I Was Made to Cook Like This

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No more restaurants, my husband and I said to our daughters when the stay-at-home order began. And no takeout. Just too risky.

But I’m a good cook — inventive, curious, mostly patient. I’ve been pressure-tested in ways that have made me adaptive and flexible. I understand substitutions on almost a molecular level because, for the first nine years of my daughter Sammi’s life, I learned to cook in a gauntlet of food restrictions I could never have predicted.

I learned to cook first without almost all forms of acid: no citrus or tomato or chocolate for my toddler with severe reflux.

Then I learned to cook without dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and wheat (all at once) when she was misdiagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis.

Eventually, worst of all, I learned to cook without fat after a surgeon nicked her thoracic duct after cardiac surgery.

So after all of that, cooking normal, unrestricted meals every night while we’re staying at home seemed like it would be no big deal. At first, it was exciting — unlimited time to make whatever I wanted. I even started a journal for the first time since middle school: a few sentences about our day and then a note about what was for dinner and what we watched on tv. My tone was light and my dinners were pretty impressive. I felt proud of the fact that my family could eat well — both in quantity and quality — with me at the stove.

Over the ensuing weeks, I learned to be careful about planning in a whole new way than I’d learned when Sammi was little. Now she and her sister Ronni are both teenagers, and instead of planning around holes in our diet from medical restrictions, I started planning around holes in our diet from grocery shortages. It was — and remains — nothing like shortages in the history of our country or the world; the stores are full of food, and after one fraught trip to our local grocery on March 19, we’ve been ordering our supplies online. They simply arrive at our door, where we sit on the stoop and wipe down package after package of treasures, but always, there are some things the grocery store doesn’t have. Continue Reading…

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Self-Promotion Is Hard, and I’ll Do It

its-not-perfect-but-its-all-yours

 

Writer Jennifer Weiner published an essay in Publishers Weekly called “Deconstructing ‘I Wrote a Thing.’ Talking about the way women often share their work online by prefacing it with “I wrote a thing…,” it’s a lot like my own internal monologue. She writes, in part:

I wrote a thing employs the funny, ironic, humblebrag shorthand that is common across social media, but it also evokes a familiar posture: that of a woman trying to make herself as small as possible—a woman standing with her head down and her chin tucked against her chest, hands clasped behind her back, and toe twirling in the dirt, saying, “Oh, this little heap of words here? It was nothing. No big deal. Just, you know, a thing! So maybe read it? Or don’t! Whatever!”

There is nothing more familiar to me than this image she describes, one of a woman attempting to make herself seem humble, self-deprecating, unworthy of attention. I’m as guilty of this as I could be. “I’m doing a little storytelling thing,” I mentioned half-heartedly on my Facebook wall, just once before the event for which I was hand-picked, invited only after the producer had seen me tell stories on stage several times before. It was, if not a BIG deal, at least a medium deal. Still, I didn’t know how to say that aloud or in writing without sounding arrogant, so I didn’t say it at all.

The same thing — or worse — has happened when I’ve published essays. Here on this web site, I add the links to my “Published” page here and on my author site, and I share them on Twitter, where I have a lovely following of strangers and where almost none of my friends know I have an active account. To strangers — and especially to any agents or publishers who might stumble across me — I’m happy to be publicly proud of my work. To the people who know me for real, my constant fear is that they will look at the link and think: “Debi? Really? She’s Sammi’s mom, right? How did SHE get something published there? Maybe she knows someone…”

And, of course, that’s ridiculous. But that’s how imposter syndrome works. Continue Reading…

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New Year, Same Short-Sightedness

Clean eating. Boot camp. Paleo diet, no-processed-sugar-January, new year cleanse. Slim down, tone up, burn it off, amp it up! 

To all of this, I say: you’re worse for children than pornography.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the danger of asking people — mostly women — to think so hard about their bodies. I think about it every time I see pseudo-food being peddled near in the grocery store — “low carb” bars and no-calorie salad dressings and lettuce proudly labeled “gluten free!” as if lettuce could ever contain gluten. Once, I did my best to listen respectfully while a member of my family described donuts as “absolute poison.”

Poison.

Donuts.

Around this time of year, the everyday drone of insistence on vilifying foods and hating our bodies gets louder. Every January, the ads on the internet and TV and in magazines and the newspaper start preying on the women who have not managed to set — or follow — new year’s resolutions to love themselves harder, no matter what. I think about it all the time, and fight its imprinting on my brain with my whole heart, but this week, I got involved in a Twitter thread that reminded me — in case I wasn’t anxious enough about how this would all affect ME — that there’s a population even more vulnerable than adult women.

That population is teenagers. Continue Reading…

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If You Love Your Family, Feed Them

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I’ve written ad nauseum about food allergies and sensitivities on this blog. Every time I think I’ve perhaps written too much about those topics, I take a peek at my web traffic statistics and note that the most popular posts on the site, week after week, are the practical ones with guides for either the six-food elimination diet (avoiding dairy, soy, egg, nuts, wheat, and fish) or the chylothorax diet (avoiding fat). I imagine that these posts are most commonly read by people struggling to feed themselves or someone they love. In my heart, I wrote them for a past version of myself, up in the night searching the web for information that, quite simply, didn’t exist.

At the holidays — these winter ones or others throughout all four seasons — it is hardest to be someone with food restrictions. Whether it is my daughter, who had to be on those two diets (among several others!) over the first nine years of her life, or me — dairy intolerant and severely allergic to fish — our family is incredibly aware of the limitations imposed on our social life by these restrictions. In my wider family, I love people who are allergic to nuts, who are on anti-inflammatory diets for auto-immune diseases, who are recovering from eating disorders, and who are diabetic. In all likelihood, there are others in my family with dietary needs that they keep to themselves. Yet somehow, we all manage to eat together, in each other’s homes and at restaurants, without too much disruption.

This happens because we love each other. Continue Reading…

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I Was Always There

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I hate this picture.

I hate that my daughter — normally so sunny, so funny and vital and affectionate and bright — asked me to take this photo. She asked me because she wanted to keep a record of her time staying in the cardiac intensive care unit at the children’s hospital, where she was trapped after surgery to move her aorta from where it was crushing her esophagus. She asked me to take this picture — this haunting, heartbreaking picture — because I’d suggested that she keep a journal of each day, mostly so she could see herself getting better each day. I hadn’t anticipated that she’d be awake for the photos the first day. Somehow, though, she pried her eyes apart and did her best to smile, right there, as the sun was beginning to set on day one. Continue Reading…

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