Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gluten-Free Girl (Shauna James Ahern)

When I was pregnant, I kept telling Jim the list of foods (foods I currently wasn't eating due to safety recommendations) I was going to eat once Noah was born. High on the list was a wonderful fried-egg breakfast sandwich at a local restaurant, complete with yummy soft French cheese. I was thinking I'd get this sandwich in the first few weeks after giving birth. I still haven't gotten to eat this sandwich. Much like myself as a baby, Noah and dairy are not friends. Meaning that I have to take a lengthy vacation from it as well. (Most babies outgrow this dairy intolerance in their first two years of life. My fingers are crossed that this happens sooner rather than later, but it was the full two years for myself.)

It turns out that avoiding all dairy, especially in packaged food, is very hard. Down low on a lengthy list of ingredients can be hiding whey power or milk protein. But I cannot even imagine how hard it must be for someone who couldn't eat gluten. Because it's not even listed on products that can contain it, which is something I didn't know until I had read Gluten-Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern. (Astute readers may realize that this is another blogger who wrote a book, and I'll just let you know right now that there are two other blogger books on hold at the library. Apparently I'm going through a phase.)

Ahern's celiac disease went undiagnosed for a long time. She was often tired and generally not feeling well. When she realized her symptoms may very well be signs of celiac disease, she couldn't get her doctor to run the test. (He told her it was a rare disease, which is completely wrong.) Most people would have been quite upset to find out they could never eat bread again (I know I certainly would've taken the news hard as a freshly baked piece of bread, toasted and buttered, is one of my favorite things in this world), but given how much better Ahern was feeling, for the first time in her life really, she embraced it.

Ahern writes beautifully in this book about re-discovering food, much of it local, seasonal food, and how she's adapted to a gluten-free life. This is a great book, well-written, engaging, but I will say that I visited her blog after finishing the book, and it looks like some parts of the book existed as blog postings in various forms prior to the book's publication, so if you are a fan of her blog, there may not be a lot of new material here.

She also includes near the end the story of how she met her husband, the chef, as she calls him. Not that I want to give too much away here, but how can you get much better than this: Her husband (at the time her boyfriend), the chef at a small, fabulous restaurant? Yeah, he ends up making the entire menu at his restaurant gluten-free. How absolutely incredible is that? Sigh. They should make their love story into a movie. I'd go see it, and I'm sure I'd end up crying at that part.

Hungry Monkey (Matthew Amster-Burton)

Noah is just a few days away from getting his hands on some solid food. Well, except, technically he's already had his first solid food: a small chunk of the service program at the Unitarian church on Mother's Day. Oh well.

The "first" of what will be a lifetime of non-liquid foods can be a little stressful for well-meaning parents. Iron-fortified rice cereal? Jarred food? Mashed bananas? The intricacies of these choices are expounded upon in Web sites, blender-specific homemade baby food books, and pamphlets given out at the doctor's office. Do this (strain, steam, vegetables-before-fruit, wait four days between new foods). Don't do this (possible allergens, unsanitized cookware, vegetables with nitrates). Thank goodness for friends with second children and for Matthew Amster-Burton's book Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.

Amster-Burton is a writer (also a blogger) who lives in Seattle with his wife and his four-year-old daughter, Iris. I got this book for my birthday (thank you, Sue!) because I had known a little about Amster-Burton's writing through the Web site Serious Eats, and I thought it might be handy for when Noah reached the solid-food stage.

When she was around one-year old, Iris would eat just about anything, loving especially very spicy food. Sushi, spicy Thai noodles, enchiladas, you name it. Amster-Burton was thrilled, thinking he had done all the right things as a parent. And then she got older. And pickier. Just like most other kids, he learned. But even then he still tries to make a meal everyone can enjoy at dinner time, with some modification, and he shares those tips in the book. A stay-at-home dad, Amster-Burton reads Working Mother, and Iris at one point isn't actually sure her mother can cook. (She can do that? She says, in disbelief, when the idea is mentioned.) This reminds me of my sister Betsy, whose oldest daughter once complained to her father that when he was away on a business trip, Betsy made them eat cereal for breakfast. Cereal.

Some of my favorite things I've taken away from this book are that, for Iris (and I'm guessing Noah given his current behavior at the dinner table), there was a very small window of time where Amster-Burton and his wife could eat their own meal while Iris at prepared baby food. She wanted their food. So he finely chopped a portion of their meal for her, with salt and spices. In preparation for the toddler years, I'm also going to try to keep in mind a quote from Ellyn Satter that Amster-Burton draws attention to (I'm paraphrasing here): once you put the plate in front of your child, your work is done. So Zenlike, and I'm sure so hard to follow given the behavior that follows.