My big fat gluten-free corneal abrasion

[Thank you for the sweet comments yesterday. I’m pleased to report that the day did indeed improve, thank God, and a good time and a massive chocolate-cake-stupor was enjoyed by all yesterday evening. Go make this flourless cake immediately, whether you’re gluten-free or not. I may never make anything else again.]

So I’ve been meaning to tell you this story for a while, but it was while rereading yesterday’s post and saying to my husband, “HAHA! You can’t tell I’m off my meds at all from that! HAAAAA!” that I realized it was time for a good-size dose of levity—the kind of levity that only 1) confused people and 2) me being a dork can provide.

(You’re welcome!)

Anyway, perhaps you have gleaned that due to recent events I am in full-on hermit mode. I mean, I drive children to doctors’ appointments and stuff, but I do not socialize. I do not dress up. I do not go anywhere I don’t HAVE to, because every ounce of energy is currently focused on keeping the particles in my body from spontaneously breaking off and shooting into space due to stress. (Well, no, that’s never happened, but it COULD, right?) Of course in the midst of this, my husband had to go win a big award.

When you win this particular Big Award at the University, there’s an Event. One which requires dressing up and mingling and sipping wine before dinner, and then sitting down in a banquet hall with a few hundred of your closest colleagues and having Fancy Dinner and making small talk prior to the hour of Event Presentations.

If you are me, there are about a dozen different ways that sequence of events can go sideways in a hurry, as evidenced by the last time Otto won this award, when I used my advanced social skills to imply that one of Otto’s colleagues was pretty much destroying our food supply.

Otto prepared for this event by… coming home from work and changing into a suit. I prepared for this event by… spending an hour spackling my face, trying to figure out what hairstyle best camouflages the fact that my hair is currently two-tone (haircut on Saturday; stay tuned), locating and ratcheting myself into my Spanx, waggling my eyebrows at my husband and asking him if he likes my hooker shoes, and figuring out which cocktail dress I currently hate the least.

The last thing I did was grab a pair of contact lenses, rip open the bubble packets, and stick them on my eyeballs. The left one was fine, but the right one clearly had something on it. (How do single-wear contact lenses end up being packaged with lint in the plastic? Don’t they have a lint-free factory line for this stuff??) I removed it, swished it around in the saline for a second, and stuck it back into my eye. Better. (This is called foreshadowing.) Off we went.

We arrived, we obtained the obligatory glasses of wine, and commenced standing around awkwardly. Eventually we found some people Otto knows, but then they flashed the lights to signal that it was time to be seated, and somehow in the sea of people finding tables, we lost everyone we knew, because we’re smooth like that. We ended up—surprise!—at a table with complete strangers.

Now. I had a Special Card. Do you remember what happened the last time I had a special card to make sure I didn’t get served any gluten? Basically any dietary restriction, if reported ahead of time, means that they will happily make you up a Special Card which you then give to your server so that you get the right food. Except that the last time I had a Special Card the server was completely baffled by it. Needless to say, I put my Special Card on my plate and waited for the hilarity to ensue.

I didn’t have to wait long! Salads were already on the table, and according to the description, this was a delicious Mediterranean salad featuring kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and orzo. Otto and I participated in introductions around the table and then everyone started eating. Well, except for me. Orzo is pasta, made with wheat. So the ONE THING I can usually eat without a problem, I couldn’t. (Who puts pasta in a dinner salad??) We waited for our server to appear, but of course it took a while, because supposedly everyone had salads and didn’t need anything right away.

Finally, two women with wine came around, and Otto gave them my Special Card and asked if I could possibly get a salad without the orzo. They said of course, no problem, and then proceeded to continue pouring wine for the next table. And the one after that.

Don’t worry, though! About ten minutes after everyone else had finished their salad, they brought me an enormous pile of lettuce and cabbage. Otto and I couldn’t stop laughing. The other people at our table were mystified, so I explained how the words “gluten free” have the power to scramble the brains of even the brightest people; I also shared the story of how my last Special Card got me about three pounds of beef but precluded the salmon, somehow, due to this problem.

My lettuce and cabbage was very… ummm… shredded. And… vegetable-y. I wished for cucumber and tomato and (my favorite!) kalamata olives like everyone else, but apparently whoever was in charge in the kitchen felt they might be too WHEATY for me.

When it was time for the main course, we were delighted to see that the standard slab-o-steak-slab-o-salmon entree has been slightly updated; now it’s a few slabs of steak and a crab-stuffed halibut. (Way to mix it up!) I was served a beautiful plate that was identical to the one served to Otto, and then the server pretty much ran away before we could say anything. Eventually she came back and we explained that this plate had gravy and also, it appeared, some sort of béchamel sauce, both of which likely contained wheat. Could she maybe find me the gluten-free entree I was supposed to receive? She apologized and took my plate.

A few minutes later she returned and placed a vegetarian plate in front of me with a flourish, announcing that this entree was completely gluten-free and I should enjoy. Otto and I blinked at it. While the roasted vegetables looked delicious, 1) I am not a vegetarian and 2) it was served around a large mold of couscous. WHICH IS WHEAT. We attempted to explain this to the server. She removed the second plate.

As I sat there with no food, encouraging our tablemates to go ahead and eat before their dinner was cold, another server stopped by to ask what the problem was. We explained. She apologized and said she’d get me a plate right away. To her credit, she was gone and back in under 30 seconds.

Unfortunately, she brought me another vegetarian plate. I’m not gonna lie; at this point, I would’ve just eaten it despite my love of all things carnivore just to END THE MADNESS, but… the couscous.

We explained, again, why this was not a gluten-free plate. She apologized again, and took away the plate.

A few minutes later, our original server returned with a—cue the angel chorus—gluten-free plate. It was the same thing everyone else was eating, but without the sauces. Perfect! Hooray! I thanked her and began to eat.

A minute later, the second server appeared with another gluten-free plate. (I’m thinking communication amongst the kitchen staff is not fantastic. Just sayin’.) When she saw I already had food, she rolled her eyes and stomped off.

Before dessert, the server came over to me and said, “Dessert is cheesecake, and I’m guessing you can’t have that?” I thought it was nice that she’d finally figured out that it might matter, but here’s the thing: I love cheesecake more than almost anything. I will happily take a slice of cheesecake and carefully scoop out a few bites from the middle (avoiding the crust) and call it good. So I told her that was fine, and she seemed completely confused, but left.

The kicker? Dessert was a CRUSTLESS cheesecake. Had I agreed to the bullshit fruit plate or whatever it was she wanted to bring me, I would’ve missed it entirely. Heh.

Once dinner was over, we all turned to the podium to listen to the presentations, sipping our coffee and surreptitiously checking our phones during the boring parts. (Spoiler: They’re almost all boring parts. Sorry, Otto. I love you and I’m proud of you, but you know it’s true.)

This was when my right contact lens began bothering me again. Because I’m suave and classy, I commenced a quiet frenzy of rapid blinking, shifting my eyes up and down and side to side, and tugging on the corners of my eyelids to try to fix it. It felt just like it had when I’d put it in, earlier, so it seemed like there must be a little piece of something trapped underneath it, somehow, but that seemed weird. How does a piece of flotsam get under your lens while you’re wearing it? Oh, well… I just kept messing with my eye and hoping no on would notice. After a while it kind of settled down.

After six hours (kidding! it only felt that long!), the awards concluded and we all said our “nice to meet you”s and goodbyes and headed back home.

After establishing that the children hadn’t burned the house down and the dog had missed us very much, I went to go get undressed and scrub my face. Except my lens was really bothering me again, so I decided I better take my contacts out, first.

My right contact lens was ripped almost entirely in half. And while I was doing a bit of horrified chuckling over that, I removed the left one, which was ripped as well (that one hadn’t bothered me at all).

Truth: I’ve never seen my daughter’s face light up QUITE the way it did when I went to her and said, “Remember that time you swore your lens ripped on your eye and I told you you were crazy? I’m sorry.”

My eyes seem fine, now, so all’s well that ends well, I guess. But the next time Otto tries to make me go to one of these things I’m going to be all, “Remember what happens? The many plates of ‘gluten-free’ food? The not knowing anyone? The RIPPED EYEBALL COVERS?” It probably won’t get me out of it, but I feel I’ve earned the right to whine a little, anyway.


  1. dad

    Truly, you are a party animal.

  2. {sue}

    I bet the contacts ripped from sticking your fork in your eye as you were continuously served gluten.

  3. Jill W.

    Got it. Now I am clear: Gluten is meat and cheese. I won’t forget… ; )

  4. Little Bird

    I want to go to a fancy dress-up dinner with you, it seems like it would be …. amusing.
    Why is it so hard to create a gluten-free dish? It really shouldn’t be so hard.

  5. Angela

    Ah hilarious, thanks for that! It seems that, instead of saying “gluten-free” you may have to specifically name the foods you DO want…”Give me tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and olives ONLY” or “Bring back this EXACT plate but WITHOUT the sauces…” Maybe that would do it? But again, you’ll still be assuming they can follow directions ;-P

  6. Beth A.

    You should totally ask the internet-braniacs who design thee-olde-blog, to add a “like” button (ala Facebook) — except, of course, you’d have to name it “People think I’m funny” or some such…cause I’d totally click the button for this post…AND your dad’s comment AND {sue}’s comment.


    The “adventures of Mir in the outside world” when it pertains to gluten is why I don’t think I could give up all gluten. LOL…poor thing.

  7. Lily

    I don’t even bother with the card thing! I know immediately if I’m going to get what I need from the reaction of the server. When I say “celiac” or “gluten free” and I get the deer in headlights look I just order a soda. If they immediately nod or make some other indication that they actually heard the word before then I pepper them with questions and repeatedly say “no bread, no pasta, just the meat on a plate!” It’s worked pretty good so far. Although, my husband doesn’t win awards and we rarely go out to eat…so take my success with a grain of salt (not wheat!) :-)

    And seriously, having your contact rip in your eye is the WORST! When it happened to me I had to go to the eye doctor and he took out two large chunks. Then a few days later another chunk came out while I was driving. It was like my eye was a contact dispenser. I’m not sure how many I had in there but it was like hitting the jackpot! They just kept coming!!

  8. Kelly

    I’d hate to think what throwing in another allergy could do to that poor wait-staff…

  9. Otto

    Because I am Empathetic and Helpful, I will try very hard not to win any more awards. Should solve almost all of our problems, right?


  10. Arnebya

    The giggles. I haz them. I also have the answer: take a pre-prepared plate. Ha. Pull out your best Chinet covered in foil. Seriously, WHY is it so hard?

    Oh, and thanks for a post long, long ago where you got a splinter out of Monkey’s finger using salt water. I did the same last night, it worked (after a while), but I left the shot glass on the counter. My husband, knowing we’d already polished off the last of the vodka thought I’d been hiding some in my purse. Or bra. Or shoe. With my cigarettes and possibly weed. He thought it a bit cloudy but decided he would not miss out on any secret spirits. I’ll let you imagine the face he was making when I came back into the kitchen after he’d downed his salty shot.

  11. jodifur

    You know what’s funny? At events I can’t get a vegetarian meal to save my life.

  12. Aimee

    I just spent ten minutes explaining to someone I work with that insects are animals and that is why Starbucks pulled their cochineal-bug-infused red dye. He insisted ADAMANTLY that insects weren’t animals.

    This is someone who’s college-educated. If he can’t tell that an insect isn’t, say, a plant or a fungus or a mineral, maybe it IS unreasonable to think that anybody should know what gluten is. It might be an insect, ya know ;)

  13. Heather

    You’ve definitely earned the right to whine a litte….and I think you’ve also earned the right to a little wine. Or…..a lot,

  14. Tracy

    Congratulations, Otto on your “special award” again and you have to admit, Mir, the outing did you good. Go ahead, admit it!

  15. Katy

    Sorry, no time for sympathy or congratulations: I need to go make that cake. Stat. Yummmmmmm.

  16. wenda

    great story! but for me it would have been a disaster to the enth degree….I am also allergic to cheese, chocolate and wine….

  17. Mandy

    I went to one of those myself this week. And the Prez of the univ came up to me (I was being awarded) and said “Do YOU teach here?” Um, yeah, only for the past 7 years.

    And the veggie plate? 3 carrots and a risotto “cake”. My cat eats more for dinner.

    These events are horrid.

  18. Mocha

    Well that just put a smile on my face. HA!

    And, I am no stranger to contact lens, um, situations…my hope is the kids won’t inherit my eyesight…

    Re the gluten thing. I just shake my head. These are the same people we trust with our kids’ allergies, right? Children who may or may not have the sense to make certain decisions? Maybe gluten sensitivities are not life-threatening (I don’t know, I’m just saying) but I know for a fact that people with kids with allergies fill out a gazillion forms all the time for school and camp and whathaveyou only to have the kids come home and say that they had a situation with x or y regarding their allergy.


    Still…makes for entertainment for those of us who shamelessly follow you around each day…


  19. Pictou

    Orzo and couscous are grown right next to the rice fields. They’re grains, not gluten!

    Or so I was told by a server.

  20. Karen

    I’ve just started the gluten free diet about two months ago.. it ain’t easy! But I think I feel better already. I am not a celiac and so my Dr. doesn’t think it’s relative. However I’m learning more and more about Gluten intolerance or sensitivity…and the fact that I feel much better off it says something, doesn’t it. Did you know.. even Twizzlers have wheat in them?

  21. victoria

    Such an uplifting post and I’m rushing to go read the others you mentionned within the text !!
    Sorry you have dietary restrictions, but I love your take on the whole evening. And yes, in a novel, the itchy contact lens would definetly have been foreshowing :)

  22. victoria

    Hi! Do you have a book out? Do you have plans to publish if you haven’t yet?
    (It’s entirely possible that I just don’t know that you already do have books for sale)

  23. Ali

    Oh man, gluten-free is really not all that complicated!

    I have a nut allergy, and a few weeks ago I was out a restaurant, ordered my meal, and told the server about my allergy. She returned and told me that, unfortunately, I would have to order something else because the dish I had ordered had mushrooms in it.

    I clarified that, in fact, mushrooms are not nuts (“Oh, really?” was the response) and all was well. What???

  24. Another Dawn

    Oh, I feel your pain.My boss has celiac disease, as do several of the delegates who regularly attend our conferences. I am the lucky duck who gets to ensure that they are not poisoned. Particularly fun was the year the serving staff decided that I was her, gave me her gluten-free meal and her a regular one. As it turned out, it didn’t make her sick (on account of there WAS no gluten in the meal – WTF?) but she didn’t know that and headed straight home as soon as the mix-up was identified to await the onslaught of enraged intestinal tract.

    Equally fun was the event when we told the caterer we had a delegate with an AIRBORNE, LIFE-THREATENING ALLERGY TO SHELLFISH and they thought a few shrimp as garnish on the buffett table would be “okay.”

    I am neither a chef nor a genius but I can freakin’ figure out how not to poison people. Why can’t caterers?

    So glad you survived.

  25. Valerie

    With you and Otto setting such good examples of selflessness (you attending events just to starve and him agreeing to back off on the pursuit of excellence), Chickadee will come through teenagedom and blossom into a lovely young woman. Besides, she is a smart kid and has got to realize that you are probably saving all the really horrible stuff she says for when she is no longer a minor and might even “look back and laugh.” Just the idea of a book like that should keep her in line! Well, as soon as she can look past the drama of the current day.

    Here’s hoping good health, good graces and good humor dominate every day. It is probably too much to hope for idiots to stay out of your way, besides I wouldn’t want you to get bored.

  26. brigitte

    Now you’ll have to fill up BEFORE these events, reducing your one potential pleasure to the wine! Funny post AND comments!

  27. Joan Allison

    The “nothing with wheat” thing does seem simple enough that anybody should be able to get it, especially people who work with food.

    I have a whole list of migraine trigger foods, including MSG and aged, so there’s a whole list of things I can’t eat, so you completely have my sympathies.

    Luckily, we don’t have any banquets to attend at this point, but we do attend pot lucks every now and then. They’re a mine field. Basically, anything that looks good, probably has something in it I can’t have. Sometimes, I go ahead and risk it; usually I don’t. Either way, I usually end up discussing food sensitivities with somebody before the meal’s over because I can’t think of another way to respond to people who say, “Try my ______. It’s really awesome; everybody always loves it.” People who are lucky enough to be able to eat what they want without consequences (except maybe for tight pants) just don’t get it. I’d love to eat their chocolate whatever-it-is or their canned-soup casserole if I could without serious suffering because of it.

  28. Celeste

    My son claims that whining about cutting the grass is his compensation.

  29. Andrea

    Oh Lawd, I am so dumb. I read the title of this as “My big fat gluten-free cornmeal abrasion.” Needless to say, I was somewhat confused most of the way through.

  30. Chris

    Ok First both your dad and otto crack me up. Second you shoudl print out a card that they can hand to chef (salad ok, crutens not, meat fish oK, sauces no). I have been trying to go gluten free due to a medical issue and I feel for you. I can just take certain things off but went to a concert last night and ended up having popcorn and yogurt. Thought about the hotdog with out a bun but couldn’t go there. Not a single salad in the place (with or without croutons). Once again really?

  31. nicole

    I so don’t miss banquets like that. My husband had one every year at his previous job. (I want to say that Otto even attended some of those as well.) Even without the “entertainment” of dietary restrictions they were always brutal. I say next time you bring a sack lunch. :)

  32. Catherine

    @ Andrea, I read the headline the same way! I kept wondering if cornmeal has gluten. Glad I’m not the only one.

  33. Karen

    Why, what piercing eyesight you’ve got, for those hapless waiters bringing you plate after plate of glutenous food. I hope the waiters are doing better than those contacts!

  34. Cele

    See how much she loves you Otto, she laughs in the face of threatened banquets. Ha!

    We tried going gluten free, not a problem for me, but my husband, the one who needs to go gluten free is resisting…. painful joints and all.

  35. Liza

    Like Andrea, I first read the headline as a cornmeal abrasion. Apparently, my brain likes to play food word association games. But I’m very glad that you didn’t get a cornmeal abrasion. Although what you did get might be worse. I suppose it depends on whether or not it was gluten free cornmeal.

    Congratulations, Otto!

  36. jen

    I also thought it was a cornmeal abrasion. Multiple times.

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