Some of us eat to live. Others live to eat. I probably fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum. Influencing personal preferences are things like cultural and family rituals, environment and health. For most adults, it is one of the few things we can do in life that is totally up to us as to when, how and what we consume. But I have found, that my body and mind often disagree about what I should be eating, and that can be a problem.
In July of 2017 I quit eating grains. All of them. Not a fad or weight-loss diet, it was an informed choice—or as informed as is possible with food intolerances, which are quite mysterious. Having a psoriatic rash extending from my upper back to my legs, and periodic eczema, I was desperate to fix the problem, if possible. It had worsened over the year I was eating gluten free so that didn’t seem to be the answer…what to do? Quit grains…and then what?
After only 3 days the itching stopped. After 3 weeks the rash started to fade a bit and I was losing weight that had slowly crept on over a period of five years. It wasn’t a lot of weight, but it was stubborn and seemingly immoveable. And then it left. Not sorry to see you go! Now, some 8 months later, I am still noticing changes for the better. Not wanting to get into the very contested issues around medical versus alternative treatments of things, I will say that tests show that my blood sugar level has decreased from high to normal, cholesterol has adjusted to normal and there is a marked difference in inflammatory symptoms, such as arthritis. And more…
I still have a list of food intolerances, but have noticed that a few things seem to be digesting much better and eczema is no longer a problem. It reminds me of that movie about Benjamin Button, the one where he ages in reverse. It kind of feels like my body is returning to normal, whatever that was. It has been a long time.
I’m not on a bandwagon to tell you to eat any certain way, we are all different. I do what seems right for myself and leave others to make their own choices. My choices are informed. I read and update my knowledge continually. Be your own advocate, I say.
Perhaps the most valuable food and life lesson was told to me over 25 years ago when I began to try and heal myself. A naturopath told me ‘Make a list of all the things you CAN eat and post it on the fridge. That way, when you are hungry you will see all the available options, rather than all the things you need to avoid’. It was a lesson in perspective–food for thought, in every sense.
In recent years I’ve become very dedicated to my morning cup of coffee. Some days it seemed it was the only bright spot in the day, not that my life is horrible, it isn’t. But food and drink consumption has been a lifelong challenge and the bright spots are not always easy to come by. The siren call of morning coffee, however, seemed to take on an elevated need to satisfy. Why? I only have the one cup, and it is half-caf, that is half decaf beans and half normal beans, ground and steeped together for my morning joie-de-vivre. I even enjoy the ritual of making my pour-over coffee. In cold weather I sometimes have a second cup but it is all decaf. Yes, caffein has become something I am also sensitive to. More’s the pity. For me, coffee is a comfort. I have been drinking it since childhood, when Grandma would ask me if I wanted her to make me some of her ‘rat poison’ (instant coffee) and we would both giggle with devilish delight. She would make me a milky cup, sweet with sugar. My parents always had coffee in the mornings and so have I. Morning just doesn’t feel right without it.*
I try to understand these things but sometimes the full picture eludes me, until one day while I’m reading or listening or watching, another piece of the puzzle snaps into place. One such day happened this month, listening to the BBC Food Program about ‘comfort food’. Most people understand what that term means, but few of us would identify the same food(s) to describe it. Usually, comfort food is something that reminds you of childhood, of home, or of a special meal, person or place. Often, all of the above! For me, comfort food was Mom’s homemade stewed chicken and dumplings, pecan pie, pancakes, mashed potatoes with gravy and fried chicken…and also, milky coffee.
As I began listening to the podcast I wondered, ‘…am I going to be able to get through this?’…such was the intensity with which people recalled their comfort foods and why. Eating can be a personal pleasure for one, or hold even deeper meaning, going to the heart of family culture and tradition. Nearly all of the foods described are things I can no longer eat. But I persevered. Not one to accept a joyless diet gracefully, I am used to researching cooking methods, foods and recipes that can restore my joie while also feeding my family and friends. Recent efforts have, of course, been focused on foods without grains.
Continuing to listen, I realised my search was not only for nutritional reasons, I had also been searching for a new set of comfort foods.
Many of the old comfort foods were just not possible to recreate satisfactorily with alternative ingredients that did not include grains, or flour, as we know it. Fried chicken made with almond meal just didn’t make the grade. However, stewed chicken like Mom used to make for eating with dumplings or noodles, made into ‘Zoodle Soup’ is pretty good. It is a slow cooked chicken and vegetable soup made with zucchini ‘noodles’ (‘zoodles’) or in my case, stick shapes cut on the mandolin slicer, because I didn’t want to have another gadget in my kitchen. The zoodles remind me of the way Mom would sometimes break spaghetti into shorter pieces for soups. The soup is savoury and wholesome and what you would want if you had a cold or flu. That’s the comfort test, isn’t it? When you are sad, or sick, what do you want to eat that makes you feel better?
Russian ‘Syrniki’ or ricotta pancakes were soon to be added to my repertoire.
And an ersatz English-style Muffin fills the void, when I want a crispy vehicle for butter and jam.
My greatest triumph so far has been French-style Apple Cake. It looks and tastes like my distant memory of the real deal, and everyone who has eaten it thinks it is delicious and special, as is its namesake.
I realise I will never replicate the exact feeling of those old comfort foods because they are flavours that were established in the beginning of my life. But there is great pleasure, and comfort, in creating new dishes for this phase of my life.
So what do you want to eat that gives you comfort? Go on, I’m tough, hit me with it….
*(I have eliminated coffee several times over the years, once for three years, replacing with green, herbal or black tea and not found any health benefits.)