To quote the late, great Erma Bombeck, “I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.” In fact, I can still remember waking up as a child in my Grandma’s house to the intoxicating smells emanating from her kitchen. Sunday breakfast usually consisted of bacon and eggs, hand-cut hash browns, and Lord Almighty, her sausage gravy. Gravy so thick and full of flavor, it could have been a meal by itself. The recollection of her pan gravy slathered over fried pork chops and buttered mashed potatoes, still leaves me weak in the knees. Truth is, I get a bit misty eyed when I think back on those meals.
My romance with food and cooking began in her kitchen. My maternal Grandmother was my muse, and I her sous chef. Beginning in the middle 1970’s, around the age of four, I got my first job cutting homemade biscuits with a “Sure Fine” orange juice can. I rolled and cut the dough, while Grandma made the sausage gravy out of a slurry of flour and a few tablespoons of rendered pork fat. My Grandpa made me a little wooden step stool, (which I still have) so I could reach the countertop and take part in her creations. I also had the job of setting the table for all of my aunts, uncles, or cousins who came to feast on Friday or Saturday nights. I felt useful, loved, and proud.
It’s not that my Grandma loved to cook, in fact she hated it. Back then it was too expensive to eat out, there were no microwave ovens, and no pre-packaged meals ready in 30 minutes or less. Meals required effort and getting your hands dirty. What she did love was having her family around her. She had the satisfaction of feeding those hungry souls who gathered together, nourished by her food, sharing their memories and laughter.
In the early 90’s, I left for college and was one of the rare few (besides my friend Amy) who knew how to do more than boil water for mac-n-cheese. For Thanksgiving, my junior year, my roommates and I decided to stay at school and have our own “Friendsgiving.” With a guest list of twenty-two, it was certainly the biggest crowd I had ever cooked for. While it was mostly a potluck, I was in charge of the essentials: the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, (of course) and a sausage stuffing that was commensurate with my friend’s mothers and grandmothers.
The following spring, my roommate told me about a cooking position at a hip new brew pub in town and encouraged me to apply. I went the next day and was hired as a prep cook. I was in heaven! Aside from keeping the front line stocked with their essentials, I became a ninja with a knife. I learned the difference between a Béchamel and Beurre Blanc, and became an alchemist of all things soup and salad. Within a few months I requested to move up front and become a line cook. Chef agreed, and I became the only female line cook in the restaurant.
A few years later I left the fast paced, high stress restaurant business, and went to work at an awesome, happy hippie health food store. Suddenly, I was learning about antioxidants, micro-nutrients and the healing power of herbs. I stocked my kitchen with Seiten, TVP and Acidophilus. I ate things like Keifer cheese, Spirulina, and rocked me some tofu burritos. I learned that I didn’t need to eat dead animals for protein and iron. I became a vegetarian, and was reborn.
But as they often do, all good things must end. After college, I headed home to start grad school and moved back in with my folks. My dad, swearing that I was “too thin,” took me to eat REAL food at a favorite barbecue restaurant. Begrudgingly, I gagged down a few ribs, and suffered through stomach pains for hours afterward. I tried to eat healthy foods when I could, but working full-time and going to grad school full-time, I found it easier to run through a drive-thru and worry about healthy eating later.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, until my late 20’s, I was a perfect bill of health. I could eat McDonald’s, drink beer, and have a midnight snack whenever I wanted. I never gained a pound. And then at 29, I got married. After two years of eating cheese and sausage for dinner, drinking boxed wines, and sucking down a many microbrew with my new hubby, I had gained 16 pounds! Two kids later, I had gained another 15 pounds. But it was baby number three at 41 that was the game changer. Suddenly the weight would not come off, and I began to get sick… Really sick.
After lots of Google searches, I discovered that I had “silent reflux” in my last pregnancy. In other words, I had GERD, but didn’t know it was GERD, because the typical burning associated with it was conspicuously absent. The silent reflux (likely caused from a hiatal hernia) triggered my bronchial nerve, setting off severe asthma attacks. I was put on an inhaled steroid and albuterol for the last few months of pregnancy. I had my own nebulizer, and more than one trip to the emergency room because I couldn’t breathe. But because it was undiagnosed “reflux” and not true asthma, nothing the doctors prescribed helped. In fact, they made things worse. The steroids caused my blood sugar to skyrocket, leaving me with gestational diabetes and insulin shots. I became a high risk pregnancy and had to be seen twice a week by a Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) physician, with weekly ultrasounds. In the end I delivered a healthy, 6 lb. 11 oz. beautiful baby girl. But my list of chronic ills only began to pile up.
I suffered with a post nasal drip cough, and multiple bouts of sinusitis due to chronic sinus congestion. I was often up for hours in the middle of the night (every night) drinking water just to clear my throat, leaving me tired and lethargic during the day. That first year after the baby was born, my doctor had prescribed me antibiotics four times. The horrible joint pain I had in both knees, actually led me to have a medical procedure called PRP. And the pain in my hands was so bad I could scarcely bend my fingers without recoiling in agony. I was told that I was likely on the precipice of having either Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) or Lupus. My menstrual cycles were a crime scene. In fact, I was afraid to leave the house the first day because of such extreme bleeding. I soon developed a severe iron deficiency. My nails were cracked and brittle, my hair had stopped growing, and I could hardly catch my breath when walking up the stairs. I was miserable and had become a shadow of the person I once was.
Then one day while at my Chiropractor’s office office, I began coughing. I apologized and explained to Dr. Bryan Joseph that I was constantly stuffed up and the drainage was worse when I was on my back. Dr. Bryan asked me if I had ever been tested for a dairy allergy and encouraged me to meet with his wife Dr. Olivia Joseph, a fellow chiropractor and nutritionist. On my way out, I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Olivia, and another appointment to have my blood drawn for a comprehensive food allergy test. Little did I know how that brief conversation with Dr. Joseph would change my life forever.
Next time on “All Shook Up”… The IgG blood test and my unexpected results.