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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Life vs. Food

I love food. I will never be one of those people who follows the "eat to live" way of life. Food is precious to me. It has emotional value, both in its ability to bring people together and its ability to comfort and satisfy.

In 2012, after a prolonged illness I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that causes my immune system to attack and eat holes in the lining of my large intestine. Lovely, I know. I embarked on a series of medication trials, but a large part of managing my disease involved determining and eliminating foods that triggered inflammation. Food had become my enemy.

Over the next 4 years I tried 6 different elimination diets. For anyone who has ever tried these, it is HARD. It can be expensive and it almost certainly means you have to make everything you eat yourself. It kills your social life. To date, I adhere to a zero soy, low fiber, low gluten, low lactose, low nightshade diet. I had always been a pretty healthy eater, but now my diet is directly linked to my ability to function day-to-day. The only things that never trigger my symptoms are meat and eggs.

Of course, I married a vegetarian.

When David and I first started dating in 2013 I was determined to find meals we could both eat, despite having a dietary overlap of about 6 ingredients. I clipped recipes out of magazines, bookmarked them on the internet, and earmarked contenders in my allergen-free cookbooks. All too soon, though, we were relying on a steady diet of tacos, spaghetti, and rice. My inspired collection of recipes was disorganized and spread across multiple mediums, and, by the end of a long day, it was just too much trouble to comb through everything. We each work two jobs on top of being doctoral students -- time and energy are precious commodities.

We eked along like this for the better part of a year. Then, in 2015 I found myself simultaneously planning an international academic conference and our wedding, the conference taking place a mere three weeks before the wedding. I had nightmares about flower arrangements arriving at the conference and brown bag lunches showing up at our wedding reception.

Both events were successful, and our honeymoon soothed away my stress-induced eye twitch. A month later I was bored. After months of organizing various event details, my brain was left with nothing on which to fixate. "Prepare for your comprehensive exams!" my graduate advisor said. "Pffft" I said. I needed a nesting project.

So I did what I had been meaning to do for a year and curated all my recipes (and entertaining, gardening, and decorating clippings) into an easy-access, 3-ringed binder.

I sorted everything out then divided the compendium into sections: appetizers, soups and sauces, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, drinks, entertaining, garden, and decor.

For ANYONE who has a similar collection of disorganized clippings, take an evening (or a week) and put them into a quick-reference format ASAP. It will be worth it. It's amazing how making things easier on yourself makes things, well...easier.

Here's what the project required:
  • 1 3-ring binder
  • 2 packs clear sheet protectors
  • 1 pack dividers
  • Blank computer paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Pen to define borders of recipes
  • Cutting and pasting skills from kindergarden 
  • 2 mojitos, for hydration and morale 

I also took this opportunity to commit family recipes to paper, just in case I become senile or for those times when a guest asks for the recipe and your best response is "uhhhhhh...a pinch of this, then stir until it looks right?"

Every recipe in the notebook is tailor made to our dietary needs and our lifestyle needs. Most of them are weeknight-friendly and don't require specialty-shop ingredients. This made it easy to reintroduce food variety to our busy lives, plan ahead (say what??), and even renovate our shopping list of "staple" foods for those times when planning ahead doesn't happen.

Starting a new medication this past February means my food options have greatly increased of late. Wine is officially back in, baby!! But it is still a balancing act. A piece of gluten-free toast with peanut butter on Monday means I can only put half a banana on my yogurt on Thursday. Marinara sauce on Tuesday means no potato salad on Friday. I can't even look at uncooked leafy greens without dire consequences. However, culinary creativity is no longer reserved for special events, and our hearts and bodies are happier for it.

As an added bonus, having party planning and decorating ideas at my fingertips has been quite useful. Inspiration for re-doing the office? Page 35. It's Spring/Fall and I need to plan my vegetable beds? Page 42 has planting schedules and soil composition reminders.

There are some restrictions in my life now that I cannot control or change. But I can change the way I deal with those restrictions, and I can make the best of them. The biggest step in reinvigorating my life and getting out of my food rut was taking an afternoon with a pair of scissors and a glue stick. My kindergarden teacher, Ms. Graham, would be so proud.

Sorry Mr. Schweer, algebra remain useless.

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