The things we do for solidarity! I wrote in an earlier blog about the health adventures I have been on over the years or the sake of solidarity with a loved one. The cucumber diet was my least favourite of all, followed by the watermelon diet (both of which I attribute to follies of youth), and we endured for as long as we could. Other than that, dieting has never been a favourite pastime, and because of my tendency to have one too many cheat days, the success has been minimal. Except for the Dukan Diet, which was a fascinating experience, though rather tedious to carry out in India with limited resources compared to other countries where you have more choices for protein. I dont’ know what I was expected from a French-designed diet… as Garfield aptly puts it, diet is DIE with a T.
My mother taught me how to cook for groups of people, or large parties, but never for one person. She taught me how to behave in formal and awkward settings alike, making sure I knew what cutlery to use when. In addition, my grandfather insisted that I also learn to eat the traditional Asian way (with my hands) without making a mess or a fool of myself, but Mommy, never taught me how to eat alone.
Ever since both my parents died last year, I have been learning to live, eat and cook for myself for the first time. When I was away at college, I had a roommate, so I didn’t have the solo flight experience I would have wanted. When I studied in the USA, I lived with foster parents, which in retrospect turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life, but my point is that I was never alone over there either. Being Asian and belonging to the generation that was still expected to live at home until marriage, it was inconceivable to live on my own. So basically I went from living with my parents straight into married life, with no detours, and for a privileged expat brat like myself, this was a hell of a jump. So what many people already experienced at 18 or 19, like my daughter is doing now, I am experiencing at 50.
On the whole, living alone is exciting and scary all at the same time, and like many other aspects of my life, there are good days and bad days. But the one thing I struggle with the most is food. I am not motivated to cook for myself, and on some days find it a travesty to do so. But eat I must in order to see the morrow and write another chapter. So it is just as well that I embarked on a new nutritional path and learn everything from scratch.
When I chose to go gluten free, lactose free, and sugar free over six weeks ago, I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the change I was setting myself up for. Gluten free is hard enough, but combine it with going lactose and sugar free voluntarily is just nuts. German has a wonderful word for this, umstellung, which does just mean to change, but in effect to turn something upside down or inside out. Either way, an umstellug requires physical change from one position to another and I can think of no better word for this dietary transformation. First I did the research, in order to understand what I was giving up and more importantly, how it could be replaced. Then I questioned my sanity.
Let’s play the Game of Flours. Out goes the regular wheat flour from my pantry and in comes buckwheat, gram, rice, and corn flour. Away with the regular sugar and honey, and in with agave syrup and erythritol. Usher in the lactose free items in the fridge and it’s a whole new ball game. Lactose free mozzarella and feta cheese are not bad, mind you, but I draw the line at almond milk! Lactose free yoghurt is a bit more expensive than the regular one, so I make my own. Gluten free pancakes and tortillas, when made properly, are a joy to eat, knowing you are not piling up on the carbs and calories. Ok, they may be a tad rubbery if you mess around with the proportions, but in general it is a fascinating challenge.
These days I eat out even less, which forces me to cook a healthy meal at home, once I overcome my own inertia. I’ve been very vocal in the past about avoiding social media, but I have to admit that Pinterest is a lifesaver when it comes to finding recipes for this particular constellation of mine. As for eating alone, I try to make a ceremony out of it, lighting candles and taking a page from Erma Bombeck, making every day a special occasion. Sometimes I even set a place for my cat, placemat and all!
So what do I have to show for it? Odd coloured pasta in my pantry, items that never before saw the light of day on my shopping list, e.g. millet (Hirse, in German, mijo in Spanish), and the mere fact that my college class ring fits perfectly again after 25 years!