The worst cravings are at the beginning. You find out you have to live with food restrictions, and you can’t figure out what to eat because all you can think about is what you can’t have. You create mental lists of lamentations in your head over what you’ve lost. Your stomach feels hollow in a way you can’t quite describe or even understand—even when you’re full. You try making foods with substitutions, but you find the flour choices overwhelming, or you just can’t get out of your head a texture that you are trying to achieve, but can’t. Even if you aren’t a prepackaged kind of person, you try out premade mixes and processed foods hoping to recreate a favorite. They may taste good, but they usually don’t taste quite right, and you think, Is this what I’m stuck dealing with for the rest of my life?
It gets better, maybe even faster than you ever thought it could. Given some time for acceptance and for your taste buds to evolve, you start to forget what you’re missing. Even forgetting is a bit sad—you’re losing a bit of your history, and part of your cultural connection to so many other people—but it’s also a pleasure to be able to taste foods and enjoy them for what they are instead of focusing on what they aren’t. You push yourself to be adventurous, to try grains, proteins, vegetables that you’ve never tried before, and you really love some of them—things you never would have tried if it weren’t for life making you. You get more adept at using the alternatives, and start to make tasty food again. Maybe you learn to like foods you previously couldn’t stand because you think you don’t want any further restrictions than you have to have.
You’re different from others, and being set apart can be lonely (and maybe always will be at times), but you can enjoy what you get, too. Few things in life have to be black-and-white, and this situation is no exception.
I dreamed a few nights ago that two of my friends had gotten together with my husband, and they had devised a recipe to make the flakiest, butteriest croissants imaginable—with no dairy, no eggs, no soy, and no gluten. I don’t usually dream of food (I don’t usually have good dreams at all), but in this dream, I remember so clearly now the taste of the croissant, but even more the mouthfeel and texture of that incredible bread. It’s a bread I can’t imagine being able to make with my food restrictions. Vegan croissants? I’m sure they can be good. Gluten-free croissants? Yep, they can be done. But gluten-free croissants with no eggs, dairy, or soy? If you take out the eggs and dairy, the gluten becomes more important. If you take out the gluten, the dairy and eggs become more important. I don’t, at this point in my journey, see how they’d work. (Wouldn’t I love to be proven wrong!)
So you can imagine, I woke from my dream completely thrilled at the new croissant recipe discovery. I awoke and immediately sat up, ready to jump out of bed and put the recipe on my blog . . . when I realized that I was in bed: there was no recipe; there was no gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free croissant.
The sadness I felt mingled with amusement over my dream and pleasure at my brain’s ability to retain, years later, exactly how a good croissant would taste and feel in my mouth. Who knows? Maybe I will get to have one some day, as I was able to have (chocolate-dipped!) biscotti again when Cheryl so sweetly conjured up a fabulous gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free version to send me after I had surgery last summer. When I rediscover what I thought might be lost for good, I don’t take it for granted. The pleasure of having something returned to you that was once lost is sweet indeed.
Thus it was that I decided recently, after two years of craving PF Chang’s Orange Peel Chicken/Tofu/Beef, that I certainly should be able to make a reasonable facsimile of the dish at home. Croissants? Very difficult. An Asian sauce? Totally doable.
I cobbled together recipes from the internet, subbed out the foods I can’t have, and voila, it actually worked well. My husband says this recipe tastes just like PF Chang’s Orange Peel Chicken, whereas I think it’s not perfect yet—but it sure did hit the spot in my heart that has held on to that craving for this long. The sauce recipe is vegan if you sub in tofu for the chicken and tamari for the fish sauce—Orange Peel Tofu was my actual favorite when I could eat it, but I have to make do with chicken now. Yum either way.
Orange Peel Chicken
Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free
(I made the sauce earlier in the day and refrigerated it, covered, till I needed it. You can also just make it at dinner-time.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive—I used canola; peanut would also work)
4 tablespoons minced garlic
8 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups tomato sauce (If you want more sauce, use two cups; if you want it to be thicker but have less sauce, use one cup.)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I’m sure a sugar alternative would work here)
2-4 tablespoons Sriracha Thai sauce—the red sauce with the rooster on the bottle in the chili sauce section (You can’t leave this out, or it’ll taste Italian; 2 T in the whole dish, and I could barely taste it. 4 T made my nose run a bit with its spiciness. It’s up to you how much you use, but don’t skip it!)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (You can sub in tamari to make it vegan if you want; fish sauce, if you’ve never used it, will NOT make your food fishy-tasting, and it’s great in Asian dishes of all kinds)
2 teaspoons molasses
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, preferably aged balsamic
1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired)
1/2 cup oil (again, not olive)
4 boneless, skinless, free-range chicken breasts or 6 boneless, skinless thighs, chopped into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
peel from one orange, julienned into 1/8″ wide/1/2″ long strips (okay to leave the white pith on it; I love the orange peel and might use two oranges next time!)
Heat oil on medium. Add garlic and green onions. Cook one minute; then add tomato sauce and water. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, and bring to a boil. Simmer 5-6 minutes, or until sauce thickens. Turn off stove.
Heat oil on medium-high heat in a frying pan (preferably non-stick). While oil is heating, dredge chicken pieces in a mixture of the cornstarch and flour. Put the chicken pieces in the pan, making sure they all have a bit of space around them. (You may need to do two batches.) Fry the chicken pieces about 2 minutes; then flip the pieces, and fry two more minutes. Put the chicken on a plate covered with paper towels or paper to drain the grease. Cook the next batch, if there is one.
Dispose of the oil in the pan. Scrape out any large bits of breading in the pan. Put the pan back on the stove. Put the chicken and julienned orange peel back in the hot pan. Stir gently for 30 seconds. Add sauce to the pan. Stir together until heated through.
Serve over brown rice, with additional Sriracha for those who like foods spicy. My favorite side dishes to combine with this are steamed garlic snap peas and sauteed carrots.