We went to Ikea to shop, and I knew from checking out their cafe ahead of time that they did not have a gluten-free menu. To make a long story short, we ended up eating a very small lunch there (the kids had snacks from the car, guaranteed gluten-free), so James and I noshed on a salad from the salad bar. It looked safe -- no croutons or anything lurking in the lettuce. I knew it was a gamble, but we went for it. About an hour later, James complained of feeling itchy and my throat was getting its characteristic Gluten Bomb tightness. Our best guess was that the dressing was not gluten-free or there was some cross-contamination somewhere. At any rate, we downed a capsule of an enzyme supplement I got from the doctor's office that's supposed to help with digesting gluten. And we went about our shopping.
On the way home, I was totally psyched to visit a restaurant just south of Dayton that had a gluten-free cafe -- baked goods, chicken strips, pizzas and salads. I was willing to eat breaded chicken strips (grains!) on a salad because heck, it was vacation and breaded chicken strips are something I'm willing to do every now and again. The cafe could not have been any more of a disappointment if it had tried. The inside was lacking in any kind of charm or sophistication, but I was willing to overlook that for a bite of chicken strips. Then the owner walked out to the counter, and either her teeth were grey or some of them were missing. At either rate, she looked sloppy and kind of gross. My instincts were going off, telling me to run away, buy a quick cookie and find another place to eat. But no, we ordered our food, all $30 of it.
As we were sitting at the table waiting for our order to arrive, I was still optimistic despite the appearance of the restaurant itself AND the owner. I guess I don't like to judge a book by its cover, at least when there are chicken strips involved.
Out came our "food": a frozen pizza on its original round cardboard packaging, two paper plates with frozen crinkle french fries and frozen gluten-free chicken strips (probably Applegate, I'm assuming), and one pre-packaged salad with frozen chicken strips and a packet of Marzetti dressing. I did not drive out of my way after a long day at Ikea on the way home from a wonderful vacation to sit in a nasty cafe, eating nasty food plopped in a toaster oven from a freezer. In a wild daydream, I threw all the plates on the floor, pizza sauce smearing the floor, crinkle cut french fries flying through the air, pieces of chemical-washed romaine lettuce scattered everywhere. But in reality, we sat and ate the nastiness. We spent $30 freakin' dollars on that stuff, and so we ate it. Why in the hell did we not just leave? We should have just faced the fact that yes, we wasted some money, but now we're going to find some better food somewhere else. All I could say about the fiasco was at least the food was gluten-free -- not good, but gluten-free, so we didn't have to worry about that. Then James and I vowed that the next time we find ourselves in a situation like that where our instincts are screaming at us to turn around and walk out, we need to run away as fast as we can. I also realized I need to open my own gluten-free cafe here and teach that lady how to do it right.
Now for some GOOD food. Due to a hankering for egg rolls, I bought a head of cabbage and made a pork stir fry. No, it wasn't quite an egg roll, but the dish turned out so well that sometimes close enough is good enough.
Pork and Cabbage Stiry Fry
1 lb pork steak, chops or loin, sliced thin
3 Tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce or soy-free coconut "soy" sauce
2 Tablespoons oil or lard, divided
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
4-5 medium carrots, julienned
2 heads baby bok choy
1 green onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
salt and pepper
1. Place sliced pork in a shallow dish or zip-top bag. Pour soy sauce over meat and allow to marinate while preparing remaining ingredients.
2. For bok choy, separate the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems into 1/4-inch pieces and set aside with shredded cabbage. Chop leaves into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces and set aside. In a small bowl, combine green onion, garlic and grated ginger with a fork and set aside.
3. Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil or lard in a large non-stick skillet or wok. Remove pork from marinade with tongs and place into the skillet. Stir fry until pork is cooked through (be careful not to overcook, though), about 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove pork from skillet and set aside. Pour any remaining liquid in the skillet into a small bowl and set aside.
4. Heat remaining 1 Tablespoon oil/lard in the skillet. Add cabbage, carrots and bok choy stems; stir fry until vegetables are just tender, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in bok choy leaves and green onion/garlic mixture, cooking until leaves turn bright green and are slightly wilted. Add pork back to the skillet, stirring to combine all ingredients. If mixture is dry, pour in reserved liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. Remove skillet from heat. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve alone, with rice or with cauliflower rice.