Lemonade Out of Gluten-Free Lemons

grocery-cartSometimes, I just have to laugh at the way the universe answers the questions I haven’t even asked yet.

It’s half-way through the summer of 2017, and here I am, suddenly aware that I live with one foot in the summer of 2010. I spent that summer in a cloud of specialty flours: tapioca and arrowroot, garbanzo and white rice and coconut and and sorghum. I sprinkled xanthan gum like a gluten-free fairy into all the creative ideas I had for how to make food for my daughter, whose health challenges required that she cut out dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, meat, and gluten. During my deep-dive into specialty cooking for what I called the “joy-free” diet, I dreamed in recipes and grocery store trips. Along the way, I picked up several dozen grey hairs, but I also became an unwilling expert on food challenges.

Though my daughter’s health issues resolved without any need for her to continue with food restrictions, the knowledge I gained never went away. In some ways, it’s not unlike a spare tool in the garage; though we seldom need that particular odd-shaped wrench, the neighbors know we have it, and they can borrow it any time. Even though we may have bought that wrench to put together a hospice bed or to tighten bolts in a subfloor that collapsed beneath our feet — and seeing it brings back every memory of that awful time — we’re glad it’s going to use for someone else who needs it. That wrench — my reluctantly-gained knowledge — shouldn’t go to waste.

Because of this, my friends call me when they need to follow an unusual diet or avoid a common food. And because I want to make lemonade out of those gluten-free lemons, I always help. Always. Continue Reading…

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Raspberries, Mushrooms, Garlic, Plums, Peace

farmers-marketFor ten summers, with varying frequency, I’ve been taking my daughters to the Saturday Farmers’ Market. In more ways than I could have ever expected, it has saved our sanity.

We began going to the Farmers’ Market as a way to preserve the parenting energy my husband and I needed. He and I made a pact after our second child was born: each of us would ensure the other got to sleep “late” (read: 8 am) one day a week. He slept “late” on Saturdays and I claimed Sundays. On Sunday mornings, he packed our squealing, chattering daughters quickly into the car — sometimes in their pajamas — to go to Home Depot, which was sometimes the only place open on Sundays. There, he handed them paint sample cards to carry and let them touch all the doorknobs while he mused over the varying bolts and power tools that just might be required for his next renovation project in our old townhouse.

On Saturdays, I took the girls to the Farmers’ Market. It opened at 7:30 am, and some Sundays, we parked our car in the tall parking garage overlooking the Market and watched as the farmers set up their stands. Had we stayed home, I would have been aggressively shushing them, desperately trying to give their father the sleep he’d earned yesterday in the dawn at Home Depot. Out of the house, I somehow discovered the reserves to be patient.

“Look,” I’d say. “Look at all the flowers in that truck!” Continue Reading…

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The Teal Pumpkin Project: Because We Remember

teal-pumpkin-remember

When my daughter Sammi was five, Halloween could have been just horrible.

Just a few months earlier, Sammi had been diagnosed with a disease called eosinophilic esophagitis. An inflammatory condition of the esophagus — the tube that runs between the mouth and the stomach — it is poorly understood and responds to only a handful of imperfect treatments. The treatment we chose for her was called the Six Food Elimination Diet, a set of food restrictions that required her to avoid anything with dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, fish, or wheat. We were already vegetarians; this was a huge lifestyle change for our entire family.

Sammi had just started kindergarten, learning to read and write and follow instructions in a classroom that necessarily had been forced to eliminate Play-Doh (wheat) and to keep a small box with “Sammi-safe” snacks available for the days — most days — when she could not eat the shared snacks brought by her classmates. It was a rough start. And then, it was Halloween.

On this particular diet, the only kind of typical Halloween candy she could eat were Smarties and Dum-Dums. All other candies contained a forbidden item or were produced on equipment that might be shared with a forbidden item, and so I tried to figure out how to save Halloween. How would it be to walk from house to house and say, over and over again, “No, you can’t eat that one. No, you can’t eat that one either. No, no, no”?

Finally, I decided to solve our problem with a combination of money and magic. Continue Reading…

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Sitting on Eggs: A Missed Diagnosis

sammiegg

On this day in 2010, my tiny, unbreakable five-year-old daughter got the world-changing news that she would be allowed to eat eggs.

For more than six weeks before this photo was taken, Sammi had been asked by her team of gastroenterologists to avoid contact with — and certainly ingestion of — any foods containing dairy, wheat, soy, nuts, fish, or eggs. She was already a vegetarian, and this diet was meant as a way to pinpoint the source of her new, puzzling diagnosis: eosinophilic esophagitis.

We waited both anxiously and in frenetic motion for the first phase of this diet to be over. I hadn’t been afraid of experimenting with my cooking, desperate to find foods that mimicked those we’d eaten in our prior life, but I discovered to my growing disappointment that cooking a vegan, gluten-free, nut-free menu for three meals a day would require nearly all my attention and still be met with regular catastrophe. When it was time to add the first forbidden food back in to her diet, she chose eggs. They were crucial to so many of the things she missed most: matzo balls, deviled eggs, and something resembling a cookie.

I’m writing about this again (I covered the excitement of the day in a previous post) because the single most popular page on my blog is the post called Practicalities of the Six Food Elimination Diet. It is a post written with the memories of the desperation I felt during the early days of this diet, working like a mad scientist, seeking ways to bind starches and proteins, to flavor the world my daughter inhabited. I was in it for the long haul, I thought. I’d heard horror stories about how likely it would be that my daughter would never eat a normal diet again, that the foods her body could tolerate now would eventually become foods her body would reject violently. I cooked and experimented and baked and threw away and started over many times a day.

Years later, with the knowledge that her diagnosis with eosinophilic esophagitis was wrong, I keep coming back to the words of a radiologist who saw Sammi in 2013. You can read the story of her “swallow study” here, but the most important part is his impression that eosinophilic esophagitis was becoming a trendy diagnosis.

It has taken me years to process that idea.

Could it be, I wonder, that medical professionals are susceptible to popular diagnostic trends in a way that blinds them to less-common possibilities? Continue Reading…

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Your Strange Diet, Day One

There are hundreds of articles on the internet and in parenting and health magazines about what it’s like to deal with food allergies. From the relatively minor challenges of mild lactose intolerance to the devastating effects of an anaphylactic reaction, there’s advice on avoidance and labeling, special medical alert bracelets and school safety plans. There are lists of substitutions for these newly dangerous foods, recipes for making things “(fill-in-the-blank) free,” and products popping up on shelves to replace the foods you used to love before they became a danger to you or someone you love.

kitchen cabinetIt’s easy to find those articles. What I felt was missing was an article to help families in those first few days. The day after a child is first raced to the emergency room with a swelling throat, or after the gastroenterologist hands over the celiac diagnosis, or after an oncologist tells someone to follow an anti-cancer diet, they stand in their kitchens and stare down their former life  — and their kitchen cabinets — without knowing what to do first.  Continue Reading…

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