Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fear of food

Well, not exactly fear of food, but rather fear of eating the wrong food.
Patients must adhere to a restricted diet after transplant. It’s a low-bacteria diet ruling out many of the things I love. No fresh fruit (although thick-skinned fruit is OK). No salads. No take-out pizza. No fresh bakery items. No turkey sandwiches from the deli; actually no deli food at all unless you get the meat prepackaged, which just isn’t the same.
All vegetables must be cooked. No fresh pepper, though cooked pepper is OK. Did I miss anything? Probably.
Fear of eating the wrong food haunts other people too – dieters, athletes, dancers, diabetics and others must all watch their intake carefully.
The more you focus on avoiding certain foods, the more you want them. I crave the crunch an apple and the taste of summer that comes from eating a juicy ripe tomato or a plump blueberry. I’ve gotten pretty creative about cooking up tomatoes and making blueberry pancakes and muffins, but you get tired of going to all that trouble.
I cook well enough when it comes to the basics, and I can follow a recipe, but I don’t have a feel for what I’m doing. So I usually mess it up if I try to wing it somewhere along the line. If a recipe has too many steps, I get nervous and go on to something else. And when a recipe starts with “preheat oven,” I never do that first because I have to concentrate so hard on following the steps, I’d waste too much gas if I turned the oven on when they wanted me to.
My friend Deb, who is a real cook, lent me “The Classic Pasta Cookbook,” by Giuliano Hazan. It’s beautifully illustrated with photos of various types of pasta and ingredients, and its recipes are easy to follow.
I decided to make Spaghetti Alla Carbonara. To protect my weak immune system from germs, I can’t go into stores. So Deb got me the ingredients I didn’t have: flat-leaf parsley, good parmesan, and, instead of pancetta, good-quality, individually sliced pieces of bacon. The recipe called for egg yolks, but raw eggs would be a clear no-no, so she said I could boil the eggs briefly. She had something to do, so I was on my own.
It took a couple of tries to get the eggs right. Then, as directed, I mixed them with hand-grated cheese and salt. I was supposed to add parsley to that mixture, but we decided I would throw it in with the cooking bacon.
With bacon sizzling away nicely, mixed with white wine, I glanced at the cookbook and noticed that I had forgotten one thing in the egg/cheese mixture: black pepper. So I threw it in. And stared in dismay at what I had done. Even though I had read the recipe through, I had forgotten that I would not be cooking the egg mixture. All was ruined! No raw pepper allowed! First I tried to pick out the pepper, but it was no use. So I decided I would try to salvage the dish with a quick zap in the microwave.
The egg and cheese mixture quickly congealed, leaving me with clumps instead of a nice sauce with which to coat the bacon and pasta.
I stirred it all together and ate it anyway, because it was late and I was hungry.
It wasn’t great.
The next day my friend Jim Bloom gave me a bag filled with cherry tomatoes from his garden. For lunch I brought back last night’s ruined dinner. Now I wasn’t trying so hard because I figured it couldn’t get much worse. So I sautéed the tomatoes in olive oil with onions. Then I threw in some olives. And grated some more cheese. And tossed everything together.
It was much better than the night before. Actually, it was pretty good.
Everyone knows leftovers can taste better than the first time around.
But I found a little moral in the evolution of Pasta Dish #2 from Pasta Dish #1.
Sometimes the harder you try, the worse the outcome.
If you loosen up a little, the results can be much better.


Siu'saidh said...

Well, I'm the worse cook ever. I rely on Bird's Eye Frozen Chicken Garlic with pasta for many meals, especially once I start back to work. It's really not too bad. Served in a nice bowl it looks like I made it from scratch.
I know what you mean when you say the more you can't have what you want to eat, the more you crave it.
One's relationship with food is many faceted. It is nourishment and comfort. Trying to keep your mind off of what you really want to eat must be very difficult. I'm sure it's not always easy to think of the consquences and talk yourself into wanting something else.
There should be a cookbook for people with a suppressed immune system.
-With all your cooking experimentation maybe you will write one someday.

PJ said...

Good to see your blog up and running again! Who knew food could be so scary. Hey, your creations sound much better than the frozen Stouffers at DFCI. I have to avert my eyes from those in the frozen food section.