When life gives you lemons (or limes)…

Photo © CasaDeQueso | Flickr

Photo © CasaDeQueso | Flickr

Citrus fruit—from lemons to limes to grapefruit to the mystical Sumo orange—is naturally gluten-free. So, in fact, is every kind of fruit, even breadfruit. It’s still citrus season, and there are all kinds of citrus-heavy gluten-free recipes that you should probably make now, while the blood oranges are still sanguine and the limes are seven for a dollar (like polenta cake, or lime bars, or gelato—let me know if you do make any of the above, with recipes, please).

But here’s the thing. Those lemon and lime wedges and sad little slices of orange that the bartender adds to your cocktails are usually the dirtiest thing at the bar. This little factoid has always tickled me; I’m especially fond of sharing it just after one of my friends has squeezed out the juices and plopped the entire desiccated rind into his or her beverage, when it’s too late to turn back. It’s funnier that way.

As karma would have it, on Saturday I went out to a bar with friends and ordered a club soda with lime—that is, the preferred beverage of hard-core dieters and recovered alcoholics everywhere. I didn’t dunk the lime, but I did keep it on the rim, and I did squeeze it into my soda and lick the juice off of my fingers afterwards (which was in itself gross, considering I’d just come from the subway—what is wrong with me?).

It wasn’t until later that I started wondering whether that lime could be a cross-contamination risk. After all, if a bartender fills a pint glass with beer and the foam spills onto his hand, then he reaches that hand into the garnish caddy to rummage for a hunk of lime, isn’t drinking a soda with one of those wedges just as bad as eating from the same bag of chips contaminated by a friend’s pizzaed hand (which I avoid doing, puritanically)? Isn’t it at least as risky as, or riskier than, using a clean-looking spoon from a possibly crumby drawer without washing it first?

I’m not really at a point where I can tell when I’ve been “glutened,” because overall I still feel the same as ever (which is to say bad). I did, though, have a canker sore on the inside of my lip the next day. Of course, canker sores can be caused by approximately a billion triggers, but one of them is celiac disease. (In fact, for about 5 percent of people with celiac disease, it’s the only noticeable symptom. Learning this made me wonder whether it would be worth giving up gluten if canker sores were the only noticeable symptom…until I looked up some Google images of severe cases and answered that question for myself: yes, a thousand times yes.) Anyway, perhaps that canker sore appeared because of my lime, or perhaps I am simply female (another leading cause of canker sores and other woes).

Either way, I worried. And once I’d started down the worry road, I also worried about the glass—what if it wasn’t well cleaned after holding beer? I’ve seen the old bartender rag-swipe cleaning job before. And what about the soda itself—was the tap definitely clean?

That a simple glass of bubbly water with a hint of lime should be the source of such anxiety sort of makes me want to curl up in a little gluten-free ball in the middle of my gluten-free bedroom on my gluten-free floor and never, ever eat anything anywhere else again. Except, just how gluten-free is my bedroom floor? We all know I’ve been known to snack there—have I vacuumed up all the gluten crumbs? Have I vacuumed at all? Does a vacuum even pick up gluten? Must I go somewhere that gluten has never been?


Yes, every day I sympathize just a little bit more with Julianne Moore’s character in Safe. (Have you seen it? What do you think? It was recommended to me by a favorite college professor and it’s worth a watch, though it’s almost as disturbing as the Google image results you get by searching for “canker sores.”)

Since the curling-up-and-hiding option is neither possible nor desirable, I’ll instead conclude, “When life (or the bartender) gives you lemons (or limes)…politely decline.”

After all, that lemon or lime has probably been sitting out for days, and even if it is gluten-free, it’s most likely as flavorless as it is bacteria-ridden. It’s not worth the anxiety. All things considered, I’d rather have the gelato.

What’s your favorite drink garnish (or do you go naked)? Do you accept the lemon or lime at bars? What’s your favorite citrus recipe? Do you get canker sores/have yours gone away on a gluten-free diet?

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23 thoughts on “When life gives you lemons (or limes)…

  1. Amanda says:

    I don’t get lemon or lime in my drinks anymore because I remember my grandparents telling me a long time ago that they’re a major source of e.coli. It stuck in my head, so I just can’t stomach the thought of it anymore.

    How long have you been gluten-free by the way? It’s so frustrating how LONG it can take to feel better, especially since some people go on about how they felt a million times better days after cutting out gluten: their hair was shining, their skin was radiant and glowing, their bloating was gone …. I suspect those people don’t have Celiac Disease, though.

    • Molly says:

      I started on January 29th, I think, so almost two months. It IS frustrating, especially because it means people start to look askance at me and wonder if I’m faking/imagining things and/or need another opinion on the Dx (or maybe I really AM just imagining this, not sure), or start offering me other “helpful” suggestions (honestly, if one more person asks me if I’ve tried giving up soda—yes, for several months, with no results—I will scream). And then I launch into the explanation and just watch the eyes glaze over…

      • Amanda says:

        You aren’t imagining it. From what I understand, for many people it can take 3-6 months for the intestines to heal and to feel much better on a gluten-free diet; for some, it can take a couple years (which is outrageous to me, and must be highly discouraging!). I started to have more days of feeling good than bed around 3 months. Hopefully, you will start feeling better soon as well!

        • Molly says:

          Thanks, Amanda! I hope so, too! I think that having a forum to write about my gluten-free frustrations and hear from people like yourself who have been there, done that is helping me to stave off a lot of my frustration with how slow-going the whole thing is. 🙂

      • Ethan says:

        Gosh I was just trying to be helpful and supportive, also my eyes are like that naturally

        • Molly says:

          Haha. I know, I know. I wasn’t really thinking of you, promise. Lots of people comment on my caffeine mainlining and are even more annoying about it than you are. 😛

  2. Vinny Grette says:

    I like to pop dried cranberries into a tall glass of bubbly 🙂

  3. I’ve worked in a bar, and a GOOD, well-trained bartender doesn’t keep any citrus around for days or weeks. Citrus is the kind of produce that shouldn’t be cut into until the day it’s to be used, the day before at most and should be used up or tossed onto the compost pile within a couple days – and that’s at home. For the bartending/restaurant scenario – it should be tossed at the end of the night.

    However, you bring up valid points. Me? I’m not going to worry much about it.

    • Molly says:

      I’ve heard something similar from another friend of mine who mainly worked in, I think, classier joints than my circle tends to frequent. Not worrying about it might be the way to go…although entirely against my nature! 🙂

      • HA! I’m a worrier as well, but I’ve learned to just “let go” of some things. I know, I could end up being “glutened” but at the same time I want to live my life AND enjoy it. So, I pick my battles and deal with the fall out IF it happens.

        • Molly says:

          That seems wise. I’m hoping to get “clean” and then hopefully be able to relax a little, at least enough to eat out at restaurants now and then. Until I’m feeling better I’m being extra-extra careful, since it’s hard for me to know if I’ve been “glutened” or not without having a solid baseline for comparison and I wouldn’t want to repeat mistakes without knowing!

  4. Laurie C says:

    I knew not to dunk the lime or lemon into the drink but I thought it would be OK to squeeze the juice in. Now I know not to do that either! I have an unopened jar of maraschino cherries with stems in the fridge waiting to be put into spring/summer drinks.

  5. thglutenfree says:

    Well that’s a lot of questions all at once ha

    You just hit so many of my maniac buttons and gave me a whole new level of gluten paranoia. To be honest, cleanliness paranoia more than gluten paranoia really. Because we just have to live with the lurking dangers of minimal cross-contamination pretty much everywhere if we wanna get out of the house at all. That’s just the way it is, and I’m slowly starting to accept that. I am extremely sensitive to contamination, so that mere acceptance is a stretch I’ll tell you. But my fiancee has at times used the term “bubble child” in my presence, and that’s when I realise I can’t take the precautions too far..

    And in light of all the above, I just realised I should probably lighten up my cleanliness paranoia also. It’s probably enough that I hover over toilets and sometimes flush with my foot. If anything I’ll develop allergies from excessive hand sanitising.

    Fun post 🙂

    • Molly says:

      Oh my, flushing with your foot is impressive dedication to germ avoidance. You must have great balance!

      Sorry to hit your maniac buttons; that wasn’t really my intent, though my own maniacal streak has come out in full force since my diagnosis! It’s good to have people who can talk us down from the crazy ledge now and then. 🙂

  6. rachelmeeks says:

    Hey! I nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! Details here: http://doilooksick.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/inspiring-versatile-and-loved/

  7. Bummer that it’s been a couple months and you’re still not feeling better yet. I’m sorry to hear that. Every time I get “glutened” accidentally it seems like it takes longer and longer for me to get back to feeling normal.
    Are you at all familiar with the connection between celiac disease and lactose intolerance? A lot of people diagnosed with celiac have trouble digesting lactose as well (because of the damage to their small intestine lining). Are you eating dairy? It might be worth a try for a couple days to see if it helps relieve any symptoms. Likely you wouldn’t have to do it forever, just until your intestine has some time to heal itself.

  8. You know, I have never heard of canker sores being related celiac. My little one has celiac and has been getting canker sores, and when he does, they are huge and painful. I wonder if he’s been getting contamination. Thanks for the post! I’ll be keeping my eyes open more!

  9. […] as I was doing so, I got to thinking. People ask if envelopes, and charcoal, and bodily fluids, and lemon and lime wedges are gluten-free (yes, yes, yes, and I don’t know, but I hope so, because sometimes I accept one […]

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