I realized a few days ago that I was in stage 4 of the 7 stages of grief, "depression, reflection and loneliness". Yes, I know I did not lose a loved one, and I thank G-d I am not experiencing grief in that way. But when I look back over the past couple of months since Lillie's diagnosis, I do see that I am "mourning" both her diagnosis of celiac disease and, I suppose, the relative simplicity of her and my life before. Here is how the stages of grief have related to my dealing with her diagnosis (thank you to www.recover-from-grief.com for the outline):
1. SHOCK & DENIAL: How can this be? I thought at worst she was lactose intolerant! Perhaps the blood test isn't conclusive. But noone in our families has had this disease.
2. PAIN & GUILT: Why did it take me a year to go to a specialist? I thought she was complaining about her stomache every morning for the attention, or to get out of school. Why didn't I push the issue with her pediatrician after she told me it was normal at her age to get frequent stomach aches, "growing pains" and all that. Give her some crackers when she wakes up to settle her stomache, she said. If I had acted sooner my baby would not have been in pain for so long.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING: Why did G-d give me this challenge when I have already cut out half a dozen foods from our diet to acomodate Rosie's needs? Why her?! What a pain! Maybe that gastroenterologist was wrong. I'm switching to one who is renowned. Perhaps he will see something else. Maybe that other doctor was wrong.
4. "DEPRESSION", REFLECTION, LONELINESS: I hate the way these rice noodles taste. I just want to have a normal piece of cake made with eggs, butter and flour. We can't possibly go to our friends for dinner because there is no way they can be careful enough so as Lillie isn't writhing in pain the next morning. I guess we'll never eat out again. What's this? A birthday party invitation...how am I going to deal with this? Maybe it's easier if Lillie just doesn't go. How awful am I for thinking that?
5. THE UPWARD TURN: See below.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH: I need to focus on what can be done to make Lillie whole again, and provide her with her nutritional needs.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE: It will be ok. Thank you G-d for giving me this challenge so I can stretch myself and grow.
What got me out of the "funk" of stage four and into the "upward turn" of stage 5? Shauna James Ahern, author of The Gluten Free Girl . And liver. But first, about the book. I have been reading Ms. Ahern's book for the past week and a half, and was very much inspired by her view that getting celiac disease was a gift. She had felt generally lousy much of her life, and was acutely sick for a year and a half before her diagnosis. A mere 3 days after going gluten free, a caul lifted from her life and she felt fantastic, and could go on living full life. But she lived differently: she ate better, achieved that which she had been striving for so long professionally, and found true love. She does not view celiac disease as something that cripples her, rather as something that has enhanced her life. And all along it was so simply achieved, by that which she puts in her mouth, with her own hand. No major medical procedure or a life of swallowing prescription drugs. Just food. Pure and simple.
The author inspired me as well to care for myself better through the simple act of eating. She taught me that all things being equal, physical well being can often be a result of responsible eating. With the individual having the responsibility of nurturing themselves with what they put into their body.
Secondly, she reminded me that yes, I can cook, and I can cook well and innovatively, so why am I mourning the fact that certain foods are off limits. So what if I can't make cookies with wheat flour? I've learned how to make melt in your mouth cakes without eggs for Rosie. I've done it before and moved into a place where it was second nature to the cooking process. Why can't I do that again? When I began telling my loved ones about Lillie's diagnosis a common response was, "Well, if anyone's equipped to deal with this, you are." "Great, now you can write a gluten free cookbook; what a help that will be to others." Inside my response was, "Gaaaah! She was just diagnosed a month ago and you have me writing a book already!" Outside, I smiled weakly. But now I see their confidence in me did not come in a vacuum. They saw what I could not at the time; that I was compitant and just needed to forge ahead in order to heal Lillie. The Gluten Free Girl opened my eyes to that. I thank you Ms. Ahern for your inspiration.
The second thing that I believe helped lift me out of my funk was liver. I know that might sound strange. But, in the same way the food is going to healing Lillie, it helped me. I had prepared a dish of chopped chicken livers, sauteed baby bella mushrooms, onions and olive oil for the Shavuos holiday. Friday night I didn't eat much at dinner. Then around 11 pm I was feeling peckish. I immediately went over to the glass cake plate on my breakfront, and stopped short when I saw the 2 gluten free cupcakes left inside. Not only did I want to save them for Lillie and Rosie for Shabbos lunch, I also was kind of sick of them. They were good as far as gluten free standards go, but I just wasn't interested. Then I thought of the liver which I had prepared with much care and anticipation, but had not yet served. I put a small scoop on my plate. The tender chicken livers were like silk to bite into and the carmelized onion, pure comfort. I ate more, then I sat on the couch and talked to my husband. Then the world just became clearer. As I sat on the couch, my living room seemed to come into focus better and I seemed calmer. The next day I wasn't my usual cranky self. I felt a sense of well being I haven't felt in a long time. Then it hit me, liver is high in iron, I must have been iron deficient again without realizing.
When I was pregnant with Rosie I was really down and lethargic a good deal of the time. Then I got bronchitis about 5 months into the pregnancy. My astute general practitioner decided to run a panel of blood work just to make sure there wasn't another underlying problem. He found I was anemic. I presented the info. to my OB who declared me very anemic and promptly put me on iron pills, and I felt "miraculously" better. My OB would not have tested me for iron defieciency until my 7th month. I thought I was just depressed because I wasn't quite yet ready to handle a newborn in addition to a two year old. Thank G-d for small miracles and astute practitioner's. My mental attitude and physical health changed on a dime.
So when I had this "Epiphany of Pate" so to speak, I recognized that perhaps it was the iron. I began immediately going through my refrigerator and pantry and loooking at the iron content in the foods I had been eating the most of lately. That would be alot of cheese. The cheddar liked Gloucestshire, the creamy goat cheese I had discovered at Costco a few weeks before, even Lillie's Mozzarella cheese sticks I grabbed for a quick energy burst. To my shock I saw 0% RDA of iron. I thought milk had iron! I raged, I was in shock. This is a travesty. Then I realized my head had been sunk so low over a piece of pizza, I wasn't able to look forward and get on with what I need to do for the wellbeing of my family and my self.
Liver. Hmmm. LOL.
My earliest cooking memory is that of standing on a chair by my grandmother's kitchen table feeding items through the food grinder attached to the top of her old, white enamel Kitchen Aid mixer. I loved to watch the brown liver and pale yellow eggs ooze out in grainy strands through the front. I especially loved when we switched from one ingredient to the next, and the strands became two different colors at the same time. I even remember the order, which never varied: liver, onions, hard boiled eggs and "Ritz" style crackers. Then my grandmother would ceremoniously get out the big jar of Hellmann's mayonaise (the real stuff, not low fat, and not the store brand) and stir in big, pillowy white spoonfuls. About a teaspoon of salt, measured from the canister into her leathery, worn palm was tossed in with a dash of ground black pepper. It was simple, it was love and care in a bowl. It was the best chopped liver I have ever had, and feel I ever will. It was my Gram.
Friday night was her yartzheit, the anniversary of her death. She passed away just after candle lighting on the second night of Shavuous 14 years ago. The fact that I had this feeling of wellness through liver, of all things, made me feel her love all over again. As if she tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Eat some of this shafela, it will make you feel better."
Here is my recipe for an egg free, gluten free liver appetizer. It can certainly be ground in a food processor or food grinder after cooking to create a proper chopped liver pate. I prefer it coarsely chopped, as the mouth feel of the large pieces of liver is luxuriant.
Portabella and Liver Appetizer
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups diced portabella or baby bella mushrooms
1 large spanish onion, halved and sliced thin
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pound broiled chicken livers*, diced
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon oil over medium heat. Saute mushrooms for 5-8 minutes, until they soften and let off their juices. Remove from pan and place in a bowl.
Heat remaining oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt. Saute until browned, about 10 minutes, adding garlic in last 2 minutes of cooking. Add liver and heat 1-2 minutes until warm. Stir in mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with rice or mashed potatoes, or store in a tightly covered container and serve chilled.
*Note: In order for liver to be made kosher, it must be broiled first. You can purchase fresh or frozen livers already broiled.