So now that the doctors have proclaimed me healthy, the foods I can actually eat have grown exponentially. What I haven’t mentioned to my doctors is that I never actually stopped eating those “no-no” foods; I just cut way back on them. I did give up alcohol for five, six ohhh seven years but whose counting. Me. I am. I’m counting, that’s who. Hi I’m Jeri and I’m not an alcoholic and it’s been 6 years, 7 months and 11 days since the day the doctor told me to stop drinking and the day I actually drank in public. Wait… I mean, the day I had a nice big glass of wine followed by two fingers of Scotch that was so good, I breathed orange zest and got chills up my spine (true story!). Okay, okay. I confess. I had a few lapses with the alcohol, too. For example, that lovely pint of Magners the, uhhh, few times I went up to Auld Shebeen that beckoned to me might have been consumed a time or two. And by few I mean one, three, um, okay many times that I might have imbibed against doctors orders whilst eating at my favorite Irish pub. And who can forget that one night in that random bar in San Francisco in April of 2009? But it’s okay. It didn’t count. I was on vacation! And everyone knows that whatever you do on vacation STAYS on vacation. It’s like eating standing up, in front of the refrigerator with the door open. NEGATIVE CALORIES BABY! Booze and vacation are the same way. If you didn’t throw up, it doesn’t count. That’s my story. I’m sticking to it.
All joking and stories that are probably causing my Mom to breathe fire just thinking about how I abused my already damaged liver aside, until recently, my alcohol intake has been next to nothing. When you count eleven pints, glasses or shots of something over the span of six plus years, we’re talking about very little alcohol intake. If you count the fact that I’m of Irish descent, it’s so miniscule it doesn’t count and any good Irishman and woman would back me up on that one. My food intake has waxed and waned over the years depending on my level of sickness and tolerance level towards fat, carbs, protein or anything that wasn’t chicken broth. During those same six years, Drue has gone through food phases that includes four weeks of eating only tofu chicken nuggets and broccoli, her two month vegan kick, her one month Amy’s Organic Mac N’ Cheese fest, her olive fetish and the god awful week of requiring a hot dog served with every meal. Add to that an unrelenting round of doctors’ appointments, hospital trips, insane 50/60/70/80 plus hour work weeks, social activities, and other responsibilities, we’ve been living the fast food to table life. A lot of that is because I stopped enjoying the food prep process. I’ll be the first to tell you that I absolutely do not enjoy putting a lot of effort into a meal I know my body is not going to let me eat and enjoy. That may sound selfish and I’m sure there are many mothers out there who are all about providing self-sacrifice and providing their children with balanced, nutritional three to five course meals regardless of whether that meal comes with its own return ticket but I am not one of them. So we ordered in a lot. We ate out a lot. We ate a lot of Boca burgers, tofu nuggets and Amy’s bowls. And I ate a lot of crap. And something weird happened. I stopped caring about food. I actually stopped enjoying food and food became this thing I had to DEAL WITH three times a day. Or rather, not deal with it.
The odd thing is I used not to be this way and I blame the lack of alcohol in my life a little. When I learned to cook in the mid 90s, I really enjoyed the idea of cooking a great meal, pairing it with a great wine and having this really great gastronomical experience when I sat down to eat a meal. Sure I grabbed and ran a lot. I was single, I was busy and breakfast was usually the meal that paid for that. I think I ate yogurt with a handful of granola thrown into the mix and a cup of coffee for 2 years straight around 10 AM when my stomach and head screamed “ENOUGH!!!”. Lunch was always a pleasant affair filled with friends, conversation and occasionally a glass of wine. Dinner was always a good thing. I dated a bit and dated guys who could afford to take me to nice places. I cooked at home with my Greek roommate (who was an AHHH_mazing cook) and we made enough food for an army which meant friends had to come over to imbibe. The house rule was BYOBWOD (bring your own bottle of wine or dessert) an we spent many an evening eating, drinking and then recovering long enough to get dressed, go out and drink some more. Weekends were meals with my grandparents when my Memaw was alive and, once I had Drue, the habitual Sunday dinner at Mom’s eating good old fashioned Southern yumminess. Friends owned various restaurants in and around Raleigh and Chapel Hill so we always had a fun place to go eat where we were known. I went all Martha Stewart the first few years I was married which means meals were homemade, fresh and on the table, hot and ready to eat, three times a day. When we moved to Cleveland, we made new friends with various restaurant owners but then I got sick. And then I kept getting sick and as each doctor changed their diagnosis, the type and amount of food I could consume got more and more specific. Alcohol, which I confess I do enjoy when out and about socially or with a meal, was verbotin. And after running the gamut of vegetarian, macrobiotic, vegan, no carbs, all carbs and carbs only on random Tuesdays, I was SICK of food and food was making me sick. By the time we moved back to North Carolina in 2004, food had become the enemy.
All of that changed last Christmas with a single dish. I made Macaroni and Cheese with Truffles, a relatively easy dish and one I thought might lure Drue away from boxed, powdery macaroni and cheese crap and over to the shredded cheese and creamy yumminess I remembered from my childhood. Talk about a taste explosion. The cheese sauce was creamy, sour and sharp all at the same time. The truffles were rich, peaty and earthy and combined with the cheese awoke my taste buds like a fire rocket. Then Christmas was over, the reality of the cost of truffles made it impossible to rotate this amazing dish into our weekly (or even monthly) food rotation, I went back on medication that made everything taste a little metallic in my mouth and I got busy. Food went to the back burner and became this thing to procure three times a day again. Delivery menus appeared in the junk drawer and online menus were bookmarked in my browser. And then Drue asked to go to a really stellar steakhouse for her birthday and I had another awakening. Epic Roasthouse is a lovely restaurant located on the Embarcadero with amazing views of the Bay Bridge. When I made the reservation, I let them know it was Drue’s birthday and hoped they would provide some accommodation in our seating choice to ensure she had a view during dinner. To say they went above and beyond is putting it mildly. On top of that,the food was sheer perfection from the three types of sea salt offered to the bread procured during our meal to the wine. From the first briny bite of oysters on the half shell, to the amazing cuts of beef, served with succulent asparagus and truffled whipped potatoes, the entire meal was pure pleasure. The ambiance of the restaurant, the view as the sun went down and the Bay Bridge lit up, the attentive service, the unasked for but beautiful dessert provided to Drue with “Happy Birthday” scripted in chocolate on the plate, created a culinary event the likes of which was experienced so long ago, I can’t even remember it. It was, and I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek, epic.
But then life happened and I got busy again and the daily routine began again. After four weeks of eating forgettable meals full of empty calories and questionable nutritional value, I finally decided ENOUGH. I’m tired of the nightly round table of “what do you want… I don’t care” meal discussion. I’m tired of getting the bulk of my nutrition from vitamins. I’m tired of eating as if it is one more thing on my to-do list to get through today. And I’m tired of not enjoying the occasional glass of wine because my caloric intake was shot by lunch time because of the easily attainable crap I put in my body between the hours of 6:30 AM and 2:00 in the afternoon. I miss eating for pleasure and getting a nutritional jump start from it. I miss seeing a rainbow of colors on my plate. I miss having courses with soup, salad, meat and vegetables. I miss sitting down at a table and having a conversation as opposed to in front of a television. And I miss my glass or two of wine that complements what I’ve prepared and served beautifully. I miss creating ambiance and deriving pleasure in the act of preparing, the act of consuming and the act of cleaning up as opposed to shoving something into my mouth because my belly is dictating I do so. I miss the simple pleasure of sitting down to a meal and having an enjoyable experience. With that in mind, we’re going to finish building the outside room this weekend, put together and stain our furniture and create an area that will allow us to dine outside regardless of the weather. And each week I am going to put together delicious, nutritional courses that creates a lovely meal for me and my friends and family to enjoy. I’m going to find restaurants and get to know the chefs and start finding places that become “ours” that serve delicious, local food, a wonderful selection of wine and ambiance that adds to the sensory delight of the overall experience. This is probably not going to happen every meal. It’s probably not even going to occur every single night. I don’t think, given the insane busyness of my life, that even saying it will happen eight meals out of ten is realistic. But for two or three meals a week, my goal is to create something delicious, simple and pleasing to my senses. My body’s been through sheer, undeniable hell the last few years. It is probably a good idea to treat it like a temple occasionally and see if I can rediscover the simple pleasure of enjoying food in the process.