Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cooking in someone else's shoes

Fried kinda-green tomatoes...which I can no longer have. Waah.
I go through phases in my cooking. I get stuck in a rut - a huge rut where we have the same items for lunch and dinner, in different forms, for a week because I can't make my brain think of anything else. And then I get sick of that and start trying out some new foods, some of which actually work. After that, what else can I do but go look at other people's recipes and food blogs in a quest for more delicious new foods? I'm inspired and excited for a few days to a couple weeks.

And then?

Then reality hits and before you know it, I'm slumped down in my chair and wearily pushing the mouse button for recipe after recipe, hoping but not expecting that this will be one I can prepare without having to make so many changes that it no longer looks, tastes, or even feels the same in my mouth as the original would have. And then I give up for a while.

I appreciate how excited chefs and foodies and good cooks are about their food. It always gets me excited at first, too. 'Yes, I could totally see how those two flavors would go together!' 'I had no idea those ingredients could even do that! This is awesome!'

But after a while, I get so darn tired and dispirited. All I want is to eat something that tastes good. And I'm not a good enough chef to come up with that on the first, or even the tenth, attempt at a new recipe. So having a good recipe matters a lot, at least until I am a better chef.

A lot of people who have a somewhat limited diet go through this for a while, dealing with a huge change in how you cook and at first, you have no idea what to make, or what to do with the ingredients you can eat. You get this feeling of: what the heck do I do now? But then you are able to find recipes. Raw foodists, paleo dieters, vegans eating without dairy or eggs, celiacs eating gluten free - there are people out there who have eaten as you now have to and have already trod upon that path.

Recipes are out there for you. Like they were out there for me when I thought I could eat more than I can now.

It is something profoundly different when your diet is severely limited, to the extent that you are struggling to get enough of the nutrients you need from the diet you have, and may not even be able to manage that. All the little touches that people in the modern world take for granted are lost to you on severely limited diet. There are no, or almost no, recipes that are going to help you because people who have websites on food don't get very far if they only make recipes that contain the same three veggies, two fruits, five herbs, and chicken, over and over again.

This is where I'm at now...well, okay, where I used to be. I'm up to twenty-three foods now, plus a lot of herbs I grow in my garden, so I'm actually doing quite well, in the 'limited diet' category. I suppose I just wish I was doing better. I look back at when I was down to half a dozen foods and I keep thinking that with so many more ingredients in my diet, my food should be tasting that much better. And it's really not.

There's too many unknowns. I have so much to learn, and the resources that teach me always seem to revolve around foods I can't have.

---I still don't know how to add sour flavors to my diet without citrus, vinegars, anything fermented, or any sour fruits. What the heck do you use? I can't even have amchur powder, which is ground up mango and has a lovely sour tang. No vitamin C powder. Maybe sorrel? I'm growing some of it to see if it'll work, but it hasn't done much, so far.

I miss the days when my hummus had lemon juice!

---I don't know yet how to be completely successful at adding flavor when I usually can't eat onions, garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, mustard, and soy sauce. There's always something lacking in my dishes, as a result. There's no umami. There's a part of my tongue that never lights up and I notice.

I never thought I'd miss mustard so much.
---I don't know how to make three satisfying meals a day without any grains, coconut, nut flours, and only limited legumes. My daughter can't seem to eat sweet potatoes or beans, plantains are expensive, and there are only so many potatoes and so much meat a day you can have before you are quite, quite sick of it. But any attempts to leave these out, if I even manage it, are not very filling.

Even cheap cereal in the mornings would be nice, sometimes

--- I don't know how to thicken things well without dairy or eggs, although I'm exploring using nuts for this. I find myself boggling at some of the things that many chefs take for granted, though. Like straining out homemade cashew cream to make sure it's smooth enough. I need every last nutrient I can get. I'm not straining out jack, my friends. But then I have to pay for that with odd textures, sometimes, which is problematic, too.  And gluten free certified nuts are expensive enough that thickened things are going to be pretty rare - maybe 2-3 times a month, if that.

When I sit down and look up at these, they really kind of fall in that 'first world problems' category. Do I have enough food to eat? Yeah. I couldn't always say that, and I may not be able to say it again in the future, but for now, I've got plenty of food.

So my only whining is how it tastes. I think the main reason is because my children have to eat this, too, and I feel like a bit of a failure in not being able to get them food that they love because I can't figure this out. This is cooking - I have to make food every day of my life and I'm 41 years old - shouldn't I have figured this out better by now?


So, for anyone who comes across this and has a limited diet: what are your challenges? What do you have a hard time dealing with in terms of flavors you miss, or methods of cooking that you can no longer do, or foods that you used to use with everything that is gone now?

I'd be interested to hear about what you are struggling with, and if you've found a solution for it. And a big, freaking sympathy hug for everyone struggling with this sort of thing. You're not alone. And if I ever figure out some of  my problems satisfactorily, I'll be putting that information up so others with the same difficulty might not have to struggle to find answers for as long. :-)

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