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?