Sustenance with diabetes and celiac disease has transformed from approaching eating with restrictions to cooking and enjoying food full of life. I’m inspired by stories and photographs of food that capture the beauty of gathering around food; the blog La Tartine Gourmand and the publication Kinfolk Magazine are two of my favorites. Freshly picked Oregon berries make my knees weak with excitement and remind me of my favorite gardening chore as a child – berry picking. Browsing recipes at Epicurious by typing in a single ingredient such as “artichoke” into the search toolbar has become a favorite pastime. Roasted Asparagus and Baby Artichokes with Lemon-Oregano Aioli, Braised Artichokes with Fennel, Artichoke and Orange Salad, the options abound by the hundreds. Cooking and eating Spanish dishes that remind me of a not so distant traveling past fill me with joy. But, it wasn’t always like this.
Back in 2004, while living in Los Angeles, my friend Michele and I would alternate planning monthly cultural outings that we endearingly called date nights. I remember one summer evening when Michele and I were gathered, sharing an outdoor meal for two as we were awaited a Brazilian dance performance at the Ford Amphitheater. Michele had a casual spread of cheese, crackers, fruit and wine, while I sat and drank a strawberry flavored Glucerna from a straw. Suddenly, she turned to me with excitement and proclaimed, “This is my absolute favorite way to eat.” In response, I laughed uncomfortably. For me, food did not inspire excitement. Instead, food was just a major pain in my ass, as I was new to learning how to navigate eating well for both diabetes and celiac disease! Although my digestive system had thankfully become strong enough to handle more than liquids after complications with a delayed celiac diagnosis, I still wasn’t yet comfortable figuring out what to eat with my newfound food freedom so I continued with my liquid standby. Maybe it was the ease and peace of mind I had knowing its exact carb count and that it was gluten-free that swayed my decision for the pre-packaged shake, but nevertheless, it was far from exciting. A wave of sadness hit me. Feeling excitement about food had become foreign to me. Instead I felt dread. Silently, I vowed to find joy with food, to learn to make eating fun again.
* image from a 2004 party invitation, to celebrate no longer being on a liquid diet.
I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2007 with a core intention to find more balance with food, life and these conditions. I wanted to feel less governed by the daily management. While at school I was introduced to the concept of primary foodTM. Nourishment comes in many forms; believe it or not, it’s not just about the food you put on your plate. We are fed by the energy in our lives. Yet it’s easy to overlook the many things that contribute to our sense of fulfillment. Healthy relationships, a fulfilling career, regular physical activity and a spiritual awareness are essential forms of primary foods. Think about it as individualized nourishment. What is essential for me may not be relevant for you. I have a physical need for creativity, you may have a need to play your guitar or compete in triathlons to feel happy and energized. Consider the question, what makes you really tick?
Recently, I was able to combine my love of Spanish cooking with my passion for art – two primary foods that provide me much joy. I had my first art opening and exhibited a series of pigment print collages from photographs of my trip to Madrid and Cabo de Gata, Spain. Somehow, it seemed fitting to make an entirely gluten-free Spanish tapas-inspired food spread for the opening. To show the variety of dishes created by my mom and I, I have included photos of the olive and red pepper tapenade, local gluten-free garlic bread with artichoke heart spread, Spanish cheese plate with grapes, drizzled balsamic reduction on gluten-free bread, fig, caper and olive tapenade over goat cheese and rosemary bread, and perhaps my favorite, lemon circles with almond flour crust and strawberries on top. I think that it’s safe to say, that I once again, fully appreciate the taste of strawberries in their truest form and not as a flavor in a pre-packaged shake!
*If you would like to see images of the complete Reflections of Spain series from the art opening, please visit here.