Zilker Summer Musical – Little Shop of Horrors

Posted: July 13th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Zilker Summer Musical – Little Shop of Horrors

Zilker Summer Musical PosterLittle Shop of Horrors!

Seymour! Audrey! And that strange and interesting plant, the Audrey II!

What time is it, everyone? It’s time once again for the longest running free summer musical in the country, the Zilker Summer Musical! Personally, I’ve been to almost every performance since the 80s. I know that since 1990, the performances in 1996 and 2007 are the only ones our family has missed.

As sponsors, my wife and I attended the BBQ dinner and preview performance on 7/11. The performance was wonderful. (If you’ve only ever seen the movie version, there might be a surprise or two in store for you.) The dinner put a slight damper on things. I could have sworn I read something that indicated Green Mesquite would be catering it again like they did last year and I had researched the food and knew what I could eat. As it turns out, though, Pok-e-Jo’s catered it instead. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice until after I had eaten the food. And while I saw after I checked their site that I could have eaten safely, unfortunately two of the items I ate were not gluten free. 🙁 Sometimes it sucks to have to celiac disease. It just reinforces that I always have to check and double-check every time before I eat anything my wife or I didn’t prepare.

I apparently didn’t get a ton of gluten, so while I didn’t feel great later that evening and yesterday, it wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past. Of course, I don’t tend to have as strong a set of acute symptoms as some people who have celiac disease, which is why I had such extensive systemic damage by the time I was finally diagnosed. Still, it didn’t ruin my evening. My wife and I loved the performance and had a great time.

After the dinner and before the show, we headed down to Barton Springs pool and stuck our feet in the water for a while to cool down. It really helped a lot, especially since my wife is sensitive to too much sun and heat.

Tomorrow I’ll be headed back with my youngest daughter and one of her friends. We’ve been doing Shakespeare in the Park and the summer musical for some years now. When we go, we make it a full day. We spend it at the pool, which has lots of space to lounge and read and relax between dips in the pool. My daughter and her friend never stop talking until the show starts! Even as teenagers, sometimes they’ll head over to the nearby Zilker Playground. We pack plenty of drinks and food and make sure to get our blankets out right at 6:00 (the earliest you’re supposed to place unattended blankets).

If you live in the Austin area and you’ve never been, try to work it into your summer schedule this year. It’s a lot of fun and you won’t regret it!


Iron Cactus

Posted: August 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Iron Cactus

My wife and I recently decided to try Iron Cactus on a night out. They have a gluten free menu and neither of us had ever been there. As the warning at the bottom of the menu notes, they do use common fryer oil, which means the chips are not actually gluten free and neither is anything else deep fried. I confirmed that it was common oil with our server. That’s a common pitfall, so I was prepared for it. (I will note it makes me appreciate Maudie’s even more. They have sealed bags of gluten free tortilla chips they bring to your table still in the bag.)

Even with that caveat, they have some intriguing options not found at the typical Mexican restaurant. I had their Abuelita’s Meatloaf and it was quite good. It’s probably not a place we’ll go frequently, but the food and experience were both good. And I didn’t seem to have any reactions, so as long as you make your selections carefully, it’s possible for someone with celiac disease to eat safely.


Green Mesquite BBQ

Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Green Mesquite BBQ

Our family has long been patrons of the Zilker Summer Musical. In the last nearly quarter century, we’ve only missed a couple. We always donate at the musical and sometimes donate in advance as well. We’re fortunate to live in a community that supports the arts and which provides free offerings. (My daughter and I also attend the free Shakespeare in the Park put on by Austin Shakespeare each year.)

This year was one of those years we chose to be “official” donors so we were invited to the catered outdoor donor dinner and special preview performance (also the final dress and technical rehearsal, but usually with no interruptions). The dinner was catered by Green Mesquite BBQ. I had never been there, so I contacted them by email to see if their food would be safe for my children and me. They responded very helpfully.

“All of our meat is gluten free along with with our barbecue sauce. Our rubs are made by a local spice vendor, Texas Spice, and they do not add msg or gluten in our spices. We don’t add gluten products to our beans or potato salad. Our buns are bread so they are not gluten free.”

We attended, had a wonderful night. The food was delicious and we had no reactions to it. Although we’re not among the group of celiacs who tend to have strong and aggressive acute symptoms to exposure, we do tend to notice it. (The acute symptoms are not the real problem. The autoimmune response and the often more “hidden” damage to the body is the major concern for us with celiac disease.)

Given that positive experience, we’re adding this restaurant to our “safe” list.


Violet Crown Cinema

Posted: June 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Violet Crown Cinema, in downtown Austin, is a place I would call another local gem. My wife and I don’t go downtown that often anymore, which is the only reason I can imagine it took us so long to discover it. (Violet Crown has been open for a bit more than a year now.) The cinema shows independent films in four small theaters with very comfortable seats. They are also built so there really are no bad seats in the house and are stadium style so you don’t have to worry about tall people in front of you. We saw Bernie to celebrate her birthday and had a fantastic time.

The cinema has a snack bar which includes an espresso bar, hummus, and vegetable snacks in addition to the traditional popcorn and soda. The theater also has a cafe, lounge, and bar. Arrive early, enjoy food and drinks. And take anything you want into the theater where the seats have small fold-out tables. I understand if you don’t have time to get your food before the movie starts, they will give you a pager so you can go get it when it’s ready. Unlike places like the Alamo, there is no food and drink service in the theater, but the way their theater is arranged, that’s not really an issue.

The menu is not large, but it clearly marks the gluten free options. There aren’t many options, but it’s a small menu anyway. Moreover, since nothing else is fried, the sweet potato chips and hand cut fries are gluten free! No cross-contamination concerns. I had the sweet potato chips and they were delicious.

My wife and I will definitely be returning in the future. If you live in the area and like independent films, then give Violet Crown Cinema a try. I highly recommend it.


Maudie’s Tex-Mex

Posted: April 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Maudie’s Tex-Mex

For my birthday, we finally tried Maudie’s Tex-Mex. I’ve heard about Maudie’s for years, of course, but with all the excellent Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants across Austin, had never actually been. Now that my younger kids and I are diagnosed with celiac disease, our options for Mexican food are somewhat more constrained. Some places, like Chuy’s, use beer to marinade all their meat. Other places make flour and corn tortillas on the same surfaces at pretty much the same time. And some use flour to thicken their sauces. As with most other sorts of restaurants, it’s become a minefield.

Maudie’s, though, stands out from the crowd with its gluten free options. It started as soon as we walked in and my daughter and I said we needed a gluten free menu. The waitress immediately told us the tortilla chips weren’t safe as they were fried in the same oil as gluten containing dishes. She brought us gluten free tortilla chips (still in a sealed plastic bag) and our own salsa so there would be no cross-contamination from dipping in the same dish. I was impressed that she did all that without any questions or requests from us. That’s a level of knowledge and care we don’t often encounter.

Their gluten free menu is also a pleasant change. Often, the gluten free menu at a restaurant is really a cross-reference to their main menu listing the dishes (often with modifications) from the main menu that are safe to eat. In order to get a full description of the dish and the price, you have to jump back and forth between the regular menu and the gluten free menu. At Maudie’s, the gluten free menu is self-contained. It describes the dishes and gives the price. It’s a complete menu and you don’t have to refer back to the regular menu at all. That may seem like a small thing, but it really means a lot.

The food was outstanding. My daughter got her usual cheese enchiladas. My wife got some taco plate with gluten-filled flour tortilla tacos. It was my birthday, so I got the grilled chipotle shrimp. They were served fajita style with corn tortillas and were absolutely delicious! I loved the sliced serrano peppers sauteed along with the onions and bell peppers. That was a nice touch.

Maudie’s goes on our relatively short list of safe and fun places to eat — places where you don’t have to think too much about having celiac disease or worry about the food.


Fallen

Posted: May 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

When I heard that Jennifer Knapp was releasing a new CD, I placed an order for it. As part of my order, I got a copy of her EP Evolving. I’ve been enjoying it for several days now. I’ve particularly enjoyed the song Fallen and, as music often does for me, it spurred the reflections that led to this post. I don’t tend to dwell too much on what a particular song or poem might have meant to the artist who wrote it. As a rule, unless they choose to explain it, I tend to assume that most of the guesses I might make are wrong. So when art evokes a reaction from me, I don’t project my response onto the artist. The song itself is hauntingly beautiful. Take a few moments to listen to it. I’ll continue with my thoughts following the song.

I was captivated immediately by the haunting opening (and repeated) chorus of the song.

Even though they say we have fallen
Doesn’t mean that I won’t do it twice
Given every second chance
I’d choose again to be with you tonight

The last line was the first to echo in my mind. I thought of my wife. Perhaps it’s because our 20th anniversary is fast approaching, but I thought of our early passionate intertwining — almost a physical force pushing and pulling us together, even if we seemed at the time to outside eyes the most unlikely of couples. And it has been a tumultuous twenty years with perhaps more challenges than some married couples face. But without hesitation, I would choose every bit of it again. I feel the enduring intensity of the line: I’d choose again to be with you tonight. There is no night where I would ever choose otherwise.

Moreover, that’s not a relative or a hierarchical choice. It’s an all-encompassing, absolute choice. If God demanded that I choose between my wife and him, my choice is clear; I would choose my wife.

However, it seems to me that people frame questions like that poorly. The problem is not fundamentally in how you answer the question even if it does seem to me that any other answer  would be morally questionable.  The deeper problem is that a God who would demand such a choice is simply not worth worshiping. I ask different questions than it seems a lot of modern Christians ask. For instance, here the obvious question to me is more direct; why would anyone choose to worship a God like that?

Sometimes people point to Abraham and Isaac, but if they are trying to prove the above, they miss the whole point of that story. Abraham knew God and knew that he wouldn’t take Isaac. He was so convinced that God was good and faithful that he even believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead if that’s where everything led. Abraham knew and trusted God more and better than I do. And in that trust, we see one of the great foreshadowings of the Resurrection.

We worship a God who loved all human beings to the uttermost, even to death on a cross. It’s other human beings who demand that we choose one love over another, never God. Love is non-hierarchical. I say that because I have heard Christians attempt to teach a hierarchy of love. Love God first. Love your wife second. Love your kids third. And then other loves in various lower hierarchies. Such systems may be many things, but they are not love. People even interpret Jesus’ modified Shema Yisrael as though it was his version of the First and Second Law of Robotics. (If you’re not an Asimov fan and miss the reference, I’m sorry. I’ll pray for you.) No, when Jesus amends the Shema, he is saying this is how you love God. You love your neighbor as yourself. That is what the Incarnation means.

I love my wife with all that I am. I totally love every one of my children — without limit. And I at least desire to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. (I’m less convinced that I actually do love God, because I know how poorly I love other human beings. But I long to love him.) Those statements are not contradictory. Love is at least transfinite if not absolutely infinite. Love doesn’t run out. It’s not a finite resource. In fact, according to 1 John 4:3, love is the essence of the uncreated who fills and sustains all creation. We will find the end of love when we find the end of God.

My take on the questions that seem to plague others thus becomes relatively simple. I am not willing to try to foist on others a God I would never worship myself. For me that’s really the end of the discussion. I will read and study perspectives and interpretations and context simply because I enjoy such intellectual pursuits.  But that’s all they are to me. I’m never confused about that.

But then the middle two lines began bubbling in that sea I call a mind as I started to reflect on the relational experiences and choices of my whole life.

Doesn’t mean that I won’t do it twice
Given every second chance

I have experienced much in my life and I have made many choices. I have experienced pain and trauma both at the hands of others and as a result of my own actions and decisions. I began to reflect on what “every second chance” might mean in the context and setting of my life.

I have many flaws and broken places and I have been prone to making poor choices and decisions over the course of my life. Even so, it’s not hard to pinpoint the single “worst” (whatever that might mean) decision of my life. The particular dark synergy of everything between us in my relationship with my second wife nearly destroyed me. At least, it came closer than anything else I’ve ever experienced — and that’s saying quite a bit. I owe my father, a close friend, and my partner and love for the past twenty-two years all that I am today. I wasn’t easy on any of them, but they still loved me enough to put the shattered pieces back together again.

So, at first glance, that choice and that relationship seems to be one that, given every second chance, I wouldn’t in fact do twice.  But things are never that simple. Without my choice to enter that relationship, I would not have my older son, my other son (in all but blood) who is the same age, my daughter-in-law, or my granddaughter. But the thread runs deeper than that. It’s unlikely, absent that relationship, that I would have moved to Austin or ever started working for my current employer. And not only does that mean I would not have my present career, but more importantly I would not have met the woman who has been my wife, partner, and friend for more than two decades now. And thus I also would not have my younger son, my younger daughter, or the particular friends I have made here over the years.

And that is far too steep a price to pay simply in order to avoid pain, however intense or shattering the suffering might have been.

Our choices and experiences, good and bad, cannot be disentangled. We are not islands. We live in a complex web of relationships and lives. There is no point in our lives where we can separate our experience then from the person we are now. Change the experience and you inevitably change the person. Moreover, you change the entire network of relationships surrounding the person.

I can go farther back in time. My choices and actions that initially led to me becoming a young teen father and husband were certainly less than ideal. (I have to specify ‘young teen’ since I was still a teenager for my second child and marriage.) I certainly made my own later life more painful and more difficult with those choices. Yet, I can’t say I truly regret those choices and actions. If I had been ‘wiser’, not only would my oldest daughter not have been conceived, but I would have likely taken a scholarship to a college somewhere and missed every subsequent relationship in my life.

But I can go farther back into things I experienced growing up, but largely did not choose. I suppose I had an interesting childhood in the same sense as the ancient Chinese curse. But remove those experiences and I would not have become the teen who made the choices that I made. It’s an intricate, yet delicate web of growth, experience, and relationship. And there’s nothing that, even given every second chance, I can honestly say I would remove or change. I regret the places where I hurt people, and there are too many of those. But I don’t really want to go back and change anything. I just want to do better going forward.

I’ve never been a very good fit in the American evangelical culture not just because I’m twice divorced, but because I’ve simply refused to adopt the stereotypical, expected ‘repentant‘ attitude. I may recognize that I’ve made poor choices more than once (not that I needed Christianity to reveal that fact to me), but I’m not ‘sorry‘ about my kids or life and I never will be. I know that a lot of people don’t know how to deal with me because I don’t fit any of their easy boxes. They have various categories for people and I don’t even superficially conform to those categories. Some can drop their neat little divisions and simply accept me for who I am. Others keep their distance instead because I make them uncomfortable. My wife sometimes thinks I don’t see the various reactions. And it is true that I’m less socially aware than many people are. But I’m more aware than I tend to show.

When I read the places in the gospels where Jesus most directly addresses marriage, I always want to note that he is mostly speaking against the way the various Pharisaical camps had used divorce as a weapon to punish and hurt the weak or benefit the powerful. Even so, within that context I don’t disagree that Jesus strongly implies the existence of an ideal against which he is contrasting and judging their abuse. I don’t really argue with that point on which so many seem to focus an inordinate amount of attention. (I will point out that it’s actually a multiplicity of ideals. Jesus and Paul both say, after all, that it’s a higher calling of some to remain unmarried and childless in devotion and service to God. That statement was at least as shocking in their ancient context as it would be to conservative evangelicals today.)

But Jesus embodied a God who has never shied away from the reality of human relationships in favor of some ideal. Even in the foreshadowing of the Old Testament, we see a good God who loves mankind. We see a God who again and again shows up saying, “Well, that’s not what I had in mind for you, but since that’s where you’ve gotten yourself, here’s where we’ll go from here.” The human relationships we form are an inextricable part of our reality. And I don’t think God judges them as incidental, secondary, or occupying some lower rung on a hierarchical ladder of love. I think he honors them for what they are in the midst of all their messiness.

In truth, if we believe Jesus, then love and worship of God cannot be separated from love of other human beings. That is, after all, what Jesus taught when he had the audacity to amend the Shema Yisrael. When I think of God, I always see Jesus sitting at the well with the Samaritan woman telling her, without judgment or condemnation, “You’ve told the truth. You have no husband. You’ve had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.” It’s as if he’s telling her, I see where you are, I’m willing to join you where you are, and we’ll go from there.

Perhaps that story is so poignant to me because it illustrates the point at which I began to truly see the reality of Jesus instead of a caricature. That time came when my wife and I were planning our wedding. For a wide variety of reasons — none having to do with faith — we decided to see if we could get married in a beautiful, nearby Lutheran church. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect and I’m not sure my wife did either. Neither of us had any connection to any Lutheran church nor were we practicing Christians of any sort. My wife was more or less a lapsed Roman Catholic and I was more anti-Christian than not. (There are a lot of reasons for both and neither are particularly relevant here.)

While I’m not sure what either of us expected, what we encountered was love. I don’t think for a moment that the Lutheran pastor had any illusions about our degree of Christian faith, though he never pressed us on it. And especially given that I had my older five year old son, we were in the middle of a custody case, and my son had already bonded to my then fiance as the mother he had deserved to have, I don’t believe the pastor had any illusions about the platonic nature of our relationship either.

We began to get to know him in pre-marital counseling and though I did not yet know that particular gospel story, I found myself in the place of the Samaritan woman. The pastor didn’t use those words, but it’s as if he said to me, “Yes, you’ve had two wives and the woman you’re with now is not your wife. That’s where you are. Let’s move on from there.” And he didn’t stop with proforma marriage counseling and a wedding. He remained genuinely interested in our lives and struggles. He gave my wife a part-time job at one point that was also flexible enough to meet the demands the custody case placed on us. He needed a secretary and she was available and skilled, but that practical act always meant a lot to me. There had to have been at least some people more devoted to his church to whom he could have given the job.

We were never exactly regular attendees at that church, but we did go more often than we had originally intended. (That’s not saying much since I’m not sure we really intended to attend at all once the wedding was over.) And when our son was born, we had him baptized by that pastor. That Lutheran pastor never really did anything dramatic or showy. But he did live the sort of love we see in the gospels. He chose acceptance over rejection. He chose love over any particular set of rules. And by doing that, he led me to question whether or not I might have been wrong in my judgment of Christians and Christianity. I doubt he had or has any idea of the impact his actions had on me. But the truth is that I’m not sure I see how I would have moved from where I was to anything like Christian faith without his small, but consistent acts of love.

The theological point I take from all of this is that it’s not my job to somehow ‘fix‘ the web of human relationships surrounding and supporting another person. My wife and I have and may again in the future find ourselves in a place where we need to do what we can to help someone who is being abused. So I’m not at all saying that we should stay aloof or apart from others. That’s not love. However, it’s up to God, not us, to ultimately sort things out. Our role is to acknowledge where people are and not turn away from it. Lies flow from darkness, not from the light. We should never pretend that things are other than what they are. But having done so, we are to love. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

I’m not sure that you can err by loving too much or too freely. But if you can, I would rather err on that side than by not loving enough. I don’t think I’m very good at love, at least not the sort of love that Jesus commands. But if there’s one thing I want to do better, that’s probably it.


One Year Gluten Free

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on One Year Gluten Free

It’s been roughly a year now since I was diagnosed with celiac disease and began a gluten free diet. It was quite a shift at first, but it’s almost become second nature now. I read the ingredients on everything I pick up and am still sometimes surprised. Just the other day my wife was making a Thai sauce when she noticed that the container of peanuts said it could contain wheat. (She noticed before she added them.) Who expects to find wheat in peanuts? Such is life these days.

We don’t go out to eat that often anymore, and when friends or family want to meet at a restaurant, I tend to skip the food and stick to coffee if it’s not a place I already know. It’s surprising how often food is involved when people gather for any reason, business or social. Whole foods are the safest at such gatherings. I always look for the raw vegetables, though I skip the dipping sauces that typically come with them.

It’s not been as difficult for me in many ways because I’ve always liked vegetables of different sorts, even as a kid. And many of my favorite dishes were already rice, bean, or lentil based and required little, if any, adjustment. The transition has also been easier since both my wife and I can really cook. I’ve always been grateful to my Dad for teaching me how to cook, but never more so than this past year. And my wife has been amazing. She was a little overwhelmed at first, but adapted quickly and has since become quite an accomplished gluten free chef. I know that a lot of people in our modern world never truly learn how to cook for a wide variety of reasons. But if your lifestyle and eating habits revolve around dining out and eating packaged, processed food, I’m not sure how you could make this particular transition. At the very least, it would have to be a lot more challenging than it has been for us.

Business travel remains a challenge. Fortunately, I don’t have to travel very often and I typically have plenty of advance warning when I do, so I can do research and plan how I am going to eat. It’s almost like putting together a battle supply plan in unfriendly territory. I know the stores, restaurants, and other resources in the Austin area pretty well. It’s much more of a challenge in an unfamiliar place. Moreover, the worst time to make yourself sick would be when you are traveling, so I tend to be especially conservative about what I eat when I’m on the road.

My family has also pretty thoroughly adjusted. Even though I’m the only one who has to eat gluten free, we don’t make separate meals for me. So much of what we eat at meals does not contain gluten. On my last business trip, my wife asked the kids if there was anything they had missed and would like for meals while I was gone. They couldn’t think of anything.

I feel better than I’ve felt in years, even if I’m still a long way from healed and healthy at this point. I’m not thrilled at all the doctors I’ve acquired over the past few years. I was used to having only one whom I saw infrequently. That’s not only no longer the case, it’s unlikely to ever be the case again. I’ve landed in a new phase of life.

Now that I’ve made the transition to life as a celiac and am feeling better, it’s time to start trying to get back into some kind of shape. I’ll make that my goal for this next year.


Kerbey Lane Cafe

Posted: March 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Kerbey Lane Cafe

I’ve waited until I visited Kerbey Lane Cafe a couple of times in different locations before writing this review. My readers have to understand that this was one of my favorite restaurants before my diagnosis. It was hard for me to believe that the restaurant that made the best pancakes I had ever had could also safely prepare gluten free dishes. I wasn’t willing to even risk disappointment until my wife had some health issues that left us greatly relieved right by the original restaurant on Kerbey Lane. After that experience, I risked another visit at a different location with my daughter.

I’m happy to report that despite their well-deserved pancake fame, Kerbey Lane Cafe is able to prepare certain dishes without cross-contamination. The first time I risked a visit, I discovered they have a gluten free menu. On that visit I ordered the migas. They were as good as they’ve ever been and I had no adverse reaction. On the next visit I ordered one of their enchilada options. It was similarly fantastic with no adverse reaction.

If you are a celiac visiting Austin, give Kerbey Lane Cafe a try. You’ll be glad you did.


Jack Allen’s Kitchen

Posted: March 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments »

I’ve realized that I don’t post many restaurant reviews. There’s actually a good reason I don’t. Since being diagnosed with celiac disease, I eat out significantly less than I once did. Moreover, when I do eat out, I tend to return to restaurants where I’ve had a positive experience in the past. Unless my experience changes, it seems rather silly to keep writing posts on restaurants I’ve already reviewed. I also tend to be rather cautious with new restaurants, which is another reason I only have one post about a more negative experience. (Ironically, that post on Red Lobster is one of the most popular I’ve written. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get multiple visits from people who found it via a search.)

This past week was one of our large meetings with our business customers. Our development project team leader planned a dinner out at Jack Allen’s Kitchen after the last day of our meeting. I wasn’t optimistic that a restaurant with a Chicken Fried Anything section on their menu would have anything I could eat, but I dutifully emailed them to ask. I received a really nice response that I want to go ahead and share.

Hello Scott,

Thank you for choosing our restaurant for your office dinner.  We do offer a few Gluten Free items on our menu such as our taco platters, bacon wrapped Texas quail, smashed guacamole, chips and salsa, and our Country Club Fancy Chicken Salad.  We will also gladly grill you any piece of chicken, meat, or fish that we are offering that day.  None of our items are certified gluten free by the Gluten Intolerance Group and there is a chance that cross contamination may occur as we are not a gluten free establishment. I hope this helps you and if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to call or email.

Thank you,

Shannon

@Jack Allen’s Kitchen

I didn’t actually get to meet Shannon, but I decided to give them a try based on his or her response. (Shannon being one of those names that both genders get to use.) In Austin, when a restaurant is familiar both with the Gluten Intolerance Group and the risk of cross-contamination, I’ve never had a problem despite their disclaimers. I believe such kitchens have good food preparation discipline, at least in Austin. There tends to be a sensitivity here to special dietary needs that I’ve not found in other cities that I’ve visited.

I’m really glad I decided to give them a try. Our waitress, when I described my special needs and the response I had received, told me they had a gluten free menu and brought me a copy of it. Later, when she was describing the special of the day (tostadas with a layer of beans, pork belly, grilled scallops, and a relish of jicama, peppers, and some other things), I realized that it didn’t sound like it contained anything with gluten. I asked her if she could check with the chef and she did. When she came back, she said Jack (Jack Gilmore I presume) confirmed that there were no gluten-containing ingredients. However, the tostadas were fried in a fryer that was also used for dishes that did contain gluten. I was impressed that he immediately recognized the risk of cross-contamination, but the waitress went on to say that he could prepare the dish without the tostadas and substitute corn tortillas instead. The “crunch” would obviously be missing, but everything else would be the same.

So I ordered the special with that modification and I was not disappointed at all. Every element of the dish was exquisite. I loved the beans. The pork belly practically melted in my mouth.The scallops were grilled to perfection. And the “relish” was magnificent. Oh, and the corn tortillas were pretty good as well. It was a fun evening and I heard just how much our customers are going to miss me while I’m working on my new job.

My vegetarian and vegan friends can now be appalled at my dinner selection. 😉 What can I say? I can resist many things, but pork belly and scallops? In one dish? Willpower only takes you so far. Of course, my meal also didn’t conform to Orthodox Lenten fasting rules. So I guess that night it was a good thing I’m not Orthodox! The restaurant is a very long way from our home, otherwise my wife and I might be dining there a lot. I noticed they have shrimp tacos that sound exquisite and are a particular weakness of my wife. We will almost certainly go there sometimes, but not frequently because of the distance.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, though, has definitely made my list of the restaurants at which I will eat. Even if you do not suffer from celiac disease, you will like them. In fact, you will be able to eat a whole lot more off their menu than I can. Everyone enjoyed what they got that night. It was a success all the way around, not just for me.


The Monstrous Within Us All

Posted: February 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

As I’m sure most people are now aware, this past week an Austin resident snapped and flew his small plane into one of our IRS offices. Due to a well-designed building, some fast thinking and good reactions from those in the building, small acts of heroism, and a healthy helping of good fortune, it appears that only one person died in the attack. While I did not personally know Vern Hunter or his wife Valerie, I’m still discovering those within the web of my friends and acquaintances who did know Vern. The IRS is a large employer in Austin, but I suppose you can’t work for them for a quarter of a century without developing connections that leave you one or two degrees of separation from many of the other employees. My thoughts and prayers have been and remain with the Hunters.

Nobody I personally know was injured or killed in this attack. As such, I would not describe my reaction to it as grief. Nevertheless, as my coworkers and I (and our immediate families) fielded calls and texts all day Thursday from friends and loved ones across the country checking on our well-being, I experienced a sense of … unreality. I suppose that sort of reaction is a natural insulating effect of mild shock. This particular attack hit uncomfortably close to “home,” to the immediate environment over which we all of like to feel some degree of control. It drove home how little we are able to truly control.

Of course, we all immediately wish to demonize people like Joe Stack. We want to strip them of their humanity and turn them into monsters. We want to turn them into the “other”, distance them from ourselves, and make them into objects of scorn and hatred. The message of that hatred is, in part, that “we” (our network of family and friends — our tribe, if you will) are not like that monster. We could never act in such a way.

It is, of course, true that most of us will never act as Joe Stack did. But that is not quite the same thing. And though we wish to deny it, we do share in Joseph Stack’s basic humanity. It’s in that shared human nature, which those of us who are Christian would call an icon of the Creator, that we have the capacity for acts of incredible goodness and heroism. But it is also in that same damaged nature that we all have a capacity for the monstrous. It is perhaps only when we acknowledge that fact that we find the ability to love those who make themselves into monsters. The reaction of the Amish when their children were gunned down is the example of humanizing love that comes to my mind. Of course, I am a Christian. And I would say that ultimately our capacity to love flows from the one who is Love. But that does not diminish the synergy of our participation in that love or the dissonance when we refuse to participate.

I’ve been following the reports of neighbors, acquaintances, and family of Joe Stack. They all describe a man not unlike us all. He was a man who loved and was loved. It’s become clear that he was more tormented by his demons than those around him realized, but they were pretty ordinary demons. There was nothing that stood out about Joe Stack, that marked him as anyone unusual, until that moment when he chose to act.

I was heartbroken by the comments of his daughter, who lives in Norway. They spoke often. She loved him and had no sense that anything was wrong. Her children, his grandchildren, loved him. At one point, she says, “Maybe if I’d lived in the states… a little closer to him… I don’t know.” My heart ached for her as I read that statement. There is, of course, no answer to that question. But who among us has not been tormented by the question: What if? It’s a cruel question and yet one we cannot seem to avoid.

The reality is that people are not monsters; they are not demons. Human beings perform monstrous acts; they try to dehumanize themselves. That is absolutely true. But at one point in their lives, they were that helpless infant, that small and hopeful child, a son or daughter, a husband or wife, a parent — a person with dreams not unlike the rest of us. Almost everyone has loved and been loved. Even the “monsters” leave behind people who love them, confused and heartbroken. Even the most monstrous cannot escape their basic humanity.

And when we recognize that fact, we are forced to acknowledge that the capacity for the monstrous exists within us all. As a Christian, I turn to Jesus and pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” for I do not know what else to do. He is the only human being who, fully sharing our nature, defeated the monstrous within it. If we cannot find our true humanity, a humanity worth embracing, in Jesus of Nazareth, I don’t know where else to turn. I’ve explored so many other paths and found nothing like the promise Jesus offers. But sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s real, especially when forced to face the monstrous.

My heart also breaks for the family and friends of Joe Stack. I can’t imagine their pain and heartbreak. And so I pray for them. But I also pray that God has mercy on Joseph Stack III. After all, he was a human being, created as an eikon of God. If I deny that fact, if I let myself turn him into a monster, then I am denying my own humanity and life itself, at least as I understand it to be hid with Christ in God.

Lord have mercy.