Sunday, July 20, 2008

This one's all about the food

As someone who deals with dietary issues constantly and loves food passionately, I spent years planning my breakfast, lunch and dinner a day in advance. This was partly a neurotic control thing and partly because I enjoy standing in front of the refrigerator taking in the sight of what I can eat, as opposed to all that I can’t.

In the past few months, however, things have begun to change. Mostly, I've started to reeducate myself to listen to my body rather than base decisions on what I’ve read or been told is the healthy option.

Now, there are more days when the afternoon rolls around and I have to come up with something on the spur of the moment -- a whole new creative challenge, and one that hasn’t always been an easy transition. The first few weeks, I would stand in front of the open refrigerator and eat anything and everything I could. Starting with a finger of almond butter, I would then cut up half an apple and follow that up with a sip of rice milk. Then I might have a cracker or a swig of something else. Savory bites would be offset by sweet ones, and by the time I closed the refrigerator, I would feel ill, not sated. It was mindless eating, guided by my eyes rather than my body.

Due to diet, weight and digestive issues, I hadn’t taken my body into account for so long that I had forgotten how to do so.

The transitions have been… well, interesting. Some days, I feel like I live from meal to meal. I spend those days looking for the magic food that will make me feel satisfied only to later admit to myself that it is not about what I ingest. I get hungry, but often it isn’t for food. The trick is to spot the difference.

This morning, D and I were so busy dealing with wedding stuff that by the time we remembered we were hungry, it was almost three and we were ravenous – a tricky one for me as that is when I tend to stand in front of the refrigerator and shove anything and everything down my throat.

Today, however, is two months exactly until we get married. Two months, or nine weeks, or sixty-two days is all we’ve got. I no longer have the luxury of being able to stuff my face and decide I’ll have a better food day tomorrow.

It’s time to get creative.

I sent D down to the store with two simple directives: find a protein of your choice and pick up whatever fresh herbs are in stock.

In the mean time, I set about putting together a salad.

When I was first dealing with all of my digestive issues, one health care person told me to eat only raw food. A few months later, someone else suggested I stick to cooked food. Salads, they said, were too much for my sensitive system.

Salad, raw foods were taken off the ever-shrinking list of allowed foods and added those I was supposed to stay away from. The NO list, at one point, included fruit, gluten, dairy, sugar, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines), funghi, nuts, vinegar – it seemed to be getting longer every day.

Some people talk about illness as being a gift, the reason they started down a new path in life. As the number of foods that I was avoiding grew, it became more and more difficult for me to see my paltry diet as anything other than punishment. Then there were the questions and the constant comments ("Oh, you poor thing!" well-meaning friends would say, "Must be hard to watch others enjoying their food," a waiter in LA told me once). To add geographical injury to national insult, in the UK there is less food available to me, my American accent usually makes things worse as restaurants often take my questions as cultural insults. LA may not be my favorite place on earth, but it is a haven for anyone with culinary challenges. When you’re used to catering to anorexic starlets, I’m sure people like me are a piece of gluten-free, agave-sweetened cake.

Back in Albion, however, I have been, more often than not, one grumpy, picky foodie.

Funnily, as any New Age sage will tell you, my savior finally arrived in the form of … well, me. The cycle of life keeps turning and as I've started to learn more about food and nutrition (remember that whole first step in a new direction thing?), I’ve also gained more confidence in my own instincts. As a result, I have started reintroducing foods as well as making my own versions of things I really miss. Berries and other lovely fruits, cookies (gluten free), milk (made out of nuts or seeds), ice cream, bread. I've started enjoying wine again. Even the odd French-fry (or two, or three, or ... yeah, it's hard to stop when it's been a while) has recently been known to pass my lips.

Yesterday I was talking to a new friend who also loves to cook. She was sharing with me her sadness at not being able to ever know the tastes of certain things due to her own set of dietary restrictions.
“I will never know what a real steak-au-poivre is,” she told me.
I did my best to convince her with the same arguments I use to make myself feel better, but I know what she’s talking about. Yes, my meat is always more tender because chefs can’t hide it under a layer of sauce, and yes, I can make my own versions of almost anything. But can rice bread and almond butter really replace fresh, crusty bread and perfectly aged blue cheese drizzled with wine reduction and lightly roasted walnuts? Can gram flour muffins dipped in the loveliest of soups make up for the lack of grated parmesan?

D and I returned last night from celebrating his birthday in Paris. The Eurostar is by far my favorite part of being back in Europe. In less than three hours, you can be sipping un petit Pinot on the Rive Gauche, nibbling on foie gras and other perfectly acceptable, terribly un-PC French delicacies.

Somehow, in France it's easier to avoid feeling deprived. They are so proud of their food that if they are willing to help a girl out, they do so with the same elegance and grace that they bestow on everything gastronomic. Rather than taking pity on me (and rubbing my face in it, no matter how well they mean), the French go out of their way to make my meal greater than great. In Paris, instead of feeling left out, I feel special.

But Paris is a long weekend, a breath of fresh air, a change of scenery. It’s not our life. Our life is computer screens and tube-stop snackbars, a gym with a swimming pool in the basement and evenings spent in front of the telly instead of a good bottle of wine.

Today, however, with yesterday’s “gaspacho au tomates suivi d’un steak thon avec une frisee” still fresh in my mind, I’m convinced that it is in my power to bring that little piece of Paris back with us.

I try to be as careful and conscientious about what I put into my body, but also about how I eat. And nowhere is this culturally more apparent than in Paris. People linger over their meals. Women truly enjoy desert. Each bite is chewed as if it were the first and the last. The clean-plate club only exists in France when good food is at stake.

I'm sitting in my tiny office watching D scour the Internet for what he's going to wear at our wedding. The dehydrator is whirring away, cooking Brazil-nut chocolate cookies that smell like someone's great-aunt's house. The heavy, dark clouds are hanging low in the sky. It looks and feels like rain though the pavement is dry.

There is too much on my to-do list to wallow, however. I’m hungry for food and millimeters away from going back to bed. Lunch is going to need to be more than a meal. It’s going to have to be a preemptive pick-me-up: a refreshing smack of good cheer combined with a healthy dose of motivational nutrition.

In this spirit, I put together our lunch.

The Salad:
* Fresh greens
* 1 raw zucchini (courgette) cut very fine (with a mandolin, if available)
* one yellow onion, chopped
* one can of chickpeas, rinsed
* fresh mint leaves chopped very fine
* half a pink grapefruit cut into small squares.
* cumin powder (to taste)
* salt (to taste)

Toss the fresh greens along with the courgette and the fresh mint leaves. Put aside.
In a pan, saute the onion on a low flame until very brown and soft (almost burned, but not). Once the onion is ready, add the chickpeas, grapefruit, cumin to taste and salt to taste and allow to heat on a very low flame. (Note: you are heating rather than cooking the chickpeas and grapefruit)

For the dressing blend:
* argan oil(this can be replaced by any nutty oil -- pumpkin, walnut, pistachio, etc)
* the juice of two lemons
* dill
* salt and pepper
* the other half of the grapefruit
* a dash of apple cider vinegar

Optionally, you can add home made croutons. These are made by cubing fresh bread and dry roasting the bits in a pan for a few minutes, stirring every once in a while so they get toasted on all sides.

It was absolutely delicious.

No comments: