Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Restrictive Diets

I love food. I come from a family that loves food. I also enjoy cooking. Some of my happiest memories are of family dinners, or dinners with a group of friends -- everyone gathered around the table eating a feast that is the culmination of a day in the kitchen, laughing, talking, and drinking wine.

Holiday Feast

I am one of those nerdy people that takes photos of my food at a nice restaurant.

Airport Fare

Even if it is just Rob, my son, and me for dinner, I like to plan something that has a creative twist almost every time I cook. For example, last night my theme was Eastern European. We had pan-fried, crumb coated pork loin chops with mushrooms, potato latkes with sour cream and apple sauce, beets, and french bread. The latkes were the creative twist. Instead of using grated potato only when I made them, I also grated in some parsnip and a bit of fresh ginger (a James Barber recipe). They were yummy. Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo of the meal.

I remember my paternal grandmother, who passed away when I was six, as being a fabulous cook. All of her daughters (my aunts) carried on the tradition. My Mom also is a very good cook, and she taught my siblings and me to cook and bake, and let us experiment in the kitchen. My siblings are all great cooks and so are my adult children.

Although I grew up in a northern, fairly remote small town, my parents encouraged adventures in eating. From a young age, we ate local fish and game (moose, grouse, venison, smoked salmon), whatever ethnic foods were available (pickled pigs feet, pickled herring, kippers), and foods that most of my peers did not (stuffed beef heart, oysters, blue cheese, hot pickles). My parents had a large garden and grew their own vegetables, fruits, and berries, which my Mom preserved for the winter. We also gathered wild huckleberries, mushrooms, and so on. My Mom baked almost every day -- squares, cookies, cakes, pies, and specialties like cream puffs and jellyroll.

Pumpkin Pie and Banana Cream Pie

Having once been a child, then a parent, and now a grandparent, I know that small children sometimes are reluctant to try new foods. My Mom had a sensible approach. She never forced us to eat, but she did have two rules. 1. If we served ourselves something, we had to eat it. (She encouraged us to take a small helping, and if we wished, to have seconds.) 2. We had to at least taste every item in the meal -- a mouthful or teaspoon-sized amount. She also, very shrewdly, limited our access to snacks during the day, so that when we sat to the table, we were hungry. Hunger is a wonderful appetite enhancer!

Baking Cookies With Grandma

My parents also took us out to restaurants from a young age. We were expected to sit up nicely and behave ourselves. If someone made a fuss, my Mom took the misbehaving child out to the car and stayed there with them until they were ready to rejoin the rest of the family in the restaurant. We also learned that when we went out to dinner to someone's home, we should use our best manners, eat whatever we were served without complaint, thank the hostess, and offer to help with the dishes.

We often had extra people around our dinner table. Dad would arrive home from work with someone travelling through town who needed a good meal. Or one of us kids would invite a friend to stay for dinner. One of my brother's friends came home from college with him for a visit and stayed for a year. When my best friend's family moved to a town two hours down the road, she started coming to stay for the weekend every second weekend. Friday night was usually steak night, so our friends especially liked being there for dinner on Fridays.

In adulthood, I have continued the tradition of cooking for people and hosting dinners. In one place that we lived, Rob and I were part of a dinner club that was a lot of fun. Each month a different couple in the group hosted a dinner for everyone.

Through the dinner club experience, I learned that a lot has changed with respect to group eating behaviour since I was child. It seemed that most of the people in the club were on some type of restrictive diet. The group included a vegetarian, a person who couldn't eat dairy, a person with a sensitivity to eggs, a person with a sensitivity to sweet peppers (me), and a person who didn't eat any fruits or vegetables on the "dirty dozen" list (unless organically grown). It made it tricky to plan a dinner that would please everyone. I was just about ready to quit when one of the members developed a health issue and was supposed to avoid all fats and all green vegetables!

As a cook, I find that restrictive diets limit my creative options. I like to develop menus that will please the eye as well as the palate, that use local ingredients, and that are healthy. Rob and my son are appreciative diners, and fun to cook for. As a diner myself, I am easy to feed. (If I am served something with peppers in it, I just pick them out and put them on the side of my plate.)

I do not have a lot of patience for restrictive diets. I understand that sometimes the restrictive diets are prescribed because of health issues. I do my best to accommodate people's dietary preferences because I like spending time with friends and family members, and cooking for them is a way of showing them that I care about them.

However, I have never chosen to put myself on a restrictive dietary regimen. For example, I have never been on a weight loss diet. That doesn't mean that I am a glutton, or that I chow down on excessive amounts of red meat. I am very interested in the relationship between nutrition and health, and I care about eating in an environmentally sustainable way. I also try to notice if I am developing unhealthy eating habits, and to change those habits. That said, moderation is my guide, and I am willing to try most foods.

Eating Up the Contents of the Freezer Before our Move: Mussels and Steamed Dumplings

During my recent years of excessive overwork, I developed some health symptoms that were worrisome, among them sharp abdominal pains. I went through a bunch of medical tests which ruled out some of the scarier possibilities, but did not provide any answers. The last specialist that I saw suggested that I try out a low FODMAP diet. Apparently, there are a number of components in food that some people have difficulty digesting.

My symptoms are not consistent and do not exactly match any of the common diagnoses. But a person does not have pain attacks for no reason. So now, for the first time in my life, I am on a restrictive diet. My plan is to try to adhere closely to the low FODMAP diet for about six weeks, and then when the abdominal symptoms disappear, I will gradually begin to add various foods back in one at a time so see if there is a particular food or foods that my gut is reacting to.

Harrumph! We will see how it goes.