Friday, December 18, 2015

Potluck Power: Corn allergy edition

Life with a corn allergy leads to a lot of obstacles.  Food is everywhere.  Most people don't even realize how often they snack, or accept a drink, munch on food that isn't homemade.  But where there is socializing, there is food.  And for those of us with food allergies; there is tempatation and risk.
For some people with food restrictions, the risk is minimal.  For others, it's big.
And then there are those who are just beginning...they don't know how big the risk really is, and that makes it seem like a looming obstacle.
Luckily, you don't have to eat food that you don't provide.  Really, it is that simple.  There is no reason whatsoever that you would be forced to eat a meal that you don't have control over, so let that risk go.  You get to choose what goes into your body.
Once I learned that trick, social situations became infinitely easier.  (Especially once I figured out that I didn't need to explain to every single person at a party exactly why I wasn't eating.)

The next obstacle was just as hard if not harder:  What to share.
Obviously, I'm not talking about words.  I've already stated that I learned not to overshare.  Oversharing is bad, it loses friends and creates judgement.  It leads to a nasty neverending cycle of self consciousness, negative self talk and isolation.

Once I started to be social again, I didn't like showing up at parties, especially pot lucks, empty handed.  But what could I share?  My diet was/is so limited.  I was used to friends and strangers' appalled faces, and questions like "what do you eat?"
Food.  The answer, dear reader:  I eat food.  I just tend to know what, exactly, is in it.
This is a rarity in some circles.  And the lack of unpronouncables in the ingredient list is a distinct turn off to some individuals.  It was definitely a deterrent to me.  What if they miss the polysorbate 80?  What if they notice there's no MSG?  And, potentially the most unforgiveable of all, how will it possibly look appealing without the aid of yellow #6?

My fears were misplaced.  I started slow.  I ensured there were no known nut allergies and brought my old fashioned peanut butter cookies.  The recipe calls for 1 jar, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of sugar.  I add chocolate chunks and a touch of rice flour.  It's rich, creamy, and I've had folk ask if they can bring a few home wrapped in a napkin.  This, as you can imagine, was the ultimate compliment.

For a more savory dish, I've had success with roasted sweet potatoes.  It's a simple recipe involving sweet potatoes, onions and sometimes carrots, beets, parsnips and/or garlic.  I've roasted brussel sprouts, too, but people are still suspicious of their green-ness.  (Those brave souls who try a few always take seconds or thirds, but the first bite seems to take an awful lot of courage.  After all, they're brussel sprouts.  They've had a bad rap every since the Beaver's days.)  Of course, with this recipe you need to be careful where your dish is placed and that serving utensils don't get mixed up.  Cross contamination is a concern, and I sometimes find myself hovering protectively over the food...totally negating the normalcy of sharing food.

Then I wanted something sweet, but not too sweet.  Something that could pass as a brunchy food.  I wanted to bring carrot cake...but I don't have a good frosting.  Besides, frosting would turn it into a real dessert.
Solution?  Carrot cake baked into loaf pans.  I get lots of positive feedback, and the sugar content is significantly lowered.  Plus, I can turn the leftovers into peanut butter sandwiches.  If there are any leftovers.  Which is rarely.

Final risk taken?  Chebe bread.  It's made from a mix.  I sometimes add garlic and  spinach or diced bell peppers.  I roll it into small rolls to make it less intimidating to potluck snackers.  It gets rave reviews and lots of questions about ingredients and what I do to make it taste so much like "real food".

Potlucks are no longer terrifying.
I still have to worry about cross contamination, and environmental sources of corn (Did someone recently pop corn, is there cornstarch in the air?) but I've managed to feel successful at the end of several potluck type situations.
There's just something satisfying about being able to share what I eat, and finding out that other people don't find it nearly as bland and depressing as they seem to think they will.
I won't pretend I don't feel awkward about my dietary limitations, because I do.  And the point of this blog is to be honest and support anyone else in the same boat.  But I realized that the only way to help others accept my restrictions and see past them is to act normal.  Which means pretending that it really isn't a big deal either way if I can eat the food they offer, or if they taste my offerings.

Once I started pretending, I realized it was true.  Especially once I discovered that I had perfectly respectable dishes to offer.  My diet is different, but not inferior.  What we eat while we talk is really irrelevant.  The fact that we're talking, and the contents of our conversation, that's what matters.

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