Mac and cheese, my old enemy, we meet again.

Photo courtesy of Jspatchwork on Flickr.
Actually, I can’t believe how many pictures there are of mac and cheese on Flickr. People love it so much that they’re taking photos of it. Gross.

I cannot say it loud enough: I hate mac and cheese.

Hate it. Detest it. Loathe it in the way some people shy away from rats or snakes or spiders. I don’t like spiders either but give me a choice between a house spider and a bowl of Kraft and I’ll take the spider every time.

I realize this places me in a very small subset of humanity. Most people not only like mac and cheese, they adore it. That’s weird to me. How can you like ingesting a bowl of slimy, orange-yellow noodles covered in fake-cheese?

As a child, I honestly thought that it was only my brother who loved mac and cheese, because he was my brother and therefore a weirdo. Anyhow, as my  brother, I expected that he’d love all the things I hated, just to be difficult.

But then I went away to college.

Lo and behold, everyone there was stocking up on mac and cheese , eating it on rainy days and singing its damn praises. I’d done a pretty good job of avoiding mac and cheese  up until that point, but it was  everywhere in my dorm. In my room. In the hall garbage can. Dishes caked with the orange residue of mac and cheese clogged the bathroom sinks. Microwaves smelled of it. It was like being in a Kraft horror movie. All of a sudden I realized that my brother was not the weird one. I was the freak show. It became clear that I was The Only Mac & Cheese Hater in The World.

Oh come off it, you might be saying. So you didn’t like a food and a lot of other people like it. Get over yourself.

Am I being a big baby about this one particular food? Oh yes. Completely. I choose to be stoic about other things I don’t like: violence, chicken soup, traffic, fires. But the smell of macaroni and cheese? It makes my gorge rise.

My hatred of mac and cheese was so bad when I was a kid that my mother, an Irish-Italian matriarch of the Clean Your Plate vintage, wouldn’t make me eat it if she was serving it for dinner.

This isn’t to say that the poor woman didn’t try to overcome my mac and cheese aversions. At first she took my dislike as a challenge. She and my dad figured okay, I hated Kraft Mac and Cheese, let’s make this kid some real macaroni and cheese from scratch before she develops a phobia. (If you’ve read this far, you know that approach didn’t work.)

They made scores of recipes. Some had meat in them. Some had vegetables. All of them had cheeses I liked in different dishes. Some were baked. Some not.  I remember thinking that one dish in particular was tolerable, so my mother made it again, but the second time I had a very hard time choking it down.

My father tried to reason with me, based on my love of Italian food. “Ann,” he said, “you like lazy lasagna.* Lazy lasagna has both macaroni and cheese in it.”

I chose not to hear this, but even so, it made me suspicious of any noodle not covered in tomato sauce.

In the end, my parents gave up, and I was allowed not to eat mac and cheese at dinner, which was a great relief.
I guessed that as I grew up  and moved out into the world, I’d meet other mac and cheese haters and we’d form our own little mac and cheese haters’ club, but that was not the case. Because apparently the rest of humanity loves it some Kraft.

By the time I was out of school, I was afraid that I’d be turning down mac and cheese for the rest of my life, trying to suppress the awful faces my inner child wants to make at the site of the dish, when I was served a big piece of luck: when I was 25, I was diagnosed as being intolerant to both gluten and lactose. Hallelujah! I sure missed eating pizza, but it was worth it, because now no one would expect me to eat mac and cheese.

But recently, gluten-free technology caught up with me.

Right now, there are a bunch of mac and cheese restaurants out there. Some entrepreneurial hipsters thought that would be a great recession idea, I guess – comfort food during a time of need. A mac and cheese bar would be like the seventh ring of gastronomical hell to me, but fine, I’m allergic to everything in those places, so no worries.

But no. Because the considerate proprietors of these restaurants have created gluten free menus. And even worse? Kraft has also changed its ways. The awful orange cheese sauce? It’s gluten free. And people are cooking it over brown rice pasta.


In conclusion, I will not come to your birthday party if you have it at one of these restaurants. Please don’t be mad at me; it’s really better if I’m not there. And if you show up at my house with a packet of GF Kraft sauce, I won’t be there. I will be hiding under a rock with a bunch of spiders.

*Lazy lasagna is a casserole made with tomato sauce, a lot of cheeses and ziti. It is nothing like mac and cheese.

Gluten is a cruel and scrumptious mistress.

At some point in the last several days, I ingested gluten.

Our collection of flours. We do a lot of baking.

I think I know when it happened, and I don’t regret eating that meal because it was delicious. Gluten (the sticky protein in wheat) is always delicious. Well, it’s always delicious to me. That’s because I haven’t eaten gluten on purpose in almost eight years. I was diagnosed with an allergy to gluten when I was 25.

I haven’t blogged about my gluten allergy because food allergies are boring. Whenever I talk about gluten, I can’t stand myself. It either sounds like:

a) I’m some crunchy anti-gluten zealot (“Allow me to educate you about the horrors of gluten, brothers and sisters! Join me in going against the grain!”)


b)  I’m feeling sorry for myself because I can’t order a pizza. Boo hoo. Someone, please, call the waaambulance.

Anyways, since I have to think about my dietary restrictions constantly in real life, I like to write about other things here.

But since my reaction to this particular glutenous meal has slowed me down so much, and since Elizabeth Hilts posted that today, on her fabulous Inner Bitch Calendar is “I love my body — no matter what day,” I thought I’d post about mine.

Allergic to being an adult

I haven’t always been allergic to gluten. I ate bread with abandon as a child. Actually, the only allergy I had as a kid was to pollen. Around Mother’s Day, every year, I’d be miserable with allergies for about a week. I dreaded that week. I have memories of sitting in church for the Mother’s Day mass, all dressed up, with my eyes swollen and itching and my nose all runny. But that was really it. I don’t remember being allergic to anything else.

Then I grew up. All of a sudden I was allergic to a variety of things: Gluten, lactose, wasabi, certain store-bought fruits and vegetables. Even non-food allergies surfaced; I am allergic now to both cats and dogs (which doesn’t keep me from having one of each.)

Actually, I like to think my body is just allergic to being an adult.

I would like to quit

There are days, like today, when I would like to quit my allergies, particularly the gluten allergy, because that one has caused me to rearrange my life. Lactose I can take pills for. Wasabi is easily avoided. Fruits and vegetables can be grown or bought organically. But wheat? It’s in everything, and the older I get, the worse my reaction to it becomes. And I hate being The Woman With The Food Allergy. You know the one. You have to organize group dinners out around what she can and can’t eat. She interrogates the waiter about what’s in each menu item. She comes to dinner at your house but has already eaten a meal, just to be safe. She carries her weight in gluten-free products when she goes anywhere. She turns down slices of your 90-year-old Aunt Betty’s delicious homemade cake. I don’t like being that person at all. I especially hate turning down cake. And also, poor Aunt Betty has no idea what gluten is, and just thinks that I’m vainly concerned with my figure. Aunt Betty, let me assure you that I am not. I am crying on the inside because I can’t have three pieces of your delicious, mouthwateringly glutenous cake.

Ahem. See the self pity? Call the waambulance, folks.

Gluten Freedom

And yet, being gluten-free has been a good thing for me. Right before I was diagnosed, I ate a lot of fast food. I was having Dunkin’ Donuts bagels for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch and pizza for dinner. I worked all the time, and all of these foods were available en route to and from my various assignments. When I was diagnosed, I suddenly had to plan my meals. I had to bring food with me. I had to cook at home. And although there was a longish getting-used-to-being-gluten-free period, during which I spent too much money at health food stores and cut things out of my diet that didn’t actually contain gluten, I ultimately created a diet that worked well for me. And I dropped a lot of weight, which was nice.

And then there was another thing – one of my friends at work had been diagnosed with similar allergies about a year before. (Actually, her allergies were worse.) So all of a sudden I had a support system. We shared information, recipes, lunches. We learned – often the hard way – which foods to avoid. Sometimes  we were both ill because of an unfortunate snacking experience. Still, I think those food-related disasters were easier for me to handle because I had a gluten/lactose-free buddy. We were friends before my diagnosis, but I think our mutual allergies cemented our friendship.

Now that I think of it,  the best things to come out of my allergy have been the connections I’ve made with other people. I’ve been amazed at the generosity of people who invite us to a party, and put a special gluten-free item on the menu just because I’m coming over. Sometimes they’ve never intentionally made something gluten-free before. They don’t have to do that – I can almost always find something to eat – but they make the effort, and I’m always touched by that.

My cousin, who is an extraordinary baker (she made my wedding cupcakes), is especially thoughtful. For example, I haven’t had Christmas cookies in forever. But this past Christmas, she made me four types of gluten-free cookies. I still have some in the freezer, and I break them out whenever I need a little snack. She makes me something whenever she bakes for a family gathering. She doesn’t have to do that, and I’m always floored when she does.

And then there are the legions of people who email me gluten-free recipes, or links to articles about gluten-free foods or gluten-free restaurants in our area. I get at least one email like this every couple of months, and I love it! It’s touching to know that people are thinking of me, and I’ve got quite the collection of gluten-free recipes.

So maybe being allergic to life isn’t that bad. I mean, I’m still not happy about being laid up for a few days after each forbidden foray into the delicious realm of gluten, but hey — avoiding gluten is a really good way to stay beach-trim, and I’ve got a lot of awesome friends.