The blog title should have a Sarcasm Alert:
25 or so years ago, I gave over cooking. I wasn’t particularly good at it, although during my wifely/mothering days, I gamely (and grimly) did it. But no one in the family was ever particularly impressed with my cooking; I grew up with a meat/potatoes/canned peas eating style, and a mother who dreaded cooking and who cooked for a family that also wasn’t particularly impressed with her work. One of my most famed stories involves my gentle, loving mother picking up a plate of spaghetti with what we all knew was the aim of throwing it at my dinner-time-gruff, slightly fearsome father. It was a defining moment in my life .
However, when daughter Jan was diagnosed with a recurrence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and spent one afternoon at our house looking like a wraith, I realized it was time to reevaluate my old stance on cooking. She needed fed.
Neither Jan nor Rick, her husband, are cooks. Neither seems to like eating very much, although because they are awesomely athletic — riding bikes everywhere, climbing mountains, attending marathon performances and athletic events of friends — they must eat.
With Jan’s illness, however, and both of them continuing to work, they seemed to have no time or energy to cook — and, because of the chemo treatments, Jan had no appetite.
The food problem was complicated by other elements. Jan has a number of food allergies, as well as a diet that is helping to heal a stomach lining problem. The diet, called GAPS, is what I think of “Atkins on steroids” — high fat, high protein foods, soaked, boiled and simmered, for hours. Jan’s diet allows no grains, no legumes, no dairy, and no simple sugars (honey is allowed). It calls for meat, meat stock, meat marrow (all cooked without flour and often for long periods of time on simmer), organic vegetables, mostly cooked, lots of nuts, nut bread, nut flour (all prepared from scratch, beginning with a soaking of the nuts for 4 — 16 hours) and coconut goodies (made from unsweetened coconut flakes, soaked for at least 4 hours and then blended to make coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut oil, coconut flour, and coconut ice cream and cupcakes).
Any of Jan’s friends would have gladly cooked for her, but given the restrictions of her diet and their own mid-lives — children and husbands and jobs — they couldn’t manage. I could.
First I had to persuade Jan this was a good idea, but, as she noted recently, I tricked her by pretending I would do minimal stuff, just a little to help out. But I’m not good at minimalism, and this was my dear dear friend and daughter, Jan, who needed to be coaxed, tricked, cajoled, and brought to eating. So, I said I would cook a little just twice a week (that was the trick); I started on an “off” day, Saturday, which then continued to be a third day of cooking. And I knew that my aim was to provide enough food that she and possibly Rick could eat without cooking the entire week. I also knew that they had their own routines that would give them sustenance if they found my cooking inedible. This was a comfort.
So, with blessings on Google and the internet, I started the research. I found the GAPS website, I found recipes from families of ten who home-schooled while soaking coconut flakes, I found cheerful souls who wrote at length about coconut flour, and Jan lent me her pristine GAPS cookbook, Internal Bliss.
The first obvious problem was logistics. I don’t drive or shop, but I was The Cook. That meant that I found recipes, wrote down ingredients (organic squash, organic peas, organic orange juice, organic cranberries, organic walnuts, beef roast, pork roast, turkey breast) and wrote down what I hoped were appropriate amounts of goods (deduced from the recipes for families of ten). Then Jer, hunter-gatherer in the family, found stores from which to buy them. He also made friends with butchers in our Portland health-food stores and discovered things like creamed organic coconut, not necessarily front and center on groc shelves.
We both feel triumphant that we found everything I thought would be appropriate except for organic celery root. [I’ll grant you I did decide against bone marrow stock (Jan was nauseated just thinking about it), homemade yogurt and ghee (which she also nixed), and lactofermented vegetables, something I never even attempted.]
Some of the funniest moments of this part of the venture were the intersection between my list of ingredients and Jer’s decisions about what to buy. When the recipe said 3-4 beets, I wrote down “3-4 organic beets.” Jer noted that the organic beets he found were about 10 inches in diameter, so he bought only 3. Which was a Good Thing. I had had a brain-lapse, using an amount from a recipe meant for ten or so. And Jan is not fond of beets, particularly pureed, although she only admitted it sometime later. Jer cooked soup with beets for us for the next few weeks until I finally composted the last one, with a sigh of relief and a dining out story.
The other part of the logistics involved packing and delivery. Jan and Rick are philosophically and emotionally opposed to plastics except where necessary. And we wished to honor their principles as much as possible (although in the photo above, you can see that on the day I took that picture, someone (!!) had forgotten the cloth bags that Jer uses for food shopping — I think those are left-over bags into which the refrigerated vegetables get put so they don’t wilt.)
Here’s a couple of the basic containers we finally acquired enough of:
We should have bought Pyrex stock.
Amazing what you can stuff into old-fashioned canning jars.
The logistics included me making out the grocery lists, Jer shopping, me cooking, and Jer delivering the food. Jan, we hoped, ate it, or lots of it, and perhaps Rick and/or the cat got some leftovers. We got no feedback except for a couple of “yums” on the ingredient list, and once, when we sent along chicken stock which had a tad of flour in it, a note saying something like “No flour, please, please, please.”
The typical delivery had the food containers loaded into a roasting pan, which Jer could carry and put into the car and which kept food from spills (or contained them.) Mostly there was only one roasting pan, although at the height of the cooking, I think three went out the door. The sheet of paper was to inform Jan of every ingredient in each dish; the blue tape was to tape the ingredient list and notes to their frig, because often neither Jan nor Rick were home when the delivery was made. White masking tape was used to label the dishes and to put the dates on them.
The bits of blue taped to the glass bowls became important as our households started to mingle glass containers more and more. I grew desperate to find containers for the food (note the plastic wrap on the top of the savory dish, something I wanted to avoid, but often couldn’t). But after some weeks both households knew that anything with a blue dab of tape was to be set aside for Jer to bring back home when he delivered new dishes.
By about week 5, the systems — research, recipes, trickery, containers, shopping and delivery logistics, and knowledge of prep necessities — were in place.
Of course, I haven’t spoken about the actual prep and cooking yet, so this is a to-be-continued post. –June