Archive for April, 2010


Healing body and soul

It snuck in early, this love I have for food.  It began as a comforting pass time, a tradition of foods learned at the side of a woman who was like a mother to me.  My best friends mother taught me the traditions of southern cooking.  She showed me how to make sure oil was hot enough to fry in.  A thermometer was never necessary for this task you merely have to watch the foam when you pinch a small bit of flour into the hot oil.  She taught me how to make saw mill gravy, chicken fried steak, and fried chicken.  We made endless pots of mashed potatoes and countless batches of chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches.  Sundays would find us with chopping board and can opener as the sun tea jar was filled with glorious Salsa, a staple for the week to come.

In those dark days after the unit of five became instead a unit of two and one of three those treasured days of cooking at her side faded.  Instead I cooked, alone, in my father’s kitchen.  His gleaming white ceramic tile floor and stark black appliances did not hold the comfort of cooking with her, but the food still called to me.  I experimented with baking, pulling from the oven batches of braided cinnamon bread, homemade pretzels, and more dozens of cookies than I could ever recall.  My bible-study group became my testing ground, and the speed with which the food disappeared became my measurement of success.

Those days held late night escapades with friends making crepes at three in the morning and a long afternoon with the cowgirl preparing for my father’s birthday party.  There was my first holiday meal prepared alone, and the first slight alterations to my mother’s dressing I dared to try.  There were abysmal failures and charred burning messes.  There were warm sugary treats that disappeared faster than I could make them.  There was a race car birthday cake and the pooh bear cake.

In those days, I loved food. I loved slipping into the quiet place of knife and cutting board, spice rack and garden, pulling from each the food we lived on.  It was a deeply satisfying time in my life.  When the world was crumbling and I was no longer sure of my place in it I returned to what I knew.  Sun tea jars filled with salsa, mashed potatoes and gravy next to fried chicken, and pasta dishes laden with fat but oh so divine on the tongue.  My red and white checked cook book is spattered with the evidence of that era in my life.  The dog eared pages between those covers speak of the many hours I spent pouring over words wondering how the simple ingredients translated from words on the page to tastes in the mouth.

I had forgotten I loved the art of cooking.  I had forgotten the deep satisfaction of simmering liquids and popping oils.  I had forgotten the way I love to meld texture and flavor waiting for it to become “just so”.  Until my Sweet One came along I rarely cooked.  The reasons no longer matter, what does is the fact that my knives are slowly dulling on the chopping block and my fingers are once again tainted with the slight aroma of garlic and onion.  My mind is whirling with recipe ideas and my kitchen table is covered with recipes printed from blogs of men and women who would not mind that my fingers smell of garlic.  Theirs do too.  My kitchen has been filled with the rich aromas of pomegranate cranberry beef, southwestern pot roast, and quinoa stuffed peppers.  I bought a mini food processor so that hummus and pesto could be prepared.   My blog reader is filled with cooking blogs, and my list of books on hold at the library all revolve around food.

Slowly, my kitchen is becoming a place of content solitude again. It’s becoming a place of healing as I learn to cook new foods, different foods, foods that are not poison to my body.  I no longer prepare the fat and gluten laden fare of my childhood.  These days it’s fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs.  It’s quinoa, chicken, and eggs.  It’s new and yet it’s the same peace I’ve always known when the counters are covered in ingredients, the mixer is whirling and the percussive sound of knife against cutting board can be heard.

What I wish I could tell her

My mother is an only child.  There are times I resent that fact.  I long for closer ties with those who share my dna if only to grant the opportunity of exchanging information about the affects of those shared strands running through us.  There are not many left in this fractured family of mine, but there is one from this extended branch I maintain contact with.  My great Uncle.  I wrote to him and posed the question with bated breath.  Did he know?  If he did know, would he remember?  He belongs on my grandfather’s side of the family tree not my grandmother’s but the families were close.  They lived in a different era.  They did not rely on facebook or email to keep in contact.  They did not meet people from half way across the world.  They simply grew up, married someone from the town they’d been in forever, and lived life together.  I prayed that this time, that small town mentality would serve my purposes.  Were they close enough that medical data would have been shared and remembered?  There was only one option.  I typed the words and hit send before I could logic my way out.

The question was simple.  Did he know if my grandmother had celiac?  It’s hereditary you see, and though my body gives me all the anecdotal evidence I need, the engineer part of me inherited from my father wanted evidence.  The more I have read these last few weeks, the more convinced I became that my grandmother suffered all those years simply because of gluten.  I watch my mother’s body heal and I see her come, slowly, to life again.  She is more alive than I have seen her since I was a small girl.  There is joy and sorrow in that knowledge.  There is a wistful wishing for things that might have been, but it is quickly over-ridden with the reality that at least we have a different tomorrow than we once faced.  I am so grateful for that, for this opportunity to see her live in the ways that I always wished she could.  I understood, all too well, the affects continual pain has on a body.  At least, I thought I understood until the pain dissipated and then I realized that I never really understood just how much that pain affected me in the first place.  It’s odd, to realize that something has to end before it can be comprehended.  My normal, was not so normal after all.

He wrote me back today, that great uncle I have only seen a handful of times in my entire life.  Those small town ties?  I am grateful for them today.    He confirmed, she had ileitis and sprue.  Celiacs full name is celiac sprue.  My heart breaks for the woman who suffered so many years.  The solution was so simple all along.  It was not found in the myriad of rusty orange tinted pill bottles covering the shelf in the kitchen.  Instead it was on the shelf above, in those donuts he fetched every Sunday and the loaf of bread he bought every few days.  It was in the pantry and the refrigerator.  It was in those biscuits they made each weekend and in that bread she ate each morning.  It was in those frozen dinners she came to rely on in her later years.  It would have been so much less devastating to give up gluten than to live with the affects of eating it.  Was it that science understood so much less then? Was it the lack of  prevalence of gluten free options I find on the shelves of the local grocery stores that made her refuse this change in diet?  I’ll never know the reasons she chose to change her diet and then go back again despite the healing her body experienced in those gluten free months.  Sometimes the concept of a time machine makes sense to me. This is one of those times.  I want to go back and tell her “Please, stop eating gluten so you can live.  If you do, you can be the mother and grandmother we all long for you to be.  You can get out of bed, out of that dark cold bedroom where you reside, you can live if you simply don’t eat gluten”.  There are moments I realize that despite all the growing up a little girl remains in me.  That little girl is desperate to shout at the top of my lungs “Live, please live . . . I needed you”.
I will continue down this journey she gave up.  I will live the life I wish she had decided was worth living.  I will stand in the aisle of the local farmer’s market store and converse with the strangers staring at the bags of gluten free flours.  I will absorb more information and I will learn how to live this new life.  I will fill my notebooks with recipes.  I will answer my nephews precious question as I stare at his outreached palm as he asks “Is this gum poison to you”.  I will tear up a bit when my big brother washes his hands before touching food he’s making for me, and then washes them again and again as he switches from his skillet to mine.  I will nod in appreciate when my big sister doesn’t find it strange that I am completely paranoid about cross-contamination. I will answer the questions as they come and I will spend many hours on google seeking out gluten free options.  I will spend more hours in my kitchen making meals that help me live pain free.

The battle is worth it.  I wish I could tell my grandmother that.