Makin’ Food My Bitch


January 2017: Week One: Cut dairy out of my life. I’ve bagged up all the butter, gorgonzola, parmesan, Asiago, and cream cheese. I gave up real cows milk long ago, and now I’ve given up the “just a little half & half” in my coffee and switched to tea. No mac & cheese, no grilled cheese, no more bagel with a schmear. I’m giving myself a full year to get things right (and figure out what dinner will look like when I give up my go-to popcorn-is-a-vegetarian-meal stance), but the goal is to come off all my medications. And I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this coming year I’m going to want to be in fighting shape.

I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with food. I know, how surprising, a single middle-aged Jewish cat lady with food issues.

My family was a Jewish/Italian mixed breed, meaning we were Jews who married Italians, so anything that happened in anyone’s house happened around the kitchen table. The good, the bad, and the casseroles with canned fried onions on top.

Despite always being worried I will not have enough food (Depression-era parents), that I will go hungry, I have never gone hungry a day in my life. For us, food was love. If we didn’t offer you food, we didn’t love you. If you didn’t take it, you didn’t love us. Maybe it’s not complicated after all. I eat my feelings.

I never thought I had food issues, I’ve been happy to eat the same thing, every night, night after night. If there is a box of doughnuts in the house, I’m happy to eat them, all. One at a time. If there is only one doughnut in the house, I’m equally happy.

I’ve been a vegetarian, a vegan, a pescatarian, and a locavore. For years I was off beef, but ate poultry. Turkey burgers were a softer, kinder world. But, the more I knew the less I would eat: I stopped eating any factory farmed foods at all. Until I craved salted meat and ate it like it was the air I needed to breathe.

I eat secretly, refusing chocolate or bread in your presence then stuffing myself in my car when I leave. Sometimes the decisions were based on health choices, sometimes on moral issues, other times, childhood issues (that’s the complicated part, best left for another time).

I was a junkie AND a vegetarian for a short while.
There was a suicidal eating disorder that consisted solely of Cheese Doodles and Guldenbergs Peanut Chews. Another that consisted of only soup and ice cream.

I fasted.
I cleansed.
There were literally years when I ate the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Three Stoned Wheat Thin crackers, two slices of Kraft American Cheese – appropriately placed to completely cover the crackers, with no overlap, no blank spaces, and no leftover cheese – and a glass of diet iced tea. Also, gallons of wine, vodka, Kahlua, etc., but not even a single bar peanut to eat.

When I was premenstrual I craved raw meat, which I’d season to make hamburgers, but easily half never made it past my mouth to the frying pan.

I am probably lactose intolerant. Cheese is my favorite thing in the world. The night I ate the cheese equivalent of a human foot (or a shoebox, if that visual disturbs you) and wound up doubled over in the bathroom for hours is when I had to finally accept this lactose intolerance thing. What my version of acceptance looks like: I take pills and continue to eat shoeboxes full of cheese.

I am probably gluten intolerant as well, and have a deep and loving relationship with all things bread and bread like (with the single exception of the body of Christ cracker), from muffins and rolls to bagels and bialys, matzoh and arepas; from fresh warm bread from the oven to packaged off the shelf grocery store bread; and challah, scones, corn bread, noodles, waffles, pancakes, toast, English muffins, Italian bread, French bread, focaccia, crackers, Naan, sourdough, rye, pumpernickel, biscuits, dumplings, pita, pretzels, the leftover pizza crust you don’t want, croissants, or brioche, to the pièce de résistance – the thing you make from leftover bread (as if) –bread pudding. Me and bread, we have history.

Family and friends have gone out of their way to accommodate my various food jaunts by providing a seafood option, buying humanely raised poultry, or asking me each time, “Are you still not eating (fill in the blank)?”

I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds, gone from a size 8 (hospitalized shortly afterward) to a size 16 and bounced around in between.

I have gone from a woman who made her living showing off her body to one who cannot tie her shoes without unzipping her pants.

And now, at almost 60 years old, I’m taking another food stance. Auto-immunes are the original clusterfuck. Like nuns, if you see one, there are probably more lurking around. Recently, I was diagnosed with my second auto-immune disorder. One medication was recommended, and another for a pre-diabetic condition which I’ve had for years and years. Taking the new meds would mean changing the old meds and starting from scratch on things I knew worked. Someone said the word biologics. Biologics are good stock investments, but I don’t want them in my body.

This all makes me sound sick, which I’m not. I’m…fat & sassy. But, my morning regime is a healthy handful of pills and I just can’t anymore. I can’t go forward with the mindset that my body is betraying me. Granted, I was not exactly kind to this body for its first thirty-five years and it has every right to be pissed off, but this all smacks of treason.

I won’t view my body as an enemy.

I met a traveler once, named Elijah. He told me he walked all over the country, slept outdoors, and never got sick or cold. The secret, he said, was that the earth gives you what you need for where you were. The way root vegetables are fall harvests, and they digest slowly and keep you warm. Citrus in Florida where it’s hot, to cool you down. Eat with the place and season, he said. Elijah was barefoot, dirty, with matted hair, he had no shirt and his pants had eroded down to little more than a denim loincloth. I get it. I know he was a homeless guy. And possibly crazy. Or maybe he was just free, because it made sense to me.

Healing yourself by eating the right foods at the right place and time.

The Auto Immune Protocol diet claims to be the key to getting your body back on track, and there are a million websites you can check out if you’re interested in learning more. It’s extreme, but I’ve done tougher stuff in my life (see earlier reference to the first thirty-five years). If I could live off of nine crackers a day with the military discipline with which I did it, I can do this.

The plan is to give myself one to two weeks on each “give up” to get used to it, have a proper mourning period (this week we are mourning the gorgonzola, but glorying in bread) and get myself ready for the next step. All of these will have to go before I can live a full 30 days “clean” and attempt to bring things back a little at a time. So, no gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. No nightshade vegetables like peppers, eggplants or tomatoes. Eggs, gone. Artificial sweeteners will be history (goodbye Crystal Light!). Nuts and seeds, although what is the point of a sesame seed if it is not sitting atop a bagel? No additives, which will mean reading labels. I’ve already eliminated the booze. Eventually, I will get myself down to the basics: meats and vegetables.

The good news is sugar snap peas, wild caught fish, bacon, asparagus, beets, sweet (but not white) potatoes, fruit, meats of all kinds, avocados. It means planning and thinking ahead and no more dollar pizza. But you did hear me say bacon, right?

No IE log : Day 2 : Trash

No Impact Living is going to mean being conscious all the time. This is not at all like the 1960s, which trumpeted altered consciousness. And the absolute opposite of my 20s & 30s, when I made a personal choice to be as un-conscious as possible, as often as possible.

Monday’s instructions : Stop making TRASH. Reduce it. Reuse it. Recycle it. Keep a special bag at home or the office to collect trash you make by mistake or necessity throughout the week.

No Impact travel kit assembled: cloth napkin rolled around knife, fork, spoon, travel mug for hot & cold liquids, small Tupperware container in case anyone offers me food to go this week. It feels slightly batty and just a touch like I should be pushing around a shopping cart with the rest of my possessions and have plastic bags wrapped around my feet, secured with rubber bands around my ankles.

Somehow I managed to miss the last sentence in the instructions. The one that says I should still be collecting my trash in a special bag. I didn’t do that. Granted there would be very little in there. Two tea bags. A few Splenda packets. Some gum wrappers. The paper napkin I grabbed without thinking when I spilled hot tea on my nephew’s fiancee’s foot.  In my defense, the tea was in my reusable travel mug.

Back at the cousins house after the burial for the usual spread. I piled deliciousness onto the plastic bowl I’d brought (double points for reusing a Chinese take out container) and grabbed the fork I’d brought from home as well.

The bowl started conversations with people I’d never met. One woman assumed it was for portion control. I assumed she meant I was fat and promptly moved to another part of the room. My seven year old niece came up to me, head cocked, quizzical look on her face and said, “Are you taking leftovers home with you?” A reasonable question since my family is particularly fond of their “good Tupperware™”, so I bring my own containers to major holidays.

By the time coffee and cake came out I’d answered most of the questions, explained what I could about the experiment and most of the family just ascribed it to my general wackiness. In a family that includes goth boys and girls skulking around the periphery, a Pastor leading a parish of Bikers for Christ, where Ashton has two Daddies, where lies pass for love and teeth are frequently optional, I am the wacky one because I don’t want to make trash.

Okey dokey.

Today’s resistance? Handkerchiefs. Sorry, but they totally gross me out. I have no problem with a nice reduction of toilet flushing in the tradition of if it’s yellow, let it mellow. 27% of all household water consumption is from flushing the toilet. Cutting that down to only flushing at bedtime or after a poop, well, that saves a lot of water. And I’ve switched to 100% recycled paper products including tissues and toilet paper. I’ve practically eliminated the need for paper towels and paper napkins by swapping in reusable sponges and cloth napkins. But, please, don’t make me carry around a swatch of cotton caked with dried boogers. Nopes. Not even a pretty swatch of cotton.

The day ended with more driving and while I’d eliminated the trip to Manhattan, it was still Queens, Nassau, Suffolk, Nassau, Queens. Still, too much. Luckily, the TRANSPORTATION part of the change is scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, when I have a little more control over my schedule.

I already have my bag packed for the day : cloth napkin & utensils, travel mug, reusable container for my snacks of carrots and apples (only compostable waste), a book to read on the subway and….my Metrocard!

The No Impact Experiment (No IE) log

Day One: Sunday : Consumption

When I decided to take this challenge, I thought This is gonna be a cakewalk. I’m already moving towards a low-impact, if not a no-impact, life. Then Life got busy being life. My uncle died. Instead of my usual day to day, there’d be a wake, a funeral, lots of family, driving and food and beverages I had little control over. I figured I’m still going to give it my best shot.

The No Impact weeks starts with Sunday, and awareness of just how much CONSUMPTION I’m responsible for.

Make a list of all the stuff you “need” to buy this week: I’d made the move to eating seasonally / shopping locally months ago so this weeks list consists only of eggs, spinach, cheese. Rather than throwing out the carton from last weeks eggs, I return it to the market when I go to buy this weeks dozen fresh eggs. When I drove to the market. Ack!  I have a class starting Tuesday and I ordered the book I needed online. I suppose I could have poured through the shelves at the Strand and tried to avoid the packaging and transit impact that mailing will create, but I feel okay about that fact that I purchased used, rather than new.

I gassed up the car. The wake was out in Suffolk county. I live in Queens county, the farmers market is in Manhattan, my mother and her boo in Nassau. Using a car was unavoidable, but with three of us in the car, at the very least we were HOV worthy. Unfortunately, the driving was going to be Queens, Manhattan, Nassau, Suffolk, Nassau, Queens. That’s a lot of driving for someone who is trying to reduce her carbon impact.

I probably could have taken a subway from Queens to Manhattan, followed by the LIRR to Nassau, driven from there to Suffolk and taken the LIRR back to Queens. I could have. I didn’t. And honestly, I didn’t even entertain the thought for more than a fleeting second.

Fill an empty re-usable bag with all of your trash, recyclables, and food waste: I felt a bit like some radical unshaven hippy bringing my personal little trash bag to the wake with me, rolled up inside my purse. Honestly, though, there is surprisingly little in it. An apple core. A used tea bag. Recyclable cat food cans.

Yes, well, there wasn’t very much in it because I’d totally forgotten to include the paper plate, plastic fork and plastic cup I used at the lunch break between viewings when everyone went back to the cousins for deli sandwiches. Somehow, my front brain didn’t consider that my trash because it was created in someone else’s house? Crazy talk. My trash is my trash.

Kitty litter gets a free pass in this experiment. It doesn’t say that anyplace in the manual, and no one online has mentioned it, but as far as I’m concerned until I get a house and the cats go back to using nature’s bathroom, aka the backyard, kitty litter is a non-negotiable item. In the meantime, I use Swheat Scoop 100% natural and call it even. And I don’t even want to know what Colin Beaven and his family did about toilet paper, which I understand they did not use. For an entire year. Nope. Don’t want to know that at all.

Apparently I do want to know : From the NYTimes 3/22/07: “Nothing is a substitute for toilet paper, by the way; think of bowls of water and lots of air drying.”

Just for this week, try not to shop for new items: Yeah, well, the last six months of unemployment had already made that decision for me….

the cruelest month

Deep in the summer I made a decision to support my local farmers, my own health and the environment by shopping locally and eating seasonally. That’s an easy decision in July and August when the markets are overflowing with tomatoes, cucumbers, salad greens, peaches and berries. But this is December, and the end of December at that. This is where the rubber meets the road. Where there are no salad greens to be had for love or money at the farmer’s markets. There is barely any spinach.

In the few short months since I started this project it’s spiraled into other parts of my life. Last spring I was buying 3 lbs of Costco berries, not caring if they went bad because, after all,  it was it was only $5. This summer that same $5 turned into a pint of berries at the farmer’s markets and just like that I learned to not only stop wasting food, but to stop taking it for granted. Food is a finite resource and I learned to be grateful for what I had.

That gratitude turned into prayer, a silent grace before each meal. Just a moment before eating that frittata to say thank you to the chickens who provided the eggs, the farmers who cultivated the spinach, raised the chickens and transported it all to me. A mental big ups to Mrs. London of Rock Hill Bakehouse for the 8 grain, 3 seed bread I’d just toasted and buttered and while I’m at it, thank you unknown cow for the milk that birthed the butter.

Instead of eating mindlessly, I was paying attention to each bite, savoring it, really getting the full pleasure of each ingredient. Being present for my food turned into eating less.

Eating less turned into dropping one size.

I’m sticking with this. I ate my first black radish, sliced, buttered and salted on  8 grain bread. My grandmother served it the same way, using chicken fat instead of butter. I like the idea of eating roots to get back to my roots.

Next winter, hopefully, I’ll have gotten the hang of planning ahead. Some time in the summer I’ll know to can some tomatoes, make some sauce and freeze it, make strawberry jam, learn how to clean and freeze spinach.

This winter I’m happy just to learn that there is more than one way to bake a squash.

food is love

jodi sh doff : onlythejodi : food is love : pyrex

I talk all the time about how I don’t remember events, but I do remember meals. The good, the bad and the ugly, but most of the time the food I remember is associated with a person who has touched me. Food is Love. God is Love too, but food is a lot easier to whip up and give to someone than God.

My grandmother made the Worlds Best Pork Chops. My happiest childhood memories were in her kitchen. She had appetizers of celery and carrot sticks, shoved into a Welch’s Jelly glass half full of water to keep them “fresh”. There was always blackberry Jell-O in a blue pyrex refrigerator dish. I have that dish now. Unfortunately she took the World’s Best Pork Chop recipe to the grave, but I do know how to make her hamburgers. They were, unequivocally and without any room for argument,  the worst hamburgers I have ever had in my life.

And every once in a while, I make them exactly the way she did, in the exact same frying pan she used.  And it’s like she’s still here and all is right with the world.

When I was five, I postponed running away from home to stay for my mother’s stuffed cabbage. Everything was ready. Every toy, every stitch of clothing I’d collected in my five years was piled on the bed, ready to go wherever it was I was going. Right up until the smell of stuffed cabbage wafted into my room. Running away could wait till morning. She was no fool, my mother.

Christmas morning smelled like blintzes. I get the irony, but that’s the way we rolled, man. Blintz skins were made one at a time in a small pan, which I own today. They were laid out to cool on with clean dishtowels that covered the kitchen table, before being filled, rolled and subsequently fried for breakfast and served with sour cream. My father & I stole the warm dough as it cooled when she wasn’t looking. Like I said, she was no fool. She made just enough fuss to let us think we got away with something. She’d also made extra, knowing half the joy of blintzes was in stealing the still warm skins.

And today, every time I go home there is fresh chocolate pudding in the refrigerator. There always has been.  The first thing I do, when I get to her house is check the refrigerator, because food is love and even if I’ve forgotten, it’s always there. If I’m lucky, they’re still cooling on the counter, the pot has yet to be washed and I get pot lickings. Another epicurean delight I shared with my dad. The pudding pot and spoon.

A friend from Israeli stayed with me recently and made me an Israeli breakfast of eggs and a particular salad. It was amazing. She’s gone home, I miss her, and so, I make the eggs the same way and it’s like she never left.

In a Jewish home, and I’ve seen it in my Italian family’s homes too, you have to take something to eat. Something. Anything. Otherwise, we’ll lose our minds trying to figure out just what we can offer you that you will like. It is beyond comprehension that you don’t want something.

Food tugs on the heart strings, or it does on mine. I have collected all the pans, pots and bowls those loving meals were made with. I can turn back time simply by chopping, mixing, baking what it was you made for me with love that day, those days.

Food is love. If you refuse my food, you refuse my love.