There's a story here from my trip to Chicago. You just have to get to it.
When I was in sixth grade, I weighed about 120 pounds and was about 5 foot 6. I was athletic, was very energetic, and didn't look pudgy at all. Yet my pediatrician made my parents put me on diet pills to lose weight.
To accommodate this, my Mother had the lunchroom ladies at Alice Street School strip my lunch tray every day of anything that might be deemed "fattening." Instead of half an egg salad sandwich, I got a plop of egg salad goo. Instead of dessert, I got a cling peach half with syrup. Instead of a scoop of rice sans gravy, of course, I got two scoops of green beans. And anything that resembled a salad was served without dressing.
I was, of course, humiliated that this happened, and I was under such watchful eyes that I daren't sneak something from a friend's tray. Nope. I was stuck with what they thought I needed or deserved. Because I was different.
I had the same feeling I had some 40 years ago in sixth grade this past weekend when I ate at the Hotel Orrington in Evanston, Ill. And to whit, my rant du jour.
As I always do when I travel to a conference or convention, I made arrangements in advance for my meals. I did this in a polite way through the host and then the convention manager. I was assured in the email conversation with the banquet manager that the hotel "knew all about gluten free cooking" and would be able to make my meal a memorable one.
Oh, it was memorable all right. And therein lies the question: How should one react when the gluten-free meal provided is SO HORRIBLE that, even though it is gluten free, that it is inedible? When the customer (me) paid $60 for a dinner that went straight to the trash because it was so inconsiderately prepared?
I knew there was going to be some problems at breakfast. I paid $25 for a continental breakfast that consisted of a vast quantity of Danish, yogurt and fruit. So I asked if there was a gluten free option available for me in place of the rolls.
Sure, the catering contact said. Anything in particular? No, I said. Chef's choice? Yes, I said.
So when I arrived at breakfast, there was nothing prepared. Sign. The server literally chased me around and asked me in a loud voice, "So what you want?" I'd made prior arrangement so there wouldn't be this scene. I hate being this kind of center of attention.... Finally, I said cheese, and he asked, "OK. What kind?" I said a little cheese of any kind would be OK. "D0 you want crackers with that," he asked. Oh hell no.
So 10 minutes later, he showed up with a dinner plate covered in chipped mozzarella and cheddar. Two pounds worth. No decoration, just a chopped plate O cheese.
Oh, I said to myself, this isn't going to be good.
At the banquet that evening, the hotel offered a vegetarian pasta dish (that I could not have) and this dish: rosemary chicken with asparagus and shiitake whipped potatoes. To me, this sounded like it could easily be made gluten free. After all, I spent $60 for this meal, so surely they could make it something edible for me.
Oh, to quote myself, hell no.
We started with the salad. I had to send back the one with croutons. They made me another one, but handed me the oil and vinegar containers to dress it myself. What's in the balsamic vinagrette, I asked? "Don't know." was the curt answer.
Then came the passage of the bread. Even Sodexho at my campus in Milledgeville, Georgia, can make a freaking effort to get me a slice of gluten free bread. There was a WHOLE FOODS two blocks away. But no, I got no bread.
So I patiently waited for the entree.
On my plate arrived a chicken breast so overcooked it crumbled into little sawdust shards when it was cut. I ate one piece and could barely swallow it, it was so dry (and there was only water to drink). I gave Randy a bit so he could see what I faced.
Dry. Overcooked. AND completely unseasoned. No salt. No pepper. No Rosemary.
(Now, I don't want to sound like Woody Allen here, but it was also about a third of the size of those the other diners had. Lousy food and in small portions...) I wondered what they were thinking.
There was no starch at all. When I asked about the potatoes, I was told they contained gluten. I pried further. WHAT kind of gluten. The captain at this point got snotty with me.
Instead of beautiful sauce and seasoning and mashed potatoes, I got: two limp slices of overcooked zucchini, four points of overcooked asparagus. Two mini-carrots, also mushy, and some broccolini that was as stiff as a wire brush.
All overcooked. None seasoned.
I complained to the server, when she took my plate still filled with food. I was ignored.
And then, dessert. You cannot have the creme brulee (all the recipes I know don't have gluten in them). You cannot have the strawberry dipped in chocolate. You can't even have the plain fresh raspberries.
No, you get a slice of watermelon. Under-ripe melons. A few grapes. And some pineapple from breakfast.
The ultimate insult was tasting the watermelon -- it tasted like raw onion. I passed it around to those sitting around me.
Now before you say, "You were just being a bitch," I'll admit it, I was. When someone promises me "no problem" on my meal, I don't expect the discards of the day. Had they said, "We don't serve your kind," then I would have taken my $60 to a place where they wanted to help. But instead, I was insulted, treated badly, and no one even cared. I promise I was quiet about it. I was also polite throughout the meal (I have witnesses).
But I wonder what that kitchen thinks gluten free really means!
I just don't understand it. I really don't. Sometimes, it's like sixth grade again. Would YOU have eaten that slop? I doubt it. I think a rule of thumb has to be simply this: When you prepare a meal for someone, it should be something you'd be proud and willing to eat yourself. Would you, for instance, be satisfied with onion-scented watermelon? I doubt it.
If you don't think you want to accommodate me, do me a favor -- don't offer. I can take it, I really can. For $60 bucks I could have a nice gluten-free steak at a restaurant down the street. Cooked to order. With a freaking potato.
I gotta be honest, few things hurt me more than promising me you can accommodate me when you can't. I'd rather you didn't promise at all, in the end.
It's true, I do still get my feelings hurt when I get visibly left out of things. You know, when someone brings in a cake and I'm the only one who can't have any. But that's different. You made me no promise and I had no expectations. Different scenario entirely.
I paid $60. You said you could accommodate me. You didn't. I was rolled.
There. I feel better now.
Much love, and p.s. I had a gluten free cupcake from Swirlz for dinner instead. At Swirlz, they get gluten free.