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Gluten-free Date Night photo

The menu was small, only two pages, but with long-winded descriptions and words I’d never seen in the context of describing food before. My date looked up from his phone and asked me, “hey, do you know what Forbidden Rice is?” 

“I don’t,” I said. “I was just about to look it up, actually.” 

“I’m just curious what makes it forbidden.”

“Maybe gluten?”

He pursed his lips to the side. “I don’t think rice has gluten in it. But the pink sesame noodles with sea scallopini vinaigrette might.” 

“What? Where do you see that?” I asked, scratching my neck. Just the thought of gluten nearby made me itch.

“It’s on the menu,” he said. I waited for him to continue. Nothing. He was a man of few words, and apparently that was all he had to say about that.

 I inquired further. “Yes, but where on the menu?”

“Under the beet pâté with sourdough triangles. Above the trumpet mushroom ceviche served aside couscous tostadas,” he clarified.
I searched for the accused noodles, flipping my menu back and forth so fast it made whooshing sounds. 

“Are you looking under Entrees?” I asked.

He whipped his menu around. “No, it's in the Nibbles section. See where it says C-section shrimp, amid a local microgreen slurry?”


“OK, it’s diagonal from that.”

My eyes narrowed in on the potential gluten. “Ah, ok I see.” 

There it was. I knew where the evil lurked and felt safe again. I looked up from the menu and smiled awkwardly at my date. I was so nervous. I hadn’t been on a date since, what, when? Oh god, not since my ex dumped me over email. He summed up his reasons in just one paragraph, which I could tell he’d copied over from his Notes app because the font was really big. 

I looked across the empty table at my date. He had put effort in tonight. His hair was parted in a stick straight line down the middle and he wore a nice button-up with thin blue lines dashing across it. It was the kind of shirt you could wear to the office, or maybe even a golf course.

He looked up from his phone and saw me thinking at him. He smiled and leaned forward. “Should we?” he asked conspiratorially.

My skin tingled, “should we what?” I asked back, doing my best impression of flirting.

“Should we get the Forbidden Rice?”

I couldn’t tell if he was making a joke because I barely knew him, though I’ve never really had an ear for humor. I tugged on my knit top. The material was too soft and sustainably-sourced, it kept slipping from my shoulder. My date was staring and I realized he might find my sliver of bare skin enticing, so I let the loose collar slide over my shoulder. He looked at me expectantly. Oh, he was just waiting for me to respond to his question.

“The rice, hmmm, I don’t know,” I said. “Should we be eating it if it’s forbidden?”

“I think that’s just marketing.”

“Oh, do you work in marketing?” I asked.

His face sealed shut. “No,” is all he said, clearly hurt. He looked back down at his phone and started typing again.

He had told me over text what he does for work, but I couldn't remember. 

“Sorry, I guess I forgot what you do.”

“It’s fine,” he said, still typing. “It’s boring anyways. Something, something, software, right?” 

I gave an anxious laugh and said, “yeah, right.” I tugged at my sleeve again, pulling the collar even further down my shoulder. If anything could save this date, it was probably an extra centimeter of my acne-prone skin.

He was still staring at his phone. “What are you looking at,” I ventured.

“I’m still looking up Forbidden Rice.”

“Oh, OK cool.” I said. “Ya, you Google that and I’ll look up, uh, everything in the Lillet-basted beet shoulder with calamari akimbo.” 

“What, you don’t know what calamari is?”

“I know what calamari is but what makes it akimbo?” I said back, with just as much sass.

This got his attention. He looked up from his phone and gave me a side smile. “Good point.” he said, coming around. “And why are there so many beet dishes on this menu?”

“Beets are the new cauliflower. I read about it in an article.”

“What was it before cauliflower?”


“And before that?”

“Overnight oats I think. Or maybe baked oats which is like classic oatmeal but you put it in a blender and then make it with milk and different ingredients and when it comes out of the oven it tastes like carrot cake or chocolate pudding.”

“Do you eat it for dessert?”

“No, for breakfast.”

He looked at his menu, “Well they’re serving it here as a cocktail. They're calling it The wake-up call. It’s orange blossom-infused oats baked in bourbon and coddled in a macadamia nut milk bath.”

“Oh, wow.”

“It says it’s served inside an old rotary phone.”

“Sounds delicious.”

“Does it?”

“Did you find out what Forbidden Rice is yet?” I asked, changing the subject.

“No. I think we should just get the seedy polenta balls, flattened and forgotten until wizened, served swimming in an ode to parmesan crema.” 

“Yum. OK, let's. But that doesn’t sound like enough food.”

“I agree, I ran a 10K before work this morning so I’m pretty hungry.” He looked down at his phone again. “OK, this website says it’s called Forbidden Rice because in ancient China, only the emperor was allowed to eat it and the rice made him really healthy and gave him a long life.’

“Is that true?” I asked.

“I literally have no idea.” 

“I only read lifestyle content from the Washington Post.”

“Well this blog is run by someone named Ashwagandha Wanda so I don’t think they list their sources.”

Before I could say anything, the waiter emerged from behind a human-sized potted plant. He was tall and handsome and sort of floaty, if that makes sense. He had a short, shiny ponytail that tickled the back of his neck. He swatted at it. 

“Are you two ready to order?” he asked, sliding his hands into the pockets of his earth-toned apron.

I looked away from the waiter’s radiant, vegan face and glanced at my date. “You go, I'm still looking,” I said. 

My date sat up straighter. He had already been sitting up pretty straight so now he was nearly standing. He declared, “OK, we’ll have the gluten-free chickpea bucatini napping in crushed Early Girl tomatoes, the gluten-free zesty lemon peel pizza with pepperoni flourishes, and, uh, here it is,” he said, pointing at the menu, “the gluten-free spicey caucasian curry with seasonal veggie chutney. Oh, and two sides of the Forbidden Rice.” 

The waiter nodded his head vigorously, writing down nothing. “All great choices,” he said.

I didn’t love that my date ordered for the both of us, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Most likely he saw a guy do it in a movie once. That guy probably had a really cool car or a boat with four leather seats and a pretty lady sitting in each of them.

The waiter turned his ethereal face toward me. “And for m’lady?” he asked.

I snapped my menu shut dramatically and said, “that all sounds great to me. What he said.”



“And, what is the veggie in the seasonal veggie chutney?” asked my date.

“Excellent question,” said the waiter. “It’s beets curdled in an isolation chamber for a really interesting flavor I think can best be encapsulated in the phrase, ancestral winter.”

“Divine,” said my date. “We’ll start there and also we’ll have another pot of the CBD Jasmine tea tonic.” He closed his menu and handed it to the waiter. 

“Divine, huh?” I said, teasing him for his word choice. I batted my eyelashes, I think. I was being as coquettish as I was capable of.

“Yes, I’m trying to be better at describing my emotions and surroundings using colorful language.”

“Oh, right, very admirable.” I tapped my nails on the tables, trying to think of something to say. I landed on,“So um, what do you do for fun?” 

“I work out a lot,” was all he said.

“Oh, cool. Like at the gym?”

“The only workout tool you really need is the kettlebell. All practical exercises can be performed with it.”

It was the most words he’d said to me at once all night. I got excited and a little carried away and said, “whenever I hear the words ‘kettle bell’ I think of those really delicious Kettle Chips and then instead of exercising I just get hungry and so I eat a snack. Lately I’ve been working on a large bag of plantain chips. I’m aiming to finish them off by early next week.”

He blinked at me. I heard the faint flick of a ponytail and then our waiter appeared with all of our plates balanced on his forearms.

“And here we have the gluten-free chickpea bucatini napping in crushed Early Girl tomatoes, the gluten-free zesty lemon peel pizza with pepperoni flourishes, and, the gluten-free spicey caucasian curry with seasonal veggie chutney. And lastly, two sides of the Forbidden Rice.”

“Wow, amazing,” said my date.

“Is there anything else I can get you two?” our waiter asked, looking past his poreless nose at us. 

“We’re perfect for now, thank you,” I said.

“Excellent, might I recommend starting with the caucasian curry, and enjoying it while it’s still room temperature.”

“We absolutely will.”



Our waiter disappeared and my date began spooning golden lumps of the caucasian curry onto my bowl of Forbidden Rice. The curry glistened with little puddles of oil. Specks of red pepper peaked out from the sauce enticingly.

“Wow, this is great,” I said, between bites of rice and curry.

“It really is,” he agreed.

I blew onto the already cooled curry and rice and hurried it into my mouth.

“How is it?” he asked.



“I didn’t realize how hungry I was,” I said, eating more and more of the curry and Forbidden Rice.

“It’s the CBD tea, it makes everything taste better,” he said between his own huge mouthfuls.

We were shoveling it into our faces and then when it was all gone we licked our bowls without a care. I didn’t feel self-conscious about it at all. 

“Wow, that was amazing,” I said.

“Ya, and we still have so much food left,” he agreed.

I looked at the zesty lemon peel pizza with pepperoni flourishes, getting ready to eat a slice, when my stomach made an uncharacteristic grumble. The sound was like a great boulder tumbling down an ancient mountain. It was so loud that it resounded throughout the room. The tables near us went quiet and I gripped my stomach.

“Are you OK?” asked my startled date, his eyes round in horror.

“Uh, I don’t know. I don’t feel so good,” I said. This was true. I was suddenly drowning in nausea. 

“Hm, maybe you ate the curry too fast.”

“Ya maybe,” I gargled. I was now completely folded over in my chair. 

“Well I’m going to try a slice of this piz–– ohhhhhh.” My date’s stomach growled an even deeper gurgle than mine. It sounded like the hulls of two great ships scraping up against each other underwater.

“Oh no,” he said.

“What is it,” I snarled at him through my own pain.

“Oh nooooooo,” he cried. I glanced at him and saw tears streaming down his red face. 

“What’s happening to us?” I implored.

The waiter rushed over to our table. I couldn’t look up at his face. Moving was excruciating. But I’m sure he looked very shocked and heroic like a handsome Tolkien elf.

“My goodness are you two OK?” asked the waiter.

“What––what was in that curry?” I eked out.

“Nothing,” he said defensively. “Or like, nothing bad.”

“No gluten?” My date forced out. He then released a fart that shook him off the chair. 

I tried to imagine the waiter looking at him in shock and disgust but I was too distracted by the monster truck rally taking place in my own stomach.

“Gluten? No, there's no gluten in the curry. Or the pizza, or the bucatini, or the––oh no.”

“What oh no?” I burped out.

“The Forbidden Rice,” he whispered.

“But rice doesn’t have gluten!” declared my date.

“Well actually,” began the waiter, “it’s not common but some rice does. Like, haven’t you heard of glutinous rice? In Southeast Asia and beyond they make a lot of delicious desserts with it. I studied abroad in Cambodia, and when I was there–– ”

“Oh nooooooo.”


“And after that I blacked out. The rest of the night is a blur.” 

The police officer scribbled furiously into his notebook and then made a few finishing touches to his writing. 

“Ok, I’ve got it all down right here, ma’am,” said the policeman. He flicked his pad of paper with the end of his little blue pen and tried to stand up to go but couldn’t. He was stuck. His gigantic, upsetting baton was caught in the plastic rungs of the hospital chair. He freed himself and said, “my partner will be reaching out to you in a few days with follow-up questions.”

“Partner? Oh, like your boyfriend?” I asked.

The police officer shook his head and sighed. Then he took pity on me and patted the corner of my shoulder in a fatherly way. I wondered what my own father was doing right now, at this very moment.

“You just rest,” said the police officer, kindly. He looked at the tubes in my wrist. I could tell he’d seen something like this many times before and I wondered if he had a daughter and if he was imagining her instead of me in this hospital bed. 

He stood up to leave and then paused. He looked back at me and asked, “by the way, do you know what your date did for work? Who his employer was?”

“No, sorry, I can’t remember.”  

He looked disappointed. “We’re trying to find people close to him to notify before we resort to breaking into his phone.”

“Something about software is all I know. We met at a meet-up for gluten-free singles so it wasn’t really relevant and also I forgot right after he told me. We were the only two there who were deathly allergic.”

The police officer's eyes glazed over. He was elsewhere now. “Right, of course, makes sense. Well, you’re very lucky you survived.”

“Ya, I really am. Thank god for that handsome waiter who gave me mouth to mouth. Oh by the way, do you have his number?”

The police officer was out of the room by then but bobbed his head back in through the doorway to say, “no ma’am.”


He looked at his watch and babbled something into his radio. “Right, well, stay away from restaurants for a while and maybe avoid anything labeled as forbidden.”

“That’s great advice, officer.”

I think he thought I was being snarky because he gave me a side eye and then marched away. I’m aware that my facial expressions are confusing so I don’t take it too personally. I’m not really the best at emoting and I need to get better at it so I can get back out there. Actually, I’ve been thinking about taking an improv class. I think it could help and also it would be a great way to meet someone.