Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in. Between the infertility and my grain free lifestyle, gatherings of any type can be summed up in one word: awkward! This past Thanksgiving is a great example. We went to my mother’s house for dinner. It’s our annual holiday there and for reasons that can be addressed in another post, we don’t play “holiday hopscotch,” bouncing from one location to the next.
I have an allergy to grains, so I made sure to review the menu with her before our arrival. Specifically, I cannot eat: wheat, rice, oats, corn, or any corn products such as corn syrup and corn syrup solids, barley, quinoa, wild rice, sorghum, teff, and all other grains. Eating even small amounts of these foods causes me to become ill with a stomach ache that I can only equate to the cramps one gets with the flu. The one exception to this is white flour. If I accidentally ingest a small amount of white flour, I don’t get the full blown reaction. White flour is highly refined and so dissimilar from whole grain wheat, I only get a bloated belly, gain a pound, and the stomach ache goes away within a day.
Let me be clear, I know my dietary needs are difficult for the average host to manage, that’s why I take such care to review my allergies with them and ask what I can bring to help with the meal. If I’m lucky, my host will understand or be somewhat sympathetic, he or she will laugh a bit when I explain that the five staples of my diet are: meat, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, and wine. From there, we usually problem solve a bit and arrive at a menu which all can enjoy. I ask that he or she make a vegetable that I can have, and usually I bring a bread, a salad, and or a dessert that is grain free but can be enjoyed by all.
This was not how Thanksgiving went! My mother was very offended when I asked to review the menu with her. I explained that I was aware that she’d be making stuffing, but that over the past year or so I’ve found grains lurking in the strangest places and so I have to be aware of what I’m eating. We figured I could eat the turkey but not the stuffing. I asked about the sweet potatoes she makes with a maple syrup glaze which used to be my favorite. Her maple syrup had a corn syrup base and she wasn’t interested in using organic syrup in its place, instead she said she’d make me a baked sweet potato. This is like watching your friends eat chocolate while you eat a chocolate flavored rice cake, it’s torture. The rest of the meal was pretty much out as well, her cranberry sauce contained corn syrup, and once again, she wasn’t interested in purchasing or making an all-natural alternative. We went over the appetizers; there wouldn’t be any of those that I could eat, and same with the desserts. She wasn’t serving soup, and our conversation ended with her telling me, “I don’t know what you can eat besides the turkey and the canned vegetables, bring whatever you’d like, don’t bring too much because no one else will be interested in eating that stuff.”
Whether I’m cooking grain free or not, my food is always devoured by all. Typically, I bring a potato skin casserole, a dessert, and maybe a soup if I’m feeling adventurous. I’ve served grain free versions of these to grain lovers and received accolades, there’s no reason to assume that people wouldn’t enjoy them. Rather, I think she was upset that I wouldn’t be eating her food. Someday, I will be able to explain that my grain free diet is not a choice, but a must in my life; as for now, it doesn’t seem to be sinking in.
I decided that I’d bring the foods that I needed to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. That meant: soup, roasted carrots, my usual potato skin casserole, homemade cranberry sauce, grain free chocolate chip bars, and grain free stuffing. I found some grain free crackers on vitacost and brought those along with me as well so I could at least enjoy the cheese plate while others were feasting on stuffed mushrooms, and all other kinds of grain based goodness.
So, after appetizers, it was straight to the meal. There were no courses; it was everyone grab everything you want and eat quickly so we can get this cleaned up. I’m my mother’s only child, I’m the extra set of hands to follower her around and assist as needed. In particular, I was in charge of setting up the buffet . We squeezed all the food we could onto the sideboard table. Of course, there wasn’t any room for my food, which was relegated to the kitchen, and remained in the mini slow cookers I had brought it in. As everyone served themselves from the buffet, I went into the kitchen and helped myself to the grain free goodness which I prepared. Low and behold, a line of guests followed me to enjoy the soup, cranberry sauce, and carrots that my mother said no one would want to eat. I can’t blame the guests for not touching the stuffing, it’s not perfected yet, but it was something. On my way back to the table, I also stopped at the buffet table and took some turkey and some butternut squash, which I was assured was safe.
Mid-way through the meal, I felt uncomfortable. Could it have been because we sat down to eat everything at once and I’m not accustomed to eating so much food so quickly?
I continued to eat my meal, and helped with the cleanup. When the meal had been cleared and packed away, it was time for dessert, and I still wasn’t feeling well. I sipped coffee and nibbled at my grain free chocolate chip bars which the grain lovers raved over. I still didn’t feel well, but I figured my emotions had kicked and the crumby feeling in my stomach had quite a bit to do with the crumby way I’d been treated that day.
Dinner ended. We were thrilled to go home, our obligatory holiday at mom’s now crossed off the list for another year. We took care of our fur babies and went off to bed. In the middle of the night, I awoke with a terrible stomach ache, the one that lets me know I’ve inadvertently eaten corn. I had the nasty stomach ache, the obnoxious gas that goes along with it, and of course the bloated abdomen that is often called a “grain baby”. Somehow, despite being so careful with all that I ate and only eating my foods, turkey, a sweet potato, and butternut squash, I had ingested corn and my body was mad!
It was a rough night. In the morning, the symptoms were in full swing. Typically, when I ingest corn, no matter how much, my body experiences discomfort for about four days. There’s nothing I can do about this. I just have to drink plenty of water and let my body do what it does. I did however call my mother and try to determine the source of the corn. She made no apologies for the illness I was experiencing and was adamant that the foods I had eaten did not contain corn. I had to disagree with her. I’ve made a fair amount of mistakes with my grain allergy, and I’m familiar with how my body reacts to wheat, rice, and corn, the grains which are most commonly included in foods that one would assume are grain free.
I thought perhaps she had put some maple syrup in the butternut squash, she hadn’t. I asked if she had cooked the sweet potato in the same baking dish she used for the potatoes candied with maple syrup, she had not. I was not giving up. I know how my body reacts to corn and this was a corn reaction.
While I was out mom called and left a message, saying that it must have been trace amounts of wheat from the stuffing in the turkey broth which I used to make my gravy. No way, I only bloat and gain weight from wheat, I do not awaken in the middle of the night with pain.
I returned my mother’s call and explained that the wheat in the stuffing was a good thought; however, this was a corn reaction without a doubt. She was adamant that she did not use corn or any corn products in the stuffing. We reviewed the ingredients list and found the culprit. She had used sweet Italian sausage in the stuffing. She couldn’t say that it was all natural or organic, and every sweet sausage I’ve ever found that wasn’t all natural or organic has contained corn syrup solids or corn syrup.
Since it was a day after Thanksgiving she asked if I was “better” now. I explained that it was going to be at least four days before anything close to better happened. I’m not sure what we’re doing for Thanksgiving next year, but I know I wish that I had made her give me an ingredients list for everything she was making that day! I could have avoided the pain, sleeplessness, and the four pounds I gained from the small amount of corn in the gravy and the turkey.