The Joy of Cooking, part 1

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

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21 Responses to The Joy of Cooking, part 1

  1. june says:

    Jan — Glad to hear there are other non-cooks out in the world. It turns out that one’s training kicks in even when denied for years and years. Who would have thought? And of course, Jer was essential to the process — I get to write the narrative, so it tends to focus on the kitchen. His narrative, I suspect, would be somewhat different (shorter, for one thing:-))

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  2. june says:

    Thanks, All.

    Cynthia, I have a somewhat wry story about “moms like me” which will probably come at the end of this saga. More to come, even after the most recent announcement:-)

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  3. Olga says:

    Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, certainly not planned for, comes an ‘adventure’ which takes over one’s life: thinking, doing, habit-forming, and the deep well of family. I hope that this multi-faceted distraction brings much satisfaction all round.

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    • june says:

      Thank you, Olga. I know you have gone through a much more harrowing experience recently; I hope this didn’t bring back too many bad memories. It’s astonishing to me, now that I’ve cut back on the cooking, how in just a few months, habits got ingrained so deeply that I find myself at a loss to know what to do at those moments when I plunged into the chopping and simmering and pureeing. I can’t imagine what must happen when the habits of years are suddenly taken away. I thought about you a lot during the worst of this process.

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  4. Cynthia Wenslow says:

    My husband is a polymer scientist and inventor currently researching endocrine disruptors in plastics. BPA is just one of many thousands of substances in plastics that are potentially really bad. The amazing part is that it is possible to make plastics free of all endocrine disrupting chemicals for roughly the same cost, yet most manufacturers of home goods won’t change because nobody has demanded it yet. Once people started refusing to buy products with BPA they were almost immediately pulled.

    Anyway, we are careful about what plastics we have in the house and how we use them. Hint: never microwave food in a plastic container, and never store food in plastic containers you have put in the dishwasher.

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    • june says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. We never microwave food in plastic containers (and did not microwave anything for Jan whatsoever). And we don’t have a dishwasher — well, not one who doesn’t use his digits and a cloth and hot water:-) Good advice, though.

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  5. What I forgot to mention is that plastics are covered pthalates.

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  6. It makes sense not to use plastics for storing food. Two events made that clear to me many years ago: (1) attending a seminar discussing the proliferation of peroxisomes in the rat liver due to feeding phtalates to these critters and (2) purifying lipids using plastic tips on pipetters gave rise to phtalates in NMR spectra. Now, I mainly use phalates in painting, such as Phthalo Blues. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/747.pdf

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    • june says:

      Thanks, Birgit, for commenting. We never cook in plastics and don’t do most of our storing in it. but it does keep celery from going limp and frozen berries easy to handle. Your comments on painting are also intriguing. I’m saving the URL for when I’m not cooking:-)

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  7. Elizabeth Bourne says:

    This sounds excellent! Janet pointed me to this as I am on a ketogenic diet for epilepsy and I suspect that we cook many of the same things (although I can’t eat quite so many vegies). Kudos to you for your hard work. Almond meal makes great pancakes, and has become a favorite of mine.

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    • june says:

      I think I sent your almond pancake recipe to Jan before I started to cook for her. She is definitely at a disadvantage, having had me as the chief cook for her defining youth — she had no luck at all with the almond pancakes. But we’re going to do some cooking together, soon, I hope, and once I’ve taught her how to make coconut custard, we’ll turn to the materials they call flour. Coconut flour is not like any flour I’ve ever encountered; and since I seemed to accrue it fast and was too stingy to throw it out, I learned to make cupcakes with it. And there, the learning curve was, um, interesting. Even Janet was puzzled by the difficulties and I figured nothing about baking could stump her. Her comment, by the way, was “Cooks improvise; bakers measure.” But those bakers don’t use coconut flour, methinks.

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  8. I’m reminded of your venture into soybeans for the milk you would soak your silk in. I bet that looks easy now in comparison. You get many gold stars on your mother ratings.

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    • june says:

      Oh, yeah, Sheila, soybeans to soak silk in — piece of cake. Better than cake, in fact. But about those mother ratings — wait til the last installment for my mixed-up feelings about that.

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  9. Lia says:

    I loved reading this post! So much good, juicy narrative stuff here (sarcasm duly noted!). I especially like the title of the cookbook. If only….

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    • june says:

      Lia, the title cracked me up, particularly as the bliss was not getting to my innards. And I suspect that bone marrow juice for breakfast would not seem blissful to the most dedicated eater…. Thanks for checking in.

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  10. debhollister says:

    June, this is love in action! What a wonderful thing to do for Jan.

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  11. jan2bratt says:

    Wow, what loving dedication! Being a non-cook myself, I can understand your discomfort with becoming the main chef in this instance. You have really stepped up to the bat (base?) on this one and surely your efforts are vastly appreciated, even if not commented much upon. Kudos too to Jerry for his taking of of this task.

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    • june says:

      There’s a reply to your comment on the website, Jan. I forgot to go to the correct place to officially “reply”, but I didn’t say anything important — except it’s very nice to know there are other non-cooks out there:-)

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  12. Cynthia Wenslow says:

    I applaud your care of your daughter, June. Everyone should be blessed with a Mom like you!

    Wish I were closer, as I love to cook and do much special needs diet foods. But it sounds like you managed. Of course, I haven’t read the cooking part yet. 😉

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