6 Things Not to Say to a Family on a Medically Restrictive Diet

talkingBetween my daughter Sammi’s birth and her ninth birthday, she spent nearly all of her life on some kind of medically-restrictive diet. Whether it was being forbidden to eat grains as a baby, following an acid-free diet as a refluxing toddler, using the six-food-elimination diet to uncover the cause of her (incorrectly-diagnosed) eosinophilic esophagitis as a little girl, or choking down the unpleasant fat-free food that kept her safe from chylothorax after her cardiac surgery, we often had to define what our whole family ate by the things that Sammi had to avoid.

During all those years, I heard a number of unhelpful comments about what I fed my child, ranging from the well-meaning but insensitive to the downright offensive. If someone in your world is eating a diet that their doctor has prescribed, the following comments should never, ever come out of your mouth. Continue Reading…

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Handouts for Doctors

Have you read my chart?Over and over in my head, I dissect what went wrong with my advocacy for my daughter.

When she was just six weeks old, we pushed to have her raspy, gurgling breathing evaluated by an otolaryngologist even though her pediatrician said it was nothing. It wasn’t nothing; we were justified in our followup.

When she was a year old, the sound of milk rattling in her throat got us another appointment with the otolaryngologist, and even though the pediatrician didn’t think it was strange that our one-year-old would not eat solid food yet, the otolaryngologist took note. The fact that she would hold one-fourth of a blueberry in her cheek for hours rather than swallow it was a sign that her esophagus was so narrow that even that sliver of food was too irritating to pass through. It was a clue. Somehow, I’d known to tell someone, and it was part of the path to diagnosing her vascular ring.

When she was four, we’d dutifully tried to wean her from her reflux medications, then taken her to a gastroenterologist when she responded poorly. We’d said yes to the endoscopies, accepted the diagnosis of eosinophilic esophagitis, and diligently followed the six food elimination protocol. We read labels, scoured our kitchen, protected her from potential allergens like fierce animal parents. We did everything they asked, and advocated for her emotional well-being in school and with friends.

We did everything we could have done except tell her doctors to read her chart. If we had thought to ask them, hey, do you think this esophagus problem could have anything at all to do with her aortic arch?, that might have been all we needed. Continue Reading…

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Sister in the Periphery

girlsThe story of a sick little girl is compelling. The story that spans across years of doctors and procedures, melting into each other in a pool of brackish gloom, punctuated by moments of glittery hope — that’s good reading, right there. You want to know: did she get better? did they figure out what was wrong? how did it all turn out?

That’s the story I’ve been telling about our family, and it’s true. It has driven every other decision in our life, in one way or another, for as long as our younger daughter, Sammi, has been a force on this earth. Figuring out how to keep her healthy, to help her breathe, to feed her and manage her doctors’ appointments and procedures and surgeries, to hold my own head up and make it through my own fears each day: these are the things that dictated the way we navigated the world.

But there is another story in the periphery. We have another child.

I don’t write much about my older daughter Ronni largely because she is now thirteen. She deserves the right to decide what information about her goes public, and so I’ve refrained from sharing her experience so far until now. Until yesterday. Continue Reading…

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Mother Blessing

tostados

More than ten years ago, I attended a mother-blessing, also known sometimes as a blessingway, for one of my closest friends. Andrea was due shortly thereafter with her second child, a daughter. Surrounded by a small group of powerful, loving women, Andrea and her still-gestating daughter were touched by healing hands and given tokens of energy and affection in the form of beads to make a bracelet Andrea could use as a focus in labor.

Mid-way through the evening, we gathered in the kitchen of the host, Andrea’s friend, for food and drink. She bustled around in front of the stove and returned with a steaming ceramic bowl of refried black beans, smelling strongly of garlic, and a platter of corn tostados. We all slathered the crunchy, oversized tortilla chips with the savory beans, and I knew that, perhaps in small part due to the circumstances heavy with love and support, I’d fallen in love with a food. Continue Reading…

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Lentils I Have Known and Loved

lentilsThere has so far been no restrictive diet in our strange, medically-fraught life that did not allow for the consumption of lentils.

Green lentils. Brown lentils. Red lentils. We have eaten our weight in lentils over the course of the last nine years. Lentils in stews, lentils in soups. The sound of dried lentils hitting the bottom of a pot, the bottom of a glass measuring cup, the floor: this is the soundtrack that precipitates the lowering of my shoulders from my ears, the loosening of my jaw from a clench, the finish line of a racing mind. We can always eat lentils. I can always make lentils.

Dairy free, egg free, soy free, nut free, wheat free, vegetarian, reflux-safe, fat free — all these diets accommodate lentils.

There’s nothing more profound in my life than these tiny, life-giving legumes. That sounds silly, but it is true. When all meals sounded strange, lentils were a constant. This compilation of recipes is a love letter to lentils.

HONEY BAKED LENTILS

I found some variation of this recipe on the web many years ago. It is a dump-it-in-the-bowl-and-cook-it easy dinner, provided you can be home for 90 minutes while it cooked. I can hastily prepare the ingredients and throw it all in the oven. Half an hour before it’s done baking, I can make a pot of rice, and dinner is done. In a time when I often had to make the ingredients in order to assemble the recipe for dinner itself, this was a blessing indeed. *Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free (if you use tamari or coconut aminos not soy sauce) *Soy-free (if you use coconut aminos) *Reflux-safe *Fat-free (if you skip the olive oil)

Ingredients:

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soysauce or tamari or, on a six-food-elimination-diet, coconut aminos
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ginger
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
salt & pepper to taste
Optional: add chopped carrots, sweet potato, or squash and just a little more water.

Preparation:
Bake in a covered dish at 350 until tender (about an hour and a half). OR…dump it all in a crockpot on low for 3-5 hours.


TAMARIND LENTILS & CHICKPEAS

I found the basic version of this recipe in Veganomicon, the amazing cookbook by Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I adapted it so that it would accommodate both a reflux-safe diet (no tomatoes, which is why I substituted pureed pumpkin) and a day when we were low on lentils (the horror!), so I added chickpeas. In an often otherwise-low-fat, low-protein diet, this recipe has lots of both. Unlike the recipe above, this is what my mother often calls a “potchke” recipe — lots of fussing, many pots, kind of time-consuming. It is outrageously delicious. Serve it over basmati rice.
*Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free (check your garam masala to be sure) *Soy-free *Reflux-safe

Ingredients:
3 tbsp coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup dried lentils
1/2 cup canned chickpeas
2 cups veg broth
2 tsp tamarind paste (available in most health food or Indian food stores)
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp pureed pumpkin (from a can is fine…possibly pureed sweet potato would work too)
1/2 tsp salt

Preparation:
Melt coconut oil in heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add garlic and ginger and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the onion and fry until translucent and soft. Stir in garam masala, cumin, and cayenne, and stir for another 30 seconds until the spices smell fragrant. Add lentils, chickpeas, and veg broth, increase heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir and lower heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have absorbed all the liquid and are very tender. This will be very thick.

In a small cup or bowl, combine tamarind, maple syrup, tomato paste/pumpkin, and salt. Scrape all of this mixture into the lentils and stir completely to dissolve the flavorings. Simmer for another 4-6 minutes and serve immediately.


GREEK LENTIL STEW

This is a staple dish of my whole community now, after my friend Clare began making it for every potluck. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, it’s open to endless variations, and almost anyone can make it. The smell of the bay leaf is a signal to my younger daughter that it’s cooking and also that she can count on several days of it in their lunches. A big batch of basmati rice rounds this out. This recipe initially came from Laurel’s Kitchen, an iconic cookbook.
*Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free (check your garam masala to be sure) *Soy-free *Reflux-safe (if you omit the tomatoes *Fat-free (if you omit the olive oil)

Ingredients
2 cups dry green/tan lentils
8 cups water
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped (sometimes I add more because I love them)
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 small potato, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 to 2 tsp salt
1 can or about 2 cups chopped tomatoes (omit for a reflux-safe diet)

Preparation:
Put everything except the tomatoes in the pot and cook until the lentils are soft, about an hour. Add the tomatoes for about 3 minutes. Mix, cook for a few minutes more, eat over basmati rice.


Finally, a lentil story:

Once, when I was sick with the flu and strep throat at the same time, a friend showed up at my door, unbidden, with a steaming glass dish of lentil stew. Gratitude is not a powerful enough word for what I felt as I spooned this concoction into my mouth from under a mountain of blankets on my couch. It was sweet but not cloying, savory and soft and tart all at once. I’ve come to associate the taste of it with the feeling of being cared-for without asking. Few people mother the mothers when their own mothers are far away. This dish made me remember the soup I ate as a sick child — not in flavor, but in sentiment and healing properties.

It was the Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who in turn adapted it from The Barefoot Contessa at Home. I have never made it as well as my friend did — but it’s still fantastic. *Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free *Soy-free *Fat-free (if you omit the olive oil)

Lentils are little tiny round magic-beans to me. Thank you, lentils!

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