Accidentally Safe Six Food Elimination Diet Breakfasts I Accidentally Love

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In 2010, when my daughter Sammi was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (a misdiagnosis, it turns out, but that’s another story), I suddenly had to learn to cook without dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, and wheat. The restrictions were part of something called the “six food elimination diet,” a way to tease out if any of those major allergens (plus fish, which we’d never eaten before so didn’t need to eliminate) might be making her sick. To describe this as a lifestyle change is not so different from describing the stay-at-home orders of our current pandemic as “taking some time for myself.” It was a smackdown.

I felt like I had a handle on dinner, initially. I could do some things with beans and rice and gluten free pasta that seemed manageable. What really messed me up was breakfast. At the time, Sammi was about to turn five years old. Living, as we did, with a grown man whose favorite breakfast was highly processed simple carbohydrates flavored with chocolate or artificial colors, doused in soy milk, meant that most of the time, the ample supply of cereal was our go-to breakfast, especially for Sammi and her then-eight-year-old sister, Ronni. The first week of the diet, I spent a dejected half-hour in the “natural foods” section of the grocery store, returning with some very beige cereals that made both kids groan.

Eventually, we settled on a few things that worked for Sammi in the morning, not without a lot of trial and error. In the years that have followed — long past the end of the six food elimination diet — I’ve come to realize that a lot of what she and I both like for breakfast is still either safe for that diet’s restrictions or pretty darn close. Every summer, as reminders show up in my Facebook memories of what it was like to plunge face-first into cooking for that diet, I realize that it changed my palate, my cooking style, and my approach to feeding my family. Not all of it was bad. Some of it has made us — dare I say? — a little healthier. I thought I’d share a few accidentally safe breakfasts for the six food elimination diet here for anyone who’s searching for what the heck they’re going to eat in the strange new culinary world in which they find themselves. Continue Reading…

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Easy Valentine

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I spent Valentine’s Day at O’Hare Airport, mostly.

That’s the punch line, but the lead-up is that my husband David — my organized, thoughtful, careful, good-planning husband — usually does everything logistical for our travel. He always has. There are these clear, colored plastic file folders into which he has, for at least the last couple of decades, placed copies of our boarding passes and hotel reservations, photocopies of our passports, printouts of hotel reservations, lists of things to do. They have neat notes in the margins, sometimes (“spoke with Marla at the front desk, they will have a Pack-n-Play ready, 7/16). I used to get frustrated that it seemed like this was the only thing he ever did when it came to our travel — I packed up the kids, canceled the mail, used up the milk in the fridge, made sure we had sunscreen, and on and on, a mountainous pile of tasks, while he sat in his office printing things — but the truth is that his jobs meant we would always get there and always had a place to stay and (usually) appropriate beds for everyone. Continue Reading…

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What I’m Learning, Part Six

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Someone asked on Twitter last week for their followers to share something good. It was as open and unspecific as that, and the first thing that came to mind for me was libraries.

I’ve always loved libraries, ever since I was old enough to bike the three-and-a-half miles to my public library in Mequon, Wisconsin. Situated next to the municipal swimming pool, it was a beautiful two story, circular room, with children’s books below and adults’ above. It made me feel calm and hopeful, as does my beloved main branch library here in Evanston, Illinois today. The thought that passes through my head as I step inside is always thank goodness. There are so many stories here.

In the end, the happiest I ever feel is when I am sucked deep into a book, fascinated and immersed. All avid readers feel this way, I think – we all talk about it with the same vocabulary of being surrounded, transported, brought inside. It’s such a gift to have both the reading aptitude and interest in books. I’m grateful for it in every season and in every environment.

This year, I spent a lot of time reading books about health and medicine as part of research for my book. You can read the previous posts: about Gavin Francis and Jill Bolte Taylor, Seth Mnookin and Henry Jay Przybylo, Susannah CahalanAtul Gawande and Heather Armstrong, and finally, most usefully, Heather Harpham. As I finished my book proposal, I had to find a few more that closely mirrored the structure or voice or topics of my memoir, and I’ll share some of the ones I liked best below.

Continue Reading…

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What We’re Accommodating This Thanksgiving

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So many people have told me over the years that they couldn’t possibly handle the strange and restrictive diets my family has had to face and ALSO host a holiday meal. It’s true that doing that is really hard: do we make three of everything? do we tell the family members with allergies to bring their own food? do we pretend we don’t even know and make them deal with it? 

Well, it’s doable. If you want to do it, it really is.

This Thanksgiving, my family is accommodating, in no particular order:

  1. Vegetarians
  2. People with lactose intolerance
  3. People who cannot eat whole grains, nuts, seeds, or berries
  4. People for whom Thanksgiving would be a travesty without the traditional fixings
  5. People who don’t care what they eat

Here’s what we’re making; if you want any of our recipes, just let me know in the comments! Continue Reading…

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There Was Joy

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There are so many things I had to refuse her.

I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.

Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window a mystery.

The winter turned into years, isolated and treading water. Continue Reading…

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