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.
This summer began with a friend’s diagnosis with eosinophilic esophagitis, the same disease with which my daughter had been misdiagnosed in 2010. I remembered my first few grocery trips that year, desperate to find things I could feed my daughter, and the piercing loneliness I’d felt in a store full of people so mindlessly buying whatever looked good to them. I’d wished and hoped for anyone to call who could walk me through the process. There was no such help available. The diet my friend would follow would almost perfectly mirror the one for which I’d doused myself in cassava flour seven years ago, with the addition of meat and the subtraction of some of the legumes my daughter loved. I met my friend at the grocery store and we walked the aisles, reading labels. By the time we left, she had a cart full of thing to try: rice crackers, coconut yogurt, vegan mayo.
That trip to the store with my friend? Lemonade.
Several weeks later, a friend nervously texted me from the waiting room of a local hospital, waiting for her daughter’s endoscopy to be over. I flashed back on all the times I’d waited like that, and I knew the stress came in waves: waiting for the doctor to tell her it was over, waiting to see her daughter, waiting to get the results. When she wrote me a few weeks later to tell me her nut and seed allergic daughter had now been diagnosed with celiac disease, I felt the weight of all the work ahead of my friend. Eventually, her daughter would forget all the things she ate before this diagnosis, and by the time she is an adult, she will know nothing different. An adult, however, lives with full memories of the before-and-after, does all the groundwork for her child, does all the experiments and sets up all the learned behaviors that their allergic child will someday consider second-nature.
I started right away with the question of what her child would miss the most. Though I think it’s crucial to focus on the “yes” foods and not on the “no” ones, children faced with this moment of reckoning that their favorite treats are, in essence, gone forever, need an immediate consolation. “What’s been the hardest so far?” I asked the mom.
Breakfast, came the answer. The gluten-free cereals, granolas, and frozen waffles were all unappealing. What this child wanted was quickbread — but not banana. I was lucky enough to get this message while standing in a Whole Foods and quickly snapped the following photos:
I made lemonade out of gluten-free breakfast using only my smartphone. When I got home, I sent her my recipe for gluten-free vegan nut-free snickerdoodle cookies, which I have to admit are fantastic.
Before the summer is over, I’ll share a vacation home with a person who has a severe nut allergy. Before we leave, I’ll deep-clean my food processor, boil water and thoroughly douse it so that we can safely make and bring nut-free pesto to share. Without a moment’s hesitation, I can say that I don’t resent the time it takes to do that, because we were lucky enough to have people care for us that way when we needed it.
I can’t take away the summer of 2010 or the heartache I felt when I realized it could have been avoided entirely. I can, however, use what I learned to help other people. Trite as it sounds, every time I tell someone allergic to milk about the vegan cheeses we love, I feel a lightening of my load. Only then do I realize why I’m here: to taste lemonade we made out of all these sour, gluten-free dairy-free nut-free egg-free soy-free fat-free lemons.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com. This week’s sentence is “Summer’s half-way over, and I…”