Marriage Peril

The Rice Flour Gravy Incident

by Douglas PageŠ

Terry and I were married on Glacier Point, high above Yosemite Valley, by a man in a Circle S suit carrying a King James Bible who said he was a preacher. Earlier, we arranged for his services online through the Yosemite Chapel. On wedding day, we met him by the Glacier Point Visitor Center, then hiked a ways off the trail down the slope to the east, onto a ledge beneath some massive boulders, and there recited our vows. Terry's sister, brother-in-law, and Half Dome were witnesses.

The marriage ceremony may have been a little unorthodox by conventional standards, but, except for the foot-rubbing and hair-brushing amendments, the vows were largely traditional and included all the usual clauses, including the for-better-or-for-worse part. The man with the Bible in the nice suit offered no explanation of what for-better-or-for-worse meant. Clarification would come later. 

We have now been together 15 years. Everything has gone pretty much okay, if you don't count the 2005 road trip to Florida, until the recent rice flour gravy incident. Up until then, I'd forgotten all about agreeing to the for-worse deal. 

The incident started with a chronic stomach ache - possibly celiac disease. Because of the persistent pain, my wife recently decided to try to find relief in a gluten-free diet. This removed suspicion from me as the causative agent. Most women with stomach pain need look no further than across the table for the live-in pathogen. But after some preliminary experimentation it was determined her complaints were aggravated not so much by me as by eating. Further refinement narrowed the culprit to a simple grain - wheat.

Gluten-free eating, however, is not as simple as it sounds. It probably would have been easier to get rid of me. Trying to avoid gluten in a diet, which is a protein component of wheat, is like trying to avoid plastic on keyboards. It's a radical paradigm shift in lifestyle. It means, for instance, no more pasta. No more cookies or cakes. No more bread, toast, or crackers. Hamburger and hot dog buns are out. So are soups, sauces, and salad dressings. Most breakfast cereals and ice cream should be shunned. Anything with wheat in it can't be consumed.

She's not the first person to embrace gluten-free living. There must be a lot of belly aches out there because an entire subculture has sprung up that tries to avoid eating gluten. A number of gluten-free food products have emerged. Some supermarkets now have gluten-free food sections. One of the products is rice flour, which is advertised as a replacement for familiar wheat flour. 

Terry is famous for her chocolate chip-peanut butter chip cookies, so the first evidence of the dietary change at our house came in the form of rice flour cookies, where rice flour was used in place of wheat flour. They weren’t bad. They still had the shape of her regular chocolate chip cookies, although they were considerably thinner than normal. Probably the altitude, we figured. We live on the side of a mountain. The taste was also a little different. The cookies had an unexpected, toolbox taste, like decomposing duct tape had been added as an emulsifier. But, all things considered, they weren’t that bad. They could easily be eaten without a gag reflex. The same cannot be said for rice flour gravy.

Encouraged by the cookie success, she next introduced rice flour into the main course of a meal. She chose our customary Sunday night fare of fried chicken as the appropriate venue. This time, the chicken gravy was made with rice flour, not the usual wheat flour. This is probably a good place to mention that this experiment was conducted without the benefit of a substitute gluten-free gravy recipe, which is a little like painting a portrait in the dark. I believe her assumption was that a one-for-one substitution of rice flour for the regular all-purpose wheat flour seemed reasonable. This was probably how Silly Putty was discovered.

Rice flour packaging does not contain any warnings. Someone at the FDA should look into this. The packages don't mention that rice flour, when mixed recklessly with the right amount of heat, salt, and non-fat milk will produce a beige, elastic gravy-like substance that resembles the intended result in every sense but smell, sight, taste, and texture. Nor does the package indicate that rice flour gravy, as devised in our kitchen that afternoon, has the viscosity of something organic produced by serial paroxysmal coughs.

The first sign of irregularity after the gravy mass had boiled in the skillet for a few seconds was the wire whisk used to stir the concoction couldn't be disengaged. The whisk could be lifted but the gummy matter reluctantly came out with it, stretching like thick, molten paste. The harder you pulled on the whisk, the more resistance the substance offered. It wouldn’t let go of the either the whisk or the skillet, which happened to be a $185, 11-in Calphalon ‘Chef’ that nothing is supposed to stick to. It was like we had suddenly been engulfed in some science-fiction reality warp, where the whisk was being drawn back into the skillet, that the alien gravy, somehow knowing it was about to be consumed, was resisting, fighting for its life, intent instead on consuming everything it could reach, almost as though the density of the sappy goo had caused a mini black hole to form in the galactic center of our stove.

Following custom, Terry ladled what portions of the protoplasm that could be separated from the parent body on to the mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and the peas. We ate a bite or two then stopped, puzzled by the involuntary movement of the dinner on our plates. The pallid gravy-organism appeared to be regenerating the appendages it lost in the extrication fight back at the stove. It was now inextricably devouring entire sections of the plate contents. First, the chicken and mashed potatoes disappeared under an advancing flow of the spill. The peas it somehow willed into submission, and they began a suicidal migration, rolling slowly to their demise, pulled somehow by the lethal gravy, as though they had been mysteriously magnetized.     

Later, during cleanup at the sink, the entire organism was subdued with scalding water and washed down the drain. Two days after that, on Tuesday, July 14, a mysterious glob of unknown material some 12 miles in length appeared off Alaska's northern coast. The Anchorage Daily News reported "Something big and strange ... floating through the Chukchi Sea between Wainwright and Barrow." The Coast Guard called it "biological".

I never heard what the Alaskan mass was, but in case it can be traced back to my sink I've destroyed the evidence. The next day, I mixed what remained in the rice flour package with some salt and non-fat milk and applied it to the foundation of the house. Cement fatigue was thereby arrested and we didn't get an ant in the kitchen the rest of the summer.


About the Author:
Since leaving a withering aerospace engineering career in 1994, Douglas Page (aka Harry Black-Tongue, aka the Silver Fox) has been writing about science, medicine, and marriage peril from the Panic Room. It's a full time job. He can be reached at douglaspage@earthlink.net.