11 Nov 2010

Relating to Food

Posted by annmcolford

The grey fog and low clouds of winter enveloped Spokane on Monday, after Sunday’s rainy overcast. But before that we enjoyed four gorgeous late-fall days in a row, with plenty of sunshine and temps near 60, so I really can’t complain. Still, the cooler weather has put me in the mood for basic comfort foods—like Sunday’s roast chicken.

It was a simple preparation. I bought the chicken (a whole fryer from Mary’s Chicken, via Huckleberry’s) on Saturday and roasted it on Sunday, after slipping a few slices of shallot under the skin and giving it a rubdown with canola oil. I baked a small Red Kuri squash at the same time and prepared a red quinoa salad to pull the meal together. When the chicken was done, I made gravy with the pan drippings (because nothing says “comfort food” like warm gravy). Thanks to plenty of leftovers, I haven’t had to do much cooking for the week.

The quinoa salad was a new dish for me. I got the recipe from gal-pal Angela after she brought the salad to a potluck birthday gathering earlier this year, but I hadn’t tried it until now. (Details are on the Recipes page.) She ends the recipe with this saucy line: “Serve with a smile, and some clothes on, unless, well, you know, naked is convenient.”

My menu planning has shifted over the past month, partly because of the end of CSA season and partly because of a change in my diet following a consultation with a naturopath. My respiratory allergies acted up late this summer, more so than usual, and I spent a couple of months just generally feeling blah. My lack of health insurance coverage means that I pay full price wherever I go for medical services, but it also means that I have the freedom to choose my provider without any insurance-carrier limitations. And so, I chose to consult with a naturopath (Dr. Joanne Hillary, here in Spokane). After a basic exam and a long conversation about all facets of my lifestyle, she suggested that I stay away from certain foods (dairy, wheat, corn, potatoes) while being sure to include a portion of lean meat or fish at every meal, along with plenty of vegetables.

Other than bypassing wheat and dairy, this isn’t all that big a change for me, in the long-term view of my diet. But for the last several months I have been cutting back on my meat consumption, for both budgetary and environmental reasons. I’ve slipped back into the habit of eating more cheese (cheese-and-crackers is a favorite snack), and this summer I ate more potatoes and corn than I have in years past. And then there’s been the bread baking—whole-grain bread, mind you, but made primarily with wheat.

So now, for the last four weeks, I’ve been diligently cooking up grass-fed ground beef, free-range chicken, pasture-raised lamb and cold-water seafood. (The only meal I didn’t have to tweak much was my breakfast egg and veggies.) I’ve had rice and barley and quinoa, plus rye crackers and Ezekiel bread (somehow sprouted wheat is OK; not yet sure why, but I’ll be researching that), and even one plate of spelt pasta (with ground beef, onions and tomatoes, but no cheese). Thanks to the proliferation of gluten-free products, I have plenty of choices, because gluten-free means wheat-free. I can even still have cheese, if it’s made from goat or sheep’s milk. I can still drink wine, along with coffee and tea, and I even allow myself a daily dose of half-and-half in my coffee. My meals at home have required a shift in my thinking (and an increased share of my budget), but it’s been a rather fun challenge.

The biggest issue is potlucks and other shared meals, which are a regular and beloved part of my life. On the first weekend, I went to a casual party with former colleagues (several of whom are vegetarian), and the only thing I could munch from was the veggie tray. At a recent brunch, every dish was off-limits (quiche, coffee cake, potatoes, corn muffins) except the one I brought (gluten-free carrot cake). Luckily, I’d guessed there might be a problem, so I actually ate breakfast at home first.

Everyone has been very understanding, but I really don’t like making a public fuss about what I can and can’t eat. I love all kinds of foods, and I love to try the dishes that people bring to share. I’m hoping that once my system is reliably balanced again I will be able to sample some of my restricted items occasionally without serious consequences. In the meantime, I’ll be seeking out recipes (especially for bread and baked goods) that can be made without wheat and dairy.

While I’ve been distracted with my own shopping list, local blogger Craig Goodwin (of the Year of Plenty blog) has been tackling some big topics, including digging behind the story of the recent New York Times article (“While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales”) on the relationship between the USDA and an industry group called Dairy Management. In his most recent post, he restates his conviction that relationships are the key to sustainability: “The core crisis in the food system is a break-down in the relationships between people involved with bringing food to market and those sticking the food in their mouths.”

I’ve written plenty before about my belief in the importance of relationships—in the world of food, of course, but extending beyond that, into the worlds of commerce and public discourse. Unless I have absolutely no choice, I refuse to do business with any place that treats me like a number instead of a person. I want to feel welcomed, not just for the meager dollars that I bring in the door, but for the smiles and warmth and stories that I can share. When relationships are not valued, it’s easy to base decisions purely on dollars-and-cents terms. From anonymity, it’s a short step to rudeness and incivility, and our world devolves. If I want the world to be a kinder place, a more civil place, then I need to put kindness and civility out into the world. I need to risk being in relationship.

Now I’m going to go make some chicken soup from my leftovers. Some friends are stopping by tonight for a quick soup supper after work. We’ll share a simple meal, a glass or two of wine, and a few laughs. Or maybe tears. Or maybe both. Because that’s what relationships are all about.

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