Restaurants are getting interesting. For one thing, I’m beginning to realize that I’m going to have to start being a much bigger tipper. For another, I’m going to to have to get much better at planning. Gone are the days when we could simply go to a restaurant, on the spur of the moment. Take last night, for example.
It was “date night” for my husband Steve and I, and we had big plans to grab a bite to eat and squeaking in to the 7 o’clock showing of “True Grit.” The key was going to be being quick about the food issue. Unfortunately we were late getting out of the house (usually the sitter has to forcibly shove me out and slam the door while I am still making sure she knows our cell phone number for the fourteenth time) and so time was even more tight. But we had a plan: Panera was right across the way from the theater and has been our non-so-fast-food-y fast-food of choice for some time. Even if we couldn’t eat most of the sandwiches on the menu- we suspected sugar in the bread, sugar in the deli meats, sugar in the condiments- we could surely get a quick salad, right?
Well, if I learn anything at all from my year of no sugar it will be to never assume anything ever again. We were delighted to be the only folks at the counter- no line! No waiting! We’d make this movie yet. We ordered two chicken Caesar salads.
“Would you like baguette, apple or chips with that?” asked the young lady manning the cash register.
“Does the baguette have sugar in it?” my husband asked. The young lady said she could check and proceeded to haul out the plastic three ring binder I have recently become aware exists in most chain restaurants on a shelf just under the counter. She paged through the plastic sheets. Yes, it did.
“What about the chicken salad?” I asked. “would you mind looking that up for us?”
“Oh, it’s no problem” she said, paging some more. First she looked up the Caesar dressing. “Dextrose?” she said uncertainly.
“What about just the salad itself, minus the dressing?” I asked. Now there were people waiting behind us. The list of salad dressing ingredients took up almost an entire typed sheet of paper, and the chicken salad, when she located it, was worse. There were dozens of ingredients in the “chicken salad.” Would it be too much to ask, I wondered, that the ingredients of a salad with chicken be salad… and chicken?
We were starting to feel really self-conscious now. The lady at the counter was still being very nice to us and I felt bad for her, as if we were the two cranky old people who come in at rush hour and hold up the line for twenty minutes trying to ascertain whether there are any poppyseeds in the poppyseed muffins. Steve turned to me, defeated, and said quietly, “There’s no way we’re making the movie.”
Meanwhile she handed us pages from the book to peruse to the side while she helped some other customers and as I stared at the page of four million ingredients I realized he was right: no movie. And as it seemed, no dinner either. What a total bummer of a date night. We thanked the young lady, returned the plastic pages and left in despair. For the first time since beginning the sugar project I wondered how a year of no sugar would affect our marriage.
Food, food was everywhere, but not a thing to eat. McDonald’s, Burger King, all the usual fast-eating suspects were right there, and Steve and I were both starving. Fortunately, after several rounds of driving in circles and sniping at one another, we settled on a nearby German restaurant, where I was fairly confident some sausages and sauerkraut would fit the no-sugar bill. This was much more encouraging. After informing the waitress that I couldn’t have a meal with sugar as an ingredient, she checked and found that the weiner schnitzel and the spaetzel noodle side dish did not have sugar in them.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We would both have that. Oh, and we get soup and salad with our dinners, what soup and what dressing would we like? We asked if the chowder had sugar in it, and Steve asked if the blue cheese dressing had sugar.
“Wait,” she said, “You can’t have sugar either?” Whenever I ask about the presence of sugar, I tend to just ask, as politely as possible, and not explain very much. I figure, if people assume I have a dietary restriction due to some health concern they are far more likely to be accurate and truthful than if I tell them I’m doing this for a lark, or just to be completely annoying. This works, of course, until Steve asks too, in which case my cover is blown and he starts to tell our waitress about my blog and hopes for a book.
“Oh, how cool,” our waitress enthuses, which is very polite of her because I’m fairly certain she doesn’t think it’s cool at all. We chat about the omnipresence of sugar and such for a moment and how hard it can be to avoid sugar entirely. After a minute she genuinely asks “Why?”
“To see if it can be done,” I say. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.
So it turns out, in fact, all three of the soups on the menu contained sugar, as well as the blue cheese dressing. Of course.
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