed every night, diabetes, etc.) was the same – I’m unwilling to change and give up enjoyment (read: escape from pain) in exchange for better health. My attitude was “if it kills me then so be it.” You know, the same excuse heavy cigarette smokers use to justify refusing to attempt to quit (I know I sound like a hypocrite using that analogy but cigars are indeed different in how the tobacco is cured and the product is made and consumed).

So am I or aren’t I gluten reactive? For now that remains an unknown and will until I can put the immediate fires that are in front of me out because god(dess) knows that will start a whole other set of fires. I’m already finding out what a major pain in the ass being gluten free is as I am having to prepare a gluten free feast for my Indianapolis 500 viewing party Sunday to accommodate two gluten reactive guests. It won’t kill me not to have gluten after all so I’m totally accommodating.

Alas, I guess I’ll cross that bridge if it is in my path. I just don’t know how I’ll deal. There will be a years-long grieving process if I have to cut gluten, but I know it won’t be the end of the world. Plus I have the best support system I could ask for if it does transpire that I have to.

In the meantime, I’ll just do some pre-grieving so maybe I’ll have less of that to do later, so excuse me while I go cry some more.

Cigar Review: Epicure Short Salomone

This 6″ x 54RG “Salomone” (seriously – how many fucking spellings are there of this shape?) vitola from Crux Cigars features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and long fillers.

Using one snip with my Colibri V cutter, the first light revealed a perfect draw producing plentiful medium-bodied smoke. Dry, heavy wood dominates the flavor with a tinge of black pepper on the retrohale.

Getting into the first third we see more of the same, but with the addition of a dried roasted nuts and the pepper backing down. The body settles into a mild/medium and a slightly sweet cream enters the mix.

Getting into the second third we see a very welcome transition as the woody notes take a back seat and are replaced by a tinge of vanilla. I also detect a fleeting hint of cocoa, mainly on the finish and retrohale. Everything is smooth and well blended. Only subtle changes toward the final third as the cocoa is now on the draw also and the vanilla takes on a hint of a spicy note. The body also ramps up slightly again, wavering between mild/medium and straight medium. Ending at 1 hour 5 minutes for a truly impressive burn time for a Connecticut and bringing in a subtle nicotine strength.

Flawless construction featuring a razor-sharp burn and the ash holding on for solid third chunks at a time. The band slid off easily without damaging the delicate Connecticut wrapper.

This is one of those few Connecticut cigars I actually enjoyed. A great morning smoke, it went beautifully with a Sumatra Mandheling coffee. Rather pricy for a mild stick at $13/pop, but worth it to kick-start an epic day. These will enter rotation for me. Rating: 4.25/5.