Dairy-Free Eating at the Macaroni Grill?

Yesterday evening, I went to Romano’s Macaroni Grill with a friend for dinner. I’ve been to the Macaroni Grill before-although it’s been well over a year since my last visit, and in my experience, Mac Grill is reasonably safe for me. It’s not P.F. Chang’s or any of my favorite Middle Eastern joints. But it was a central meeting point for us, they serve Italian food, and I’ve never had dairy issues there before.

Well, that was a poor decision on my part. Feel free to check out their menu. Butter. Cheese. Goat cheese. Looking over this menu, the only safe thing (within my budget) for me to have eaten would have been “Create Your Own Pasta.” Instead, I ordered the chicken scallopine, which does contain lemon butter, but I really hate going to an Italian restaurant and not eating pasta. It’s like going to Thanksgiving and not having spaghetti. (FYI: My family DOES eat spaghetti on Thanksgiving. It’s a nice prelude to the turkey.)

Anyway…I went to Macaroni Grill, and I ordered the chicken scallopine. I didn’t want to spring for the pork/beef options because of the prices. So I ate a meal with lemon butter. I’m fine for the most part. Yeah, I had trouble breathing last night, but it wasn’t the biggest or worst allergic reaction ever. It was butter, which isn’t the worst thing that I could eat. I didn’t drink a gallon of cream. I just ate a piece of chicken coated with butter. (Oh, and they served it with spinach instead of pasta, which really didn’t sit well with me because the spinach tasted off to me and I wanted pasta.) But it wasn’t terrible. It was just hard to find the meal within my price range with the smallest amount of dairy, and I really disliked that.

In short? I won’t be going back to the Macaroni Grill unless they restructure their menu in the future. And I would never recommend it to people who are lactose intolerant or have dairy issues.

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The Ten Best Things that Netflix has Brought into My Life

If you know me well, you know that I love movies. I’m fond of TV at times, but I don’t tend to watch much current TV. I watch Castle. I watch Downton Abbey when it’s in season. And I watch The Mindy Project. I used to watch 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother when they were on. But by and large…yeah, I’m more of a movie girl.

However, I’m a big fan of Netflix because it provides me with background noise while I’m grading or doing schoolwork or knitting. I’ve had a Netflix account on and off since the spring of 2010, and it’s brought many good movies into my life. So I thought I’d compile a list of what I like and recommend to others.

  1. Old movies: I was interested in old movies long before I ever heard of Netflix. I love Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, and Netflix lets me see more of their movies than I can borrow from the library at any given time. The selection isn’t always consistent, but there are always a few new selections for my amusement and edification.

9. Psych: I’m not a huge fan of the later seasons, but I love this show. As a college student without cable, Netflix was the only way that I could watch Shawn Spencer torment Ghee Buttersnaps or whatever he had chosen to call Gus that week. And Pierre Despereaux is only an added bonus. Basically, it’s a hilarious buddy cop comedy, and I love it.

  1. Possession: The first time that I saw this movie, I was entranced. From the story line to the costumes to the acting…it was all amazing. I went on to read the book, and I loved it as well. It’s a brilliant, compelling story, and it was deeply moving to me both on the page and on the screen.

  1. Parks and Recreation: Everyone said that I’d love it, but I never got into it while it was on the air. A few weeks after it went off the air, I started watching it. And oh my lord do I ever love it! It’s quirky and ridiculous and charmingly flawed. Also, I like bacon. Please give me all of the bacon.

  1. The Grand Seduction: I’ve learned from my relationship with Netflix that I like quirky movies about people who feel real and who do things that have logical motivations that I can relate to. This movie about a small fishing village in Newfoundland that is struggling to adapt to the 21st century struck a chord with me. The characters felt real, and while their lives weren’t easy, I liked them and felt they were the sort of people I’d like to know.

  1. House of Cards: It’s not as good as The West Wing, but it fills a whole that TWW left in my life. I do love me some fictional political intrigue. I can’t watch it before bed because it gets me too amped up emotionally, and I can’t sleep. But while I don’t always like the characters, I want to know what’s going to happen to them and how it’s going to happen.
  1. Doctor Who: I’m a self-professed nerd, and I wouldn’t be half as happy as I am without Doctor Who. It’s smart (usually) and funny and all-around good fun. (If you’re wondering, David Tennant is my doctor.)

  1. Not Another Happy Ending: This movie was made for me. It’s smart and funny and entertaining. It’s a little dark, and it’s better if you don’t overthink it. It tells the story of an author and her complicated relationship with her publisher. It also sorts through the complexities of her (moderately dysfunctional) relationship with her father. Overall, it can be frustrating at times, but the end is so worth the watch.

  1. The West Wing: I started watching this show in September and finished it in January. It’s intelligent. It’s entertaining. It’s witty. It’s the best thing that I’ve ever seen. I love the dialogue and the character development. Overall, the show makes me wish for better things for my country. I wish that our country were led by the politicians on this show and not our current leaders-either side of the aisle. (Also, picking a video clip to accompany this was one of the hardest things that I’ve done today. I chose two and an image with one of my favorite quotes because y’all need to love and appreciate them.)

  1. The Decoy Bride: This might be my favorite movie. I relate to Katie so much. I jokingly call my church the Isle of Hegg because the two are not that dissimilar. The movie speaks to me. I wish I could go “man-vegan.” And I swear I am a “whole lot hotter than I look.” Now I just need my own personal David Tennant…

What movies or TV shows has Netflix introduced you to? What movies do I need to see?

Gilbert Blythe

True Confessions: I spent far too much of my young life wanting to be a redhead. Because I (like many girls, I think) wanted to be this girl…

I first encountered Anne Shirley and all of Avonlea when I was nine. And I fell head over heels in love with that whimsical, overly dramatic redhead and the whole eccentric town. I often tell people the first guy I ever fell for was Christian Bale when he played Laurie in Little Women, and that’s true. But my first real literary crush was this gentleman.

Gilbert Blythe, ladies and gents, Gilbert Blythe…I was that nerdy girl who wanted to marry Gilbert Blythe. He was smart, he was handsome, he was sweet, and he was good. He was unbelievably good, and I loved that. He rescued Anne from her ridiculous Lady of Shalott escapade. And he told Charlie Sloane (in front of Josie Pye!) that being smart was better than being good-looking. He also told Charlie that Anne was the smartest girl in the class. Gilbert was a good man.

(I also named a car after him once. It was a good car, a noble car.)

And for me, Jonathan Crombie perfectly captured my literary crush on the screen. He was impish and handsome and sweet and…he was Gil.

Jonathan Crombie died this past Wednesday. And I’m gutted. I never met the man. All I know of him is that he was in three movies that I loved, and apparently he loved those movies and being associated with them. But it’s so sad to me. He was young. And he’s gone…so suddenly. I feel like he’s taken a part of my childhood with him.

And at 26, I’m not okay with that. I’ve accepted that I’m an adult. But this somehow hurts in a way that I hadn’t expected. I know that he wasn’t Gilbert, but it somehow feels like Gilbert has died. I know that Gilbert is a fictional character and all, but I still feel this bizarre sense of loss.

Now, I suppose I’ll have to reread those books. And maybe I’ll rewatch those movies. And I’ll remember that while Jonathan is gone, Gilbert will always be with us in those books. Jonathan may have (beautifully) given him life on screen, but Gilbert can always be found in the pages of those beautiful books.

So rest in peace, Jonathan. Thank you for sharing your gift with us and for giving Gilbert life. You will never be forgotten.

Allergies and Friendship

Last month, Verily posted a great article called “How to Make a Friend With Allergies Feel at Ease.” At the time, I meant to post it on my Facebook feed, but then I forgot. However, it also inspired me to write my own post about living with allergies.

For those who don’t know, I have some common allergies such as pollen, dust, and mold. I also have a dairy allergy that was for many years incorrectly identified as lactose intolerance; many people in my life tend to mistake it for lactose intolerance still. And then I have some odd allergies such as an allergy to cotton. (Yes, I take allergy meds so that I can wear pants. Please don’t ask me about how I discovered this allergy.) I’m also allergic to most scented products. For example, even going into Bath and Body Works means that I will be spending some quality time with my inhaler that day. That scented lotion or perfume that you just love may well leave me with a constricted airway and a headache/dizziness. Most of my allergies are based in/around my respiratory system, and it’s probably no surprise that while I’ve had allergies for years, they became much worse after I had atypical pneumonia when I was 19.

The allergy that I want to most emphasize in this post is my dairy allergy. It is my most misunderstood, it has progressively worsened as I’ve gotten older, and it is my hardest to manage at a practical level. I go to many social events where the default food offering somehow involves dairy. Pizza is, for example, a quick and easy food offering. I know this well; in about a month, I’m actually hosting a party where I will be serving pizza-simply because it’s easy to get. However, I will also order Chinese food for myself so that I can eat. However, I’m providing myself (and anyone else who needs one) with a safe option.

At many of the social functions I attend, there is no safe option for me. My only options are to either go hungry or essentially poison myself knowingly. Last summer, I attended two weddings where the menu caused me serious issues. While my friends and family remarked on the sheer volume of food and felt that they may have eaten too much, I was near tears because of lack of options. Cream/cheese sauces on meat, on pasta, on vegetables…bread that came pre-buttered…mashed potatoes made with butter and milk…I was grateful that the asparagus was only cooked in olive oil. There were gluten-free options, but there weren’t real dairy-free options.

I realize that no one intended to offend me or hurt me. It is often largely a lack of awareness or understanding. While some people with food sensitivities can eat butter in baked goods, I cannot. (Cue story about the time that a friend very kindly bought me muffins thinking that I could eat them because he didn’t really that they were made with butter; I ate half of one and never told him that it made me sick.) Some people can eat pizza if they take the cheese off the top; I cannot. I spent three days miserable last month because I ate cheese pizza from which I had removed the cheese. That proximity hurt my digestive track.

What is my goal in writing this post? I have two goals really. The first one is awareness. I would like to make both my social circle and others I don’t even know aware of the dangers of food allergies. For some reason, I’m very sensitive emotionally about my food issues, and I tend to get upset/sad when there isn’t food that I can eat. Unfortunately, people tend not to understand why I’m standing outside a restaurant (or sitting in one) crying over a menu. The reality is this: If there is ONE (and only one) thing a menu that I can eat, that hurts. I feel left out. While y’all are debating between the pasta and the fish and the steak, I’m stuck with the spaghetti and meatballs. And while I like spaghetti and meatballs, I can make my own at home. If I’m eating out, I want something that I wouldn’t make myself.

The second is to encourage reflection and potential change. When you are eating with a friend with food allergies (either providing food or eating out), be mindful of what they can and cannot eat. Try your best to make sure that your friend will have options. Ask your friend what they can and cannot eat. At the party that I’m hosting next month, I’m going to buy myself Chinese food, but I’m also going to make sure that other guests know that if they need a dairy-free or gluten-free option, they should just let me know.

Talk to your friends with food allergies. Do your best to make them feel comfortable and welcome. Ask them what they would like to eat. Browse menus ahead of time so that you’re sure that friend will have options. One of my least favorite questions to be asked (which was also referenced in the Verily post) is “So what CAN you eat?” I realize that my food issues make me more difficult, but that remark makes me feel like I’m trying to be problematic. Trust me; I wish that I wasn’t such an issue.

When I go to a new restaurant, I try to check the menu online before going. (Admittedly, this is hard when traveling.) If I don’t have at least three options, I try to propose a new option. I read labels obsessively. I ask waiters annoying questions. I say “never mind” or “forget it” to more waiters than you could imagine-and I feel terrible about it. I also tend to tip those servers more generously.

One last suggestion: Try doing your own research. Ask questions. If you ask nicely, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. If you want a list of what I can and cannot eat, I’ll make it for you; just ask. A few of my friends have made or ordered pizza with goat cheese for me; I can’t eat that anymore, but when I could, it was the sweetest thing for me. The guy who bought the muffins? I really appreciated them because he was trying. Yeah, it wasn’t quite what I needed, but he made a genuine effort. He made me feel included. And that is the biggest thing that you can do for your friends with allergies.

Help us to feel included. Eating is a social activity in our culture, and if we can’t partake of the food, then we don’t feel as connected. Ask us what we would like to eat, what we like to make…we might introduce you to some new and awesome dishes. Consider keeping us company if we’re sick because of something we ate or if we step outside because we’re overwhelmed by a lack of “Cecilia-friendly” food.

And please try to be patient if we don’t want to participate in an event. I have been known to skip social events because I know that the food won’t be “Cecilia-friendly.” If I make that choice, please don’t judge/criticize/mock me. Please realize that I’m acting in defense of my own health. And ultimately, if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.