Monday, January 25, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

I used to love to cook but this whole thing is wearing on me.

My husband, Mufasa, is sneaking cold cheese curds at the kitchen counter and my 3-year-old daughter is in tears over a denied request for a peanut butter sandwich. The fact that it's almost dinner time has nothing to do with it. My 22-month-old son, Roo, has severe food allergies. No peanut butter for Roo. No cheese curds either.

After nine excruciating months of unexplained food aversion, weight loss, vomiting, and frantic night-waking, Roo was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE). Simply put, EoE is an allergy that causes inflammation in the esophagus to the point that food can become lodged there. The worst part is that my baby suffered silently for months, always hungry, yet unable to eat due to the burning in his tiny throbbing chest. The good news is that now that we know, we're dealing with it.

Roo's EoE is food-based. He follows a strict elimination diet including no traces of dairy, eggs, nuts, or beef. Thankfully the diet seems to be working and we are thrilled that he hasn't needed more invasive measures such as tube-feeding. Still, the impact his diet has had on his appetite and our family in general is tremendous.

No more peanut butter sandwiches for my preschooler, no weekend breakfasts out at our favorite dive, no macaroni and cheese, no more “real” cheese at all. This last bit is particularly difficult for my husband who is pre-diabetic and until recently, considered cheese the mainstay of his diet.

As the daughter of a chef and a restaurateur, these concepts are completely foreign to me. I like to cook. I love to bake. I live to eat. My own childhood was spent napping under the candy counter at our family's pizza shop, baking peanut butter cookies with my mother, and sticking my fingers into all sorts of mysterious and no doubt egg-laden sauces.

Through both of my pregnancies I worried about all sorts of nightmarish scenarios, some completely rational, others not so much.  I lost sleep over the prospect of scalding bath water.  I had visions of inadvertently poking a sharp object through the soft spot on the top of my newborn's head. I feared my own borderline childhood obesity would manifest in my children. I suspected each smiling store clerk of being a knife-wielding maniac who cut babies out of pregnant abdomens.  You get the idea. Never once did I fear that I wouldn't be able to nourish my children. I had trained my whole life for this. I couldn't wait to nurse and eventually to make my own organic baby food.

I have cabinets bursting with cookbooks featuring luscious frittatas, creamy stews, and cakes iced slicker than seal skin. Food is my gig. I never dreamed that I would struggle to provide healthy, delicious, satiating meals to my entire family and the fact that often I cannot is crushing. I pour over allergy-free and diabetic-friendly cookbooks looking for that one allowable, nourishing, crowd-pleasing meal. Thanks to frequent substitutions and specialty grocery stores, I'm getting better and learning as I go. For now, however, I assure you I have the best fed garbage can on the block.