Makin’ Food My Bitch

swotvac

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?

New Fat / Old Age

 

 

I have fat in places I used to have angles. Like my back. I have back fat. And my collarbones have faded into something soft and rolling. I used to say those were my two best features. I was the kind of girl who looked good in backless dresses, showing off my shoulders and collarbone.

My hips were always “too big” – baby making hips although I never wanted babies. And my thighs were thick before that was a good thing. I could tell the size of my ass by the color of the cat callers on the street. Brown, I was just right. Black, I’d put on some pounds. White meant I was seriously underweight. I hardly every got white cat calls. I always had me some serious ass.

A friend had told me the trick was to wear it loose where you were fat and tight where you weren’t. And I would drape the bottom half of me in something flowing, show off the top of me in something snug. My small breasts, gently curving back, strong shoulders and collarbones you could hold a golfball in comfortably.

Until the day I turned around in front of the mirror for some reason and there it was. Back fat. If I was a domestic pig, you could call it fat back and fry me up with some collards.

My therapist gave me a prescription for my usual antidepressants and a note that read: exercise, low carbohydrate diet, practice portion control. This is not about portion control. This is not about control. It’s about being out of control. This is how I’m dealing with stress.

“Don’t use that as an excuse,” my mother says.

It’s not an excuse. It’s a fact. This is a coping mechanism, albeit not the best, its better than many I’ve used in the past. This is about denial. About having to be in control in so many areas of your life, including your brain, keeping everything running, on track, voices down to a low hum, that there has to be someplace to give up control, go wild, not have to be in charge. When I was what anyone else would call “running wild” the drugs and alcohol were the place I could let go, not be in control, relax. I’ve had to be in charge my entire life. To save my mother. To save myself.  To defend my father and save him from his fantasies. I had to be in control or he would have destroyed me. And think again if you don’t think that juggling a life of drugs, sex, mobsters, guns and petty crime is not about control. If you want to stay alive it is. It sure is. Ask all of those people who didn’t control. Yeah, you can’t. They’re dead. I’m not.

Imagine your body, your life is a house. Denial is like a burglar alarm system. It keeps the bad things out. I don’t know how to set it for one part of my life and not for another. So, denial about my eating and my weight––because I know you can look at me and say how can she be in denial. Her stomach pours over her pants, it looks painful. It is. But if I can keep that at bay, then also at bay are the feelings around what’s going on with my mother, her aging, her forgetting, getting smaller, more fearful. The feelings about being alone after she’s gone. The feelings about being alone. The feelings. The fat, and the denial that goes with it, because yes, I can acknowledge I’m fat and still be in denial, much in the way I knew I was an alcoholic, I just didn’t see how that was a problem, are keeping me a sane today.

This is not about portion control. Or excuses. This is about being 25 years clean and sober and not yet having developed a coping mechanism that works. Those old survival skills kick in and they’re comforting. After the drugs, was the promiscuous sex, the spending, the working out. To control the things that need to be controlled, to run the ship properly, I need to have a place I can lose myself, let go. Right now, that is the eating.

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.