I’m reading More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin; her first cooking essay collection, Home Cooking, is one of my favorites, so I got the second one thinking it would be more of the same and thankfully I was correct. Each chapter is about a certain recipe or food type or ingredient or food adventure. I love it; it is perfect reading for a busy summer when I am too busy to think about much more than what’s right in front of me, like, oh, let’s say… food.
This book was published in 1992 and it is interesting to note how food/nutrition crazes have changed. She mentions constantly how people (in 1992) no longer eat butter or cream or fat or eggs, and how you can turn a recipe lower-fat or fat-free if you wish (as you should wish), or how to serve a dinner party for people who won’t eat fat, and how she throws away the egg yolks and what a shame it is although “our arteries thank us for it.” However, there are lots of recipes for delicious bread and pasta, which of course these days are verboten to many folks, no mention of gluten-free anything, and sugar, while not really a major factor in any of her musings, is not really an enemy, more like just a casual friend that you don’t spend a ton of time with but hey, they’re not so bad every once in awhile (an approach I agree with; I am a fan of moderation of most things).
It is such a stark and marked contrast to how we think about fat and grains and food in general these days… clean eating and healthy fats and low-carb and paleo are supposedly the most healthy way to eat (depending on which camp you fall into… there are several), and god forbid your diet consist of 40% homemade bread, as she estimates her family’s diet to be. This sounds to me like the ideal diet! I love bread and would happily eat it 40% of the day, although sadly, this is now out of the question for me.
I have had to change my eating habits fairly radically over the past couple of years since I finally, finally, narrowed down what has been causing my very unpleasant stomach issues. Pardon the incredibly boring diet talk, but if I follow the low-FODMAP charts, I do pretty OK. On its surface, this chart makes about as much sense as all the other random food fads do (high fat! low fat! high carb! no carb!). However, the difference to me is that it is not a secret weight-loss plan (which I suspect most other food crazes are, which is OK if that’s what you’re after, I just resent the implication that somehow you will become a better person if you expunge all “X food item/category” from your world forevermore). It’s really all about just preventing stomach agony (the foods on the chart all cause some degree of disastrous chemical reactions in the guts of certain people, like myself), and it does a pretty good job at that. I’ve narrowed it down to some basic rules that are not super-easy to live by but if I follow them, I feel pretty good.
- Minimal wheat. The gluten isn’t the problem, its the fructans in the wheat (blah blah blah, it’s one of the magical evil chemicals referred to above). However, the key about this way of eating is that it all depends on how your body reacts to different foods, and nothing is expressly forbidden (unless it causes YOU a terrible reaction, in which case, duh, avoid it!). I have found that I can tolerate a little bit of wheat, and that some forms are better than others. I can have the equivalent of a slice or two of bread (or a few bites of pasta or other wheaty thing) every other day or so, that that seems to be fine. I eat gluten-free most of the time because it’s the easiest way to avoid wheat, but I can be a little bit loose with this one.
- Lactose-free products when possible. If I avoid heavy lactose (regular milk, cottage cheese, regular yogurt, cream cheese) then things are mostly fine. Half-and-half is OK in moderation, regular cheese (which is naturally low in lactose) is also mostly OK. Basically I just fail nearly 100% on ice cream, because I love ice cream and I don’t love any of the substitutes I’ve tried. So I just eat it in moderation and put up in with the consequences. #fail. I am making my own lactose-free yogurt, though, and that is a solid #win.
- Avoid Certain Vegetables: The hard stuff. I love vegetables and so many of my favorites are on the no-go list. Avocados, asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, cauliflower and worst of all, onions and garlic (to name just a few). I have zero tolerance for onions, especially raw onion. Garlic seems to be OK if it’s just a little bit. It is incredibly difficult to eat out and avoid onions and garlic. It is also tricky to cook like I like to cook without onions and garlic, although I’m getting better at it (ask me about asafoetida and garlic oil!). Unfortunately, the vegetables are the ones that make the biggest difference in my gut happiness. A little bit of raw onion can make me miserable for hours. This part makes me sad but there’s just not a lot of wiggle room on this.
- Avoid beans, many nuts, artificial sweeteners, stone fruits. Also not fun. I love beans, most nuts, and all fruit. Beans are pretty much a no-go although small servings seems to be OK sometimes as long as they aren’t mixed with something else awful like cabbage or onion (I love both cabbage and onion), and frankly sometimes I just eat them anyway even though I suffer for it. I don’t eat nuts often so as long as I can remember which are OK and which to avoid (tricky, it seems totally random and is really hard to remember), this is pretty easy to navigate mostly just because it doesn’t come up a lot. Peanuts are OK and that’s what we usually have around the house so I don’t think about that too much. Fruits are hard for the same reason: the list seems arbitrary and it’s hard to know what’s OK and what isn’t unless I check the list. I can have a few bites of the “red” items but any more than that and I suffer. Which is sad, because my new house has apple trees and pear trees and a giant fig bush, all of which I love and all of which are on the “no” list. I am going to experiment and I might just have to suffer because fresh figs from my own yard!!
Anyway, it’s kind of exhausting and sometimes I conveniently “forget” that I have to work really hard to pick and choose items that are OK for me to eat… but then my body conveniently reminds me that I really do have to be careful. Other factors like stress, hydration, and certain combinations of foods also play a part… it’s not very easy but it does make a difference. It’s also hard to eat with other people because the list is stupid and exhausting and makes no sense and I hate to be “that” person so I just do my best and sometimes I suffer. Oh well.
What can I eat? Lots of things! Thankfully the list includes lots of things that I do like (and plenty of things that were not OK in the 90s!!), so I try to make the most of those and avoid the “bad” stuff as much as I can. If I am really strict then I feel like a normal person and my stomach is very very happy. However, being really strict is almost impossible. Sometimes even when I’m pretty sure I’ve been strict, something sneaked in and I have a bad time of it. Mystery! Sad!
What I need to do is make myself a cheat sheet of go-to travel foods, fail-safe menu items to look for, and reminders of my major triggers. I have the app but it’s not perfect either, and a lot of it depends on your own body. It’s surprisingly difficult to keep straight — for instance, we were traveling recently and I was trying to choose an airplane snack… I chose pistachios, totally forgetting that those are a big fat NO. However, peanuts, macadamia nuts, or walnuts would have been fine. Sigh. Another recent case: I picked a ton of blackberries along our road, and made a nice low-FODMAP blackberry cobbler. I noticed some stomach upset but thought it must have been something else I ate that day since berries are OK, right? Wrong. Apparently strawberries and raspberries and blueberries are OK, but blackberries are not. WTF. However, a world where I cannot have some fresh-picked blackberry cobbler during the summer is not a world I want to inhabit, so I’ll suffer a bit for that one.
Anyway, I’m trying to get better, moving and travel makes things harder but I certainly feel better when I follow the low-FODMAP list. It’s a food fad that works for me, even though I definitely need to improve my adherence!