I was at one of those once-in-a-lifetime parties this summer when someone asked me a question that has been on my mind ever since. It was a fundraiser for my synagogue, and the host was a good friend who is both an outrageously creative and joyful cook and a whiskey enthusiast on another level (you can actually buy his whiskey blends). He designed the entire meal to complement different whiskeys he and his good friend had collected over the years. Every course was complex and flavorful and gorgeous. On a spectacular summer evening, I had what was, for me, the rare opportunity to eat a meal to which I had contributed absolutely nothing: no cooking, no prep, no decorating, no emotional labor, nothing. I just sat and waited as the food came to me. It was delightful.
Of course, there’s a wrinkle when it comes to me and food, or maybe a few wrinkles, not unlike my forehead as I contemplated how to handle graciously my food allergies and other dietary restrictions at an event like this. The host knew about me being a vegetarian, and about my fatal seafood allergy, and about my lactose intolerance. I also don’t drink alcohol very often. I’d been invited at the last minute, and my husband was helping out with serving that evening; I knew the company would be wonderful and that the food that worked for me would be outstanding. I weighed my options: go, and manage my discomfort over anyone making any kind of fuss about what I was eating; or skip it, and miss out on some fun. Continue Reading…
To protect the privacy of my family, I have to be vague, for which I hope you will forgive me. I’ve always been very open about the heartache of my daughter Sammi’s first eight years: the confusion and the instinct I had to push through it, the fear I had about her breathing and eating, the confidence I somehow found inside me to urge all of us forward to a real resolution to her challenges. As much as was age-appropriate, I have always asked Sammi what she felt comfortable sharing through this blog and through other writing. She wants the world to gain something from her journey, as do I.
But this last month, the heartache and the excruciating journey have belonged to my parents, and it has been dramatic, painful, and frightening on a physical level for them and on an emotional and spiritual level for all of us. It kept me away from home for most of the month, away from my husband and daughters and a million miles outside my comfort zone. It did not and cannot end well, but that is all I can say about it without betraying their privacy. Continue Reading…
I’m trying to teach my daughter to drive, but there’s nowhere to go. We order our groceries online for delivery, prescriptions come with a three-month supply, and school is taking place in our basement on a laptop. Where to drive?
But I’m doing it anyway, the same way I browsed grocery stores all gaggle-eyed and hopeful when our family followed the six-food-elimination diet for eosinophilic esophagitis ten years ago. My daughter was misdiagnosed, it turned out, but we didn’t know that as we ate food without dairy, soy, eggs, nuts and wheat. I pushed my cart around the store aimlessly, hoping for a surprise. Maybe, I thought, this brand will have discovered a secret combination of ingredients that tastes like what I remember, for once.
Sometimes, that surprise DID come. I found that Fruity Pebbles, that horrible day-glo cereal my husband loved that made my throat hurt from the intensity of the sugar, fit the diet perfectly. I brought it home like a trophy, drizzled it with rice milk, ate it with a big fake smile on my face. Continue Reading…
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…
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.
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…