5-inch-stiletto-in-mouth syndrome

By Mir
November 18, 2011

Last night was an extremely auspicious occasion. For the first time EVER, Otto and I went out for the evening and left the kids to make their own dinner, finish their homework, and put themselves to bed. ON A SCHOOL NIGHT. (Not that we’ve ever done it on a weekend, either, come to think of it. But doing this on a school night seemed particularly weird, somehow.) The fact of the matter is that they’re plenty old enough, I am just overprotective and also once Chickadee almost burned the house down with a lamp (reading after hours! my little nerdling!) (the house wasn’t really almost burned down, but she did burn a circle on her headboard), so leaving them alone with the oven on felt like a leap of faith. (Chickadee: “Don’t worry! I’m sure the pizza only needs three hours or so! KIDDING!”)

Anyway, it was time for another Fancy Shindig because my husband’s employer likes to have these things. So we gussied up and headed out, making the children promise to call 911 if anything caught on fire while we were gone.

I wore my new(ish) platform stilettos, which caused Monkey to say, “Whoa. You are REALLY tall now!” I had to promise it was temporary before we left.

So it was with a moderate degree of trepidation that we headed out, because I am a worrywart and I was concerned about the children. (“They’re not going to burn the house down,” Otto assured me. “Well, probably not,” I had to agree. “But that doesn’t mean they won’t end up beating each other senseless or something.”)

I had already completely forgotten that going out into public all dressed up usually involves some degree of my proving that you can’t take me anywhere.

Off we went. We got to the venue, parked, walked in, and began the arduous process of “mingling” at the cocktail hour with a few hundred of our closest friends who we barely know. I got a glass of wine and was about halfway through when I realized that 1) I’d never had lunch and 2) all of the circulating hors d’oeuvres were in puff pastry or otherwise coated in wheat. Me + wine + no food = cheap date.

So a colleague of my husband’s walked up and started talking to him, then turned and shook my hand and said it was so great to “finally meet” me in person. Before I could think better of it, I said, “Oh, we’ve met before.” And then I proceeded to blithely recount the time that I came in to give a guest lecture in another colleague’s class, and he (the guy standing there) sat there reading a newspaper the entire time. (Which I, of course, had found so odd, I’d asked the professor who that was.)

“Oh, yes, I often observe in other classes,” he said, smiling perhaps a little uneasily.

By this time, Otto looked rather alarmed, so I decided not to say anything else, like, say, asking him how I look THROUGH A NEWSPAPER.

He wandered off shortly thereafter and Otto said something to me about how I am cute but I maybe shouldn’t talk to anyone else. And I told him that the last time he took me to one of these fancy things, I had waited until dinner to stick my foot into my mouth, and really, wasn’t it nice that I’d gotten it out of the way so early this time?

It turned out that our dining companions were delightful and I was able to keep from accidentally insulting anyone, even though there was a nice gentleman from the governor’s office at our table, and I think our governor is a total tool. No, see, I didn’t need to focus on our dinner-mates for entertainment after we sat down, because there were SPECIAL CARDS and hilarity therein.

The SPECIAL CARDS were to denote those of us with specific dietary restrictions. So I had a card that said “Gluten-free” and the woman beside me had one that said “Vegetarian.” On account of… uhhh… I am gluten-free and she is a vegetarian. And that makes us SPESHUL. So when we were ushered into the dining room, everyone else at our table had a small salad, but the vegetarian and I each just had a card and no salad.

I looked at the salad. It had some crab meat on it, so I guess it made sense that the vegetarian didn’t have one. But it didn’t have any croutons, so I was perplexed as to why I didn’t have one. Huh.

A server came by and examined our cards, and then said she would go get our salads. “Would you like one without crab?” she asked me.

“Does the crab have gluten in it?” I countered, and she was so flummoxed you’d think I’d just asked her to defy gravity. We concluded the crab was gluten-free and that was fine. Our salads came and everyone ate them. (I couldn’t help noticing that my spot at the table still had… a dinner roll. Right above my SPECIAL CARD.)

Then it was time for entrees, and that’s when things got interesting. Dinner was: prime rib with gravy, salmon with hollandaise, whipped potatoes, asparagus and carrots. I know this because they started serving everyone else at our table and P.S. this is what they serve every single time at these things. I figured I would get a plate without the gravy, because that was probably thickened with flour.

First the server came and asked if I wanted the vegetarian entree. I blinked at her a couple of times and explained, AGAIN, that I could have anything but wheat, so the regular dinner was fine, probably minus the gravy. She said she’d be right back, and she brought my vegetarian seatmate a dish that involved flour tortillas (oh YES, please give me THAT! Oh wait…), then brought me… a plate of gravy-free prime rib, no salmon, and a mountain of carrots.

“Does the salmon have wheat in it?” I inquired, because I happen to quite enjoy salmon. She froze, deer in the headlights. “It’s just,” I continued, gently, trying not to startle her, “I think the salmon is probably fine. it’s grilled.”

“I don’t… know?” she stammered. “This is what they gave me? Do you want me to go back…?”

“No, nevermind,” I said. “This is fine. Thank you.”

I honestly do not understand what is so complicated about wheat that causes otherwise reasonably intelligent people to freak out and become confused. ZOMG SALMON IS WHEATY! Because, no. But whatever. We ate.

Bonus can’t-take-me-anywhere hilarity: My cocktail dress was shiny/satiny and somehow that fabric and the napkins provided created a frictionless void in the space time continuum where I could place the napkin in my lap and then if I so much as BREATHED the napkin would immediately slide off onto the floor. About the fourth time I had to lean over and pick it back up, Otto offered to find me some duct tape or a stapler. Because he’s a gentleman.

Our intrepid server came back around with wine, shortly thereafter, and when I asked for some white she got all frozen and weird, again, and then the vegetarian asked for red, and she said she thought they were out (out of wine? during a gala??) but would be right back, and finally we both had wine and I asked the nice vegetarian if the red was sufficiently meaty for her, and she said yes, and asked if my white was good and wheat-filled, and I said of course, and we giggled because what else can you do?

Dessert was a mango mousse which I’d been thrilled to see on the menu because NO WHEAT, but then it turned out to be on a crust of some sort, and the server plunked one down in front of me and tried to leave, at which point I’d kind of had it and said “OH HEY could you maybe find out what this crust is for me?” and she offered to just take it away and bring me a fruit plate, instead. I just gave up and said no, don’t worry about it, and I contented myself with the top 1″ of mousse and a cup of coffee and called it a day.

These things are long and—let’s fact it—kind of boring, but a favorite colleague of my husband’s got a standing ovation (twice, actually), and that made the evening worth it. We finally escaped when it was all over, and when we got home, it kind of looked like a small tornado had whipped through the kitchen, but the house and children were otherwise intact.

I have assured Otto that the third time’s the charm, and maybe the NEXT time we head out to one of these things, I might not embarrass myself. Though I think we all know that’s unlikely.


  1. Liza

    I think someone should conduct some sort of training for chefs and service staff at Big Event Venues so that they know what complicated things like “vegetarian” and “gluten free” and “dairy free” mean.

    Just an idea.

  2. Aimee

    Perhaps you were getting that wheat-fed salmon we’ve all heard so much about. No? I must be thinking of some OTHER fish that swims through wheaty fields of wheat.

    Anyway, it sounds like you had fun in spite of all of that, and that makes me happy because I think after the week you’ve had a night of fun was very much in order.

  3. elz

    You could have gone with “The Princess Bride” line, “Gluten-free”- I do not think that word means what you think it means.

  4. Golden

    It is maddening, isn’t it? I recently tested positive for an egg allergy. I can’t tell you how many times, I have sent the wait staff back to check on something and they come back and say, no it doesn’t contain any dairy. I didn’t say dairy! The first time it happened, I thought she was just flakey. It happens so often though. I know that cows and chickens live on the same farm in Charlotte’s Web, but eggs are not dairy! Or maybe people don’t know what dairy is? I don’t know.

  5. MelissaB

    I’ve had similar experiences with my food issues, those being that I’m allergic to shellfish and don’t eat pork by choice. Going to any restaurant, barring barbecue joints and fish houses, will generally yield far too many choices and makes eating out easy. Going to a catered or otherwise meal planned in advance event will guarantee that the main foods being served will include shellfish or pork. It is to the point that I don’t even bother asking the server, as they often are hired temps for that event and aren’t regular employees that always work with the chefs employed for the occasion. They just aren’t likely to know. If a plate comes out with foods I can’t partake, I ask for something specific like chicken or pasta. It seems to work out better if you tell them what you need rather than asking what they have or can do for you.

    I was surprised at a banquet in Cancun several years ago. The meal served was surf n turf, mainly surf. The plate had steak, lobster, shrimp and crab patties. (Too much Sponge Bob in my house, I don’t know what they are really called.) As everyone else dug in, I sat leaned far back from the table waiting for the server to come around, worried that there might be a language barrier. When he came around and I explained my issue, he looked horrified and apologized for not knowing (how could he possibly?) and rattled of a list of other options. I was amazed and so grateful and ended up with fantastic pasta/veggie/chicken dish.

  6. Liza

    Oh, the education should also include information about Kosher and Halal foods as well.

    Now I have one of those repeat-the-line songs in my head:

    This is an egg. A what? An egg? A what? An egg. Oh! An egg!
    This is a pig. A what? A pig. A what? A pig. Oh! A pig.
    This is some wheat? Some what? Some wheat. Some what? Some wheat. Oh! Some wheat…

    You’re welcome. ;)

  7. Patricia

    I don’t eat nuts. (No, none.) I LOATHE these types of events (along with most wedding receptions) because of the number of times the salmon is crusted in a nut; the green beans have almonds on them; AND the only dessert options have nuts.

    To look at the waitperson and ask “so, which dessert doesn’t have nuts?” “Oh, are you allergic?” “Is that what I asked?”

    I feel your pain — somethings they seem to understand — but other special requests never seem to make the cut.

  8. Tenessa

    I’m thinking you aren’t the one who should be embarrassed. How can you observe a lecture while reading the paper? I think that may have been the best moment and you most certainly SHOULD have asked how you looked through his paper.

    As for food sensitivity ignorance…I can only shake my head. I figure, you have a brain? Use it. kthxbai!

  9. heather

    My favorite one of those events was when everyone else got served and then they brought my vegetarian option -that a bowl of cooked penne with some cherry tomatoes on top. No sauce or even olive oil. Feel the love.

  10. Little Bird

    Ah, food allergies. So much fun. Most of us have at least one. The members of my family each seem to have conflicting ones. One can’t have cheese or mushrooms (mold allergy), another can’t have protein (restaurants are not her friend), I am allergic to mangoes and nuetrasweet (among other things). We give the servers fits when we go out to eat.
    You’d be amazed at the many dishes mango shows up in.

  11. Megan

    Re the leaving sproglets alone – I was so panicked my husband decided I had to be eased into it so he convinced me to go on a walk JUST THE TWO OF US – for ten minutes. And I was hopping from one foot to the other and flapping my hands trying to make sure I was forbidding everything that must be forbad (impossible) and he finally said, look just tell them the very most important things and trust them. So I gasped out:

    No floods, no fires, no natural disasters.
    No broken bones, no spurting blood, no sucking chest wounds.

    And we left, and we walked, and all the children lived. It remains the family mantra.

    Also – I think at the next ‘do’ I attend I’m going to tell them I can only eat wheat-positive salmon and see what they come up with.

  12. Nancy R

    We recently stayed in a hotel that included free breakfast. The buffet line included doughnuts – the ultimate breakfast dessert – and our peanut allergic girl asked if they were ok for her. When she and my husband went to inquire, the line worker pulled out a binder, flipped to breakfast, flipped to doughuts, and showed them the food label for that product…and no-peanut girl got to eat some powdered doughnuts! Easy-peasy. Why can’t all food service establishments do the same?

  13. Anna

    You know, the whole thing with the server being confused is easily understood, but the frustration for me is the SPECIAL CARD. It apparently didn’t make anything easier, and quite possibly made it more confusing.

  14. Jennifer

    Mir, maybe a gluten-free “business card” would help? After too many times of servers asking if I could eat potatoes or rice [and one memorable occasion when the server said something contained “white flour but not wheat” ], I printed up a little card that listed not only what I could not eat ( not just the standard wheat, barley, rye, but also soy sauce,breaded anything, etc.) but also said “I CAN eat rice, potatoes, corn, fruits and vegetables and meat.” I haven’t used it in a while but it was helpful when I was first diagnosed in 2001 when there was much less awareness about such things.It’s also something the server can take back to the kitchen rather than having to rely on verbal messages with confused and usually busy servers.

  15. Another Dawn

    What is it with chefs and kitchen staff that they don’t know how to serve a gluten-free meal? I handle our event planing at work. My director has celiac disease and every work dinner event is a nightmare. I can understand the servers not knowing, because their job is to serve, but they should be given a properly prepared (i.e. not containing life-threatening foodstuffs) plate to serve.

    Of course, there was the dinner during which, despite repeated assurances that, no, in fact, I was NOT the person who needed the gluten-free meal, it is THAT LADY OVER THERE (followed by a detailed description of what she was wearing), for the entire meal I was served the gluten free stuff and my director was served the regular meal. Which meant my director had to leave as soon as she realized (about five minutes into dessert) to await the hideous symptoms of gluten poisoning. Which fortunately never happened (so what was the fuss with asking who needed gluten free if there wasn’t any gluten in anything???) as she is at the stage where if she consumes any gluten at all she is to go directly to the hospital, do not pass go, do not collect $200 and prepare to be utterly miserable for the duration.


    If you haven’t already, you might want to let the event planner at Otto’s work know about the confusion so they can discuss it with the caterer. Particularly if this is a caterer they use regularly. Most caterers would appreciate knowing that their staff is not handling food allergies/dietary restrictions in a very reassuring manner.

    For previous commenters with allergies, let the event planner know in advance (as in about a week) what allergies/restrictions you have and they MAY be able to ensure you are provided with an appropriate non-lethal/food rule compliant meal. I say may, because Mir even had a SPESHUL CARD and it got screwed up. But at least you’ll give them a fighting chance.


  16. Jennifer

    Oh, and pasta! I’ve had waiters who had to be reminded that pasta was made of wheat!

  17. BethRD

    I don’t know, if I were a server in that situation I would be hesitant to give you anything really. I have learned through my association with friends who have a young daughter with severe food allergies that almost nothing is bulletproof. Steak and fish are often brushed with butter, oils, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce (dairy, nut, gluten and soy, gluten and soy). Real crab might be OK if it has no butter, but “crab” has gluten and egg white in it. And unless the kitchen is meticulously careful, even something that should be safe can be rendered dangerous through cross-contamination, and I’m thinking this is not a scenario where meticulously careful is a likelihood.

  18. Frank

    Has it occurred to you that the reason Otto brings you along is for HIS entertainment? Just think how uninteresting and uneventful it would have been had you not been there…. :)

  19. Gaylin

    Yeah, the whole food allergy thing is so entertaining!
    I am allergic to grains and I occasionally order a burger without the bun. Recently I asked a waitress if the burger was 100% beef. Her reply “Of course it is . . . except for the bread crumbs, but you can eat those can’t you?’

    This would be why I carry benedryl with me everywhere.

  20. Joanne

    Our family rule is “#1 – Don’t get dead.”
    The kids love it.

  21. Angela

    Wow…I’m so sorry for y’all with food allergies, that really sucks! I have terrible seasonal allergies, my skin and sinuses are allergic to pretty much every plant on the earth, but oddly enough, I can eat anything. Thank God for that! One of my neices is allergic to food dyes but somehow the school still serves her colorful Goldfish, etc,. from time to time, even though they’re supposed to know that. It’s almost enough to make you take your own food everywhere!

  22. paige

    Ah. Food allergies. My dad is allergic to chocolate and shellfish. My brother is allergic to all poultry. My oldest son, at 20, has suddenly manifested the poultry allergy.

    Asking wait staff and cooks if the food has poultry in it is…difficult. My brother usually orders vegan or vegetarian when he goes out, because chicken broth is used in almost everything, but surprisingly often he takes a bite of the “vegan” dish and his lips and tongue start to swell, so…hey, chicken or turkey, dude.

    One memorable occasion, the local semi-celebrity “vegan” chef said, “Well, it’s just a little splash of turkey broth.”

    Food allergies are TOUGH.

  23. diane

    I’m only half-laughing because I am spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family and his twin sisters have gluten issues. I’m making a simple sweet potato and apple casserole, but wondering if stupid things like corn starch and brown sugar contain gluten.
    DO THEY?

  24. Sheila

    It’s nice to “see” you laughing. Sure, it’s mostly at yourself (and don’t worry we’re laughing WITH you, not AT you), but it cheers me to read this happy little post. Viva la galas!

  25. Little Bird

    I was just at Trader Joe’s and saw something that made me think of today’s topic… pasta made from corn flour. It’s gluten free!!!! AND I saw pasta, real pasta made from brown rice, also gluten free, but more importantly, it’s some thing I will be able to have when I get to go back to grains!!!!

  26. Otto

    For the record, that was our third Fancy Dinner. And you were quite charming.


  27. Stimey

    I am dying laughing. I dread Alex’s work things so much because I feel like I always come across as an incoherent jackass. Maybe next time I’ll concentrate on the waitstaff instead of all of his lawyer friends and that will be better.

    Also, I’m thrilled to hear that your children survived the night. Good for them!

  28. Anne

    This gave me flashbacks of a conversation I had with my sister earlier today. My mother, both of my sisters, and I are all gluten-intolerant. I’m the worst of the bunch – even the smallest amount of wheat gives me a two-day migraine. Ugh.

    Anyway, my mother is turning 75 this January and is demanding a huge party. One of my sisters decided to take the bull by the horn and planned the party. She arbitrarily decided that we would have it in the banquet room at her favorite Chinese place.

    Guess what’s in every dish of the planned lunch? Yup…wheat. *sigh* After I reviewed the menu, I called and reminded her of EVERYONE’S allergies / intolerance and asked her if there was something “wheat free” on the menu. I mean, it is her favorite Chinese restaurant so she should know best, right? Nope. Her three choices all had soy sauce in them. When I commented about it, she told me, “It’s okay, sweetie. It’s just a little wheat.”

    I bit my tongue and hung up the phone. And that’s from a fellow sufferer of gluten-issues!!!!! AUGH!!!!! Guess I’m eating lunch before I go to the party and “pretend” to eat the food put in front of me.

  29. mamaspeak

    I waited tables for 7 years off & on (during college & to support my “real jobs,” that didn’t seem to pay “real money.”) I would’ve felt awful if someone had told me they had an allergy & I then served them something w/that item in it. It shouldn’t matter if you’re going to end up w/anaphylactic shock, a diabetic coma or just a race to the bathroom, it shouldn’t be so hard to avoid foods when you go out to eat.

    I made it a point to know if chicken broth was used or not. I personally can NOT stand cilantro AT ALL. A small piece will taint a whole meal for me. I, seriously, will not eat the food. I’ve gotten to the point where I TELL servers that I have a severe allergy so they will get it right. I also have a real problem w/carbs; (it’s a ratio thing, I can tolerate them to a point & then I can’t, for a long, long time.) I treat that like I’m diabetic; if they can’t answer my questions honestly, then I avoid the food. It’s just not worth it. As a former server, I can say, honestly, it did not matter to me how you ordered your food. It was just important that you didn’t change things up mid-stream. THAT’S when it would create a problem for the kitchen & then for my whole section, most likely.
    I have to say, I really like the biz card idea. I live in CA, and the menus here have to contain all the info. I suspect it may not be the same in other states.
    Also, glad to hear the house & kids survived. I assume the pooch did as well?

  30. addy

    See you missed the best feat of the night….. No toppling off the feet. Your inner caveman behaved and you managed not to sprawl out and entertain the rest of the crowd. Add the survival of all living things in your household and it was a stellar night! Congratulations!!

  31. Erin

    Your story reminded me VIVIDLY of a MOMS Club dinner I went to several years ago when I was gluten-free. I spent the entire night either reminding the waiter that no, I really can’t have that bread, delicious as it looks, or yeah, that’s totally fine because it’s not wheat/gluten/potentially contaminated. The culmination of the night was when they brought out dessert, which was a chocolate cake thing covered in chocolate. I asked the waiter if I could have a dish of ice cream and he was completely aghast. Because he was somehow under the impression that I couldn’t have dairy. After 2 hours of me reminding him that WHEAT is my problem, not dairy. He actually argued with me about whether ice cream (plain vanilla, by the way) was OK with me to eat. I wanted so badly to say “DUDE! It’s my dietary restriction. I think I know what things are OK for me to eat!” He finally agreed to bring me a dish of ice cream and delivered it to me with an air of “It’s your funeral.”, which is always so helpful in waitstaff.

  32. Lucinda

    I’m sure this has already been said but at stuff like that, you just have to call ahead and speak to the chef to discuss the menu so you can tell the server what you can and can’t eat. Then when you get there, ask to speak to the chef again (or the head server) and have one of those two people serve you your food. That’s what I do, but I can end up severely sick so I don’t screw around. I feel for you. I’ve seen that blank look oh so many times and then I usually get pretty scared and just don’t eat anything. But I bet you looked very pretty while eating all that wheat-filled salmon.

  33. Holly

    And this is why I would hate to be a waitress…

  34. Mer

    I don’t understand the gluten/dairy confusion. I get that all the time, too. Gluten comes from grains, dairy comes from animals. Have these people tried milking wheat or something?

  35. Leanne

    Oh Lordy. A workmate of mine has exactly the same problem but her allergies are garlic, onions and shellfish. Unless she absolutely specifies what she wants, say pan fried steak with vegetables with no dressing, could end up with anything because they just don’t know what to do with no garlic.

Things I Might Once Have Said


Quick Retail Therapy

Pin It on Pinterest