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When your older daughter is a toddler and you are pregnant with your younger daughter, your husband says, “Every Friday, we should have family pizza night.” Four months later, you give birth to a daughter who is allergic to milk (meaning also to cheese), as well as to eggs, tree nuts, peanuts and maybe buckwheat and flaxseed. Very early on, certain foods leave rashes around her mouth or make her vomit, so you stop giving them to her. When she is 8 months old, her sister spills ice cream on her arm. Red bumps immediately rise in the places the ice cream touched.
Your daughter’s allergies are officially diagnosed just before she turns 1, and for her first birthday, you make her a “cake” out of puréed sweet potatoes topped with coconut yogurt (you are now well-versed in the debate about whether coconut is a tree nut and think it’s not). She feels about this cake the way most anyone would, which is that it’s gross.
You scour the Internet for recommendations on how to handle multiple food allergies. You find horror stories about children dying of anaphylaxis brought on by a single bite of the wrong thing.
You read every ingredient in everything you buy at the grocery store, even when you buy more than one package of the same thing, even when you buy the same product week after week. You come to know certain products so well that when they get a new ingredient, it’s like a friend getting a haircut.
You talk to a fellow “food allergy mom,” the friend of a friend, who explains that your family shouldn’t go out for ice cream because even if your daughter gets sorbet, the employee will use the same spoon to scoop it that he used for someone else’s cone of pistachio; and your daughter shouldn’t eat jelly at another family’s house because that family dips their peanut buttery knives in the jelly when making sandwiches. You have always been such a good worrier, but these are things you never thought to worry about.
You stop going to restaurants as a family; you stop bringing home carryout, except occasionally and furtively, when you and your husband take turns eating it standing up in a corner of the kitchen (his preference) or sitting on the upstairs bathroom floor with the door closed (your preference).
You never leave the house without Epi-Pens.
Your husband, who barely cooked before you had children, matter-of-factly learns to make vegan doughnuts and vegan waffles and vegan whipped cream.
Because it’s medically recommended that you keep exposing your older daughter to the foods your younger daughter is allergic to, you go once or twice a week with your older daughter to diners or bakeries or Vietnamese restaurants. These are delightful outings — your older daughter is excellent company and loves trying new things — at the conclusion of which you scrub your hands and hers, at the restaurant and again at home, with a vigor appropriate for performing surgery.
When your daughter starts preschool, you burst into tears at the meeting with her teachers where you discuss how to handle snack time.
On Halloween, your daughter goes trick-or-treating but you carry along a bag of candy for her to choose from. Your daughter takes her own cupcakes to birthday parties and her own snack on play dates.
You rarely travel as a family; when you do, you pack loaves of bread and jars of sun butter in your suitcase. You FedEx soy milk to Idaho.
You wonder if it’s all because you ate too many peanut M&Ms when you were pregnant. At the same time, you decide that if you had it to do over again, the minute your daughter emerged from the birth canal, you’d have chewed up a peanut and spit it from your mouth into hers, because you’ve heard that pediatricians now endorse early exposure to nuts.
Other things you’d have done to prevent her allergies, if only time-travel were possible and if only you’d known: gotten a dog; renounced your dishwasher; become Amish.
You lie awake at night fretting about what will happen when your daughter is old enough for sleepovers, or for kissing people, or for college.
Those parents who complain about not being able to send their kids to school with the PB&J they love? Those airplane passengers who groan audibly when the flight attendant announces they won’t be serving peanuts today? Those codgers who say allergies didn’t exist when they were young and it’s just a bunch of helicopter parenting? You detest them.
But you feel enormous gratitude towards the parents who write “sun butter” on the plastic bags they send sandwiches to school in, or who go over the exact menu for their kid’s birthday party and show no irritation when they say, “Bagged carrots,” and you ask, “Bagged carrots that you’ll buy bagged or bag yourself?”
You start going as a family to an ice cream parlor where your older daughter and your husband get ice cream and you and your younger daughter bring coconut bars from home. You frantically wipe down the table and chairs before you sit. You know this excursion would probably seem depressing from the outside; secretly, from the inside, you consider it slightly depressing. But mostly you consider it festive and triumphant. Now your daughter knows what an ice cream parlor looks like!
You understand that into every life a little rain must fall but just wish the rain had fallen on you rather than your child. Obviously, to some extent, it is falling on you. But you wish it had fallen on you completely.
As much trouble as her allergies are, you never wish your daughter was anyone other than her hilarious, stubborn, singing, dancing, mermaid-obsessed, food allergic self.
And even if you cannot master allergies, it turns out that you can make cookies that are both safe for your daughter and delicious.
For a family with a child with allergies to milk, eggs and nuts, this is a go-to recipe.
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author, most recently, of the novel “Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice.” This is adapted from an essay in “The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories With Recipes,” edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, to be published this fall.
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I spent my childhood wishing my bohemian, free-spirited, wannabe actress mom would make a home-cooked Jewish dinner the way my maternal grandmother, Beauty, always did. My mother’s idea of a good home-cooked meal consisted of au gratin boxed potatoes, canned tuna fish, or maybe some Franco-American Spaghetti0s.
As my little sister, April, and I would fight over who would get the last pea or who would get the bigger half of the peach cobbler in the dessert corner of our Hungry Man TV dinner, our mother told us that her mother spent her whole life cooking old-fashioned food. To my mom, that meant anything made with fresh ingredients — particularly vegetables.
My dad, a 450-pound ad man, hated coming home to a house with no real food. His mother worked a 12-hour day in the garment district when he was a boy, but she managed to always have a feast on the table for him. To avoid domestic arguments he’d often choose martini and burger dinners at P.J. Clarke’s with his creative team at McCann Erickson instead of coming home to us.
On one rare occasion, my mom decided to cook a festive Swiss-inspired dinner. Maybe Beauty scared her by telling her that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, and if she did not feed him, someone else would. Pondering all the different scenarios, my mom called out in an unusually sweet voice, “Fondue, everybody.”
Charging down the thick, orange shag-carpeted staircase with 7-year-old April on my back, I noticed my mom’s wild, curly hair was neatly brushed and she had on her favorite red, white and blue shirt with the big stars. She looked pretty, swaying to the lyrics of “American Pie,” which blasted from our new Hi-Fi stereo — the one she had recently won at my seventh-grade school auction.
On the table, usually filled with receipts and scripts from my mom’s acting classes, was a gold fondue pot with a small burning candle. There were mushrooms, zucchini and pieces of crisp French bread for dipping.
When everyone arrived at the table, my mom demonstrated how the cheese stuck to the bread when you dunked it in the pot. She made sure all eyes were on her as she created the perfect bite with a long stick. “You do not want to oversaturate the bread with the cheese sauce; otherwise, it might break apart and the poor little piece of bread will sink to the bottom and drown,” she said, looking at my dad all bright-eyed. “I heard the custom in Switzerland is if the bread falls into the cheese, the man sitting beside the woman has to kiss her.”
My sister giggled and kicked me under the table. “Mommy is talking in a really weird baby voice,” she whispered.
As my mom gazed at my forever-dieting dad, she boasted that the whole meal was Atkins-approved except the bread. “Lots of fat and protein, and hardly any carbs. You can dip as many mushrooms as you like without guilt.”
Just as April and I were about to indulge in this bubbly, cheesy bit of heaven, we saw that my dad looked less than pleased.
“When you phoned and said you were going to make me a special dinner knowing that I have been struggling night and day to win the account for Kentucky Fried Chicken, I envisioned a dinner like my mother would have cooked — brisket with crispy latkes or tuna casserole with a potato-chip crust.”
While my dad perked up remembering the kind of dinners his mother made, I saw the light drain from my mother’s face.
“How am I supposed to eat this drippy mess? I need utensils and a plate!”
Running to the kitchen to look for everything, I saw my mother’s eyes well up. I fumbled through drawers, cabinets, shelves and even the refrigerator, which my mom often used for storage of paper plates, plastic silverware and napkins. I couldn’t find anything. Even worse, we were out of dad’s diet soda.
My stomach was in knots. Tears were streaming down my mom’s cheeks. I’d never seen my mother cry before. She was always stoic and strong — never vulnerable. In that moment, she looked unguarded, and it scared me.
“You know I don’t like to cook, but I went out of my way to try and make a meal that was special. I even bought two kinds of imported cheese and dry white wine so the fondue would be flavorful,” she shouted at my dad. My father looked up at her, shocked, rolling his eyes back and forth trying to charm her with his devilish grin.
I was always the peacemaker, but I did not know how to make this better. Seeing my mom so upset hurt me in a way that I had never hurt before.
I had never really noticed how young and beautiful my mom was or realized that she needed love in the same way I needed love. In that moment, I wanted to grab my mother and hug her and tell her I adored and appreciated her, but I stood frozen.
As my parents began to calm down, we noticed April, licking fingerful after fingerful of the cheesy mass. “Finger lickin’ good,” she said, reciting my dad’s favorite existing slogan for KFC. Watching her enjoy the warm melted cheese, my dad softened, matching her bite for bite and encouraging me and my mom to do the same.
“Finger lickin’ good,” he said, smiling at my mom as we all hovered around the festive fondue pot.
While my dad didn’t land the KFC account for McCann, my family found a new dish that we all enjoyed — and my mother didn’t mind preparing.
Dawn Lerman is a board-certified nutrition expert and the author of “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love and Family, With Recipes.” Her series on growing up with a fat father appears occasionally on Well. Follow her @DawnLerman.
Credit Matthew Staver for The New York Times
Organic meat and milk differ markedly from their conventionally produced counterparts in measures of certain nutrients, a review of scientific studies reported on Tuesday.
In particular, levels of omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for lowering the risk of heart disease, were 50 percent higher in the organic versions.
“The fatty acid composition is definitely better,” said Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England and the leader of an international team of scientists who performed the review.
The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, and the Sheepdrove Trust, a British charity that supports organic farming research, paid for the analysis, which cost about $600,000.
However, the question of whether these differences are likely to translate to better health in people who eat organic meat and drink organic milk is sharply disputed.
“We don’t have that answer right now,” said Richard P. Bazinet, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto who was not involved with the research. “Based on the composition, it looks like they should be better for us.”
The two new scientific papers, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, are not the result of any new experiments, but instead employ a statistical technique called meta-analysis that attempts to pull robust conclusions out of many disparate studies.
They are certain to further stir a combative debate over whether organic foods are healthier. Some scientists assert that organic and conventional foods are nutritionally indistinguishable, and others find significant benefits to organic. Many people who buy organic food say they do so not for a nutritional advantage, but because of environmental concerns and to avoid pesticides.
The higher levels of omega-3, a type of polyunsaturated fat, arise not from the attributes usually associated with organic food — that the animals are not given antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified feed — but rather from a requirement that animals raised organically spend time outside. Organic milk and beef come from cattle that graze on grass, while most conventional milk and beef come from cows subsisting on grain.
“It’s not something magical about organic,” said Charles M. Benbrook, an organic industry consultant who is an author of the studies. “It’s about what the animals are being fed.”
Most of the same changes would be observed in conventionally raised animals that also grazed for the majority of their diet, the scientists said.“For once, this is a pretty simple story,” Dr. Benbrook said.
The review of comparisons of organic and conventional milk analyzed all 196 papers the scientists found. Because studies of meat are sparser, they could not look at just one type of meat like beef or pork. Instead, they did one analysis of the 67 papers they found for all types of meat. “Only if you throw them all in one pot can you do a meta-analysis,” Dr. Leifert said.
Two years ago, Dr. Leifert led a similar review for fruits and vegetables that found organic produce had higher levels of some antioxidants and less pesticide residue than conventionally grown crops.
Nutrition experts broadly agree that omega-3 fatty acids in food offer numerous health benefits. When the United States Department of Agriculture revised its dietary guidelines in 2010, it urged people to eat more seafood, which is rich in omega-3.
Omega-3 is much more prevalent in grass than in grain, which is why organic livestock and milk also contain higher levels. “Lo and behold, we altered in some fundamental ways the nutrient intake of these animals and hence the nutrient composition of the products that we derive from those animals,” Dr. Benbrook said.
The new analysis found that levels of another polyunsaturated fat, omega-6, were slightly lower in organic meat and dairy. Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential for the functioning of the human body, which can make neither. But some have argued that a skewing toward omega-6 has become unhealthy.
Centuries ago, people ate roughly equal amounts of the two fatty acids. Today, most Americans eat more than 10 times as much omega-6, which is prevalent in certain vegetable oils and thus also fried foods, as omega-3.
In an email, Dr. Walter C. Willett, the chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the differences between organic and conventional beef were trivial, and the amount of saturated fat in both were high.
“Far greater, and beneficial, differences in fatty acids are seen if poultry and fish replace red meat,” Dr. Willett said.
A shortcoming of the recommendation to eat more fish is that if everyone followed it, the rivers, oceans and lakes would be emptied of fish. Dr. Bazinet of the University of Toronto said perhaps encouraging people to switch to organic meats and milk would be “a way to kind of get at them with the foods they’re already eating.”
Dr. Bazinet said observational studies suggested that adding 200 milligrams a day of omega-3s to an average diet should yield health benefits. Switching to organic beef would add about 50 milligrams. “Eating one grass-fed beef serving per day is not going to do it,” he said.
But if combined with a couple of glasses of organic milk, “it should make a difference,” Dr. Bazinet said. “That would be the hypothesis.”
Scientists are now trying to examine the health question more directly.
Dr. Leifert cited several studies that indicated that infants of mothers who ate organic fruits and vegetables were less likely to contract some diseases. He is also conducting experiments to see if rats fed organic foods are healthier. So far, he said, it appears that crop pesticide residue does have measurable effects on the rats’ hormones.
“We still don’t know whether it kills you, but we do know it has an effect on hormonal balances,” he said. “It’s something that makes you think a little bit.”
“Eat your soup. It’s good food,” my paternal grandmother, Bubbe Mary, would say.
“Eat your soup. It’s good food,” my dad would playfully tell me, as he reminisced over the wonderful Jewish dinners his mom used to cook for him when he was a boy.
Split pea soup, poppy seed challah with six strands, braised brisket and potato kugel were a frequent occurrence.
“Your Bubbe loved to fatten me up even when the doctors would shame her for how obese I was,” he said. “But Bubbe was proud that her job as a fluffer in the garment district could provide me with such extravagance. Every dairy meal had butter, milk and cheese, and Bubbe made sure there was plenty for seconds and thirds.”
I giggled remembering some of the holiday meals at Bubbe’s, and how I hardly had a chance to swallow one thing before my plate was filled again.
“Just a little more,” she always encouraged. “Food is meant to be eaten, not wasted,” she’d say, squeezing my cheeks until they were bright red and stung with pain. “Think of all the hungry children in the world.”
With each bite I took, Bubbe would profess her love. “Shayna maideleh! Beautiful girl! Who loves you the most in the world?” she would say, as she checked that I polished off every last crumb on my plate.
But other than holidays, we did not visit Bubbe much. My dad was a rising star in the ad industry — he was an international creative director at the ad agency McCann Erickson, but Bubbe was confused about what he did for a living and was disappointed that he did not have a regular job like his brother Melvin, who was an accountant. Even before I knew what an accountant was, I knew my dad’s job was super-fun as he got to work with Tony the Tiger and the Pillsbury Doughboy. But Bubbe was never impressed: “A Jewish boy should be a doctor or a lawyer!”
My dad felt that if they were not talking about food, the room was silent, so he made jokes — most of which Bubbe did not understand — to break the silence. Even when my dad was a child, he did things that she did not understand, like creating satirical comic books, or questioning why they had two different sets of dishes, or turning the lights on and off on Shabbat when she strictly forbid it.
As my dad showed me how to slice the mushrooms for the soup, he talked about his new account: Campbell’s. The current campaign, “M’m! M’m! Good!” was no longer generating enough sales, and it was my dad’s job to help create a slogan that would sell more soup.
While we stirred in the barley and shredded the meat for the broth, my dad shared the story of how when he was in the sixth grade, he got beaten up by a bunch of bullies who jumped him from behind, hitting him with lead pipes until he was unconscious.
“Fat mama’s boy! Fat mama’s boy!” they taunted. The beating was so bad that he spent a week in a coma, and the doctors didn’t know if he would live or die.
Helpless, my bubbe cooked all day and all night, praying for his recovery. She hoped the smells of her famous mushroom barley soup, which she schlepped to the hospital, would revive him. When my dad awoke, Bubbe was standing there with a big pot, a bowl and a ladle — fully believing in the healing powers of her thick broth, made with beef bones, beef chuck and tomato paste.
My bubbe cooked all through the night when my dad was in the hospital, showering him with cinnamon raisin rugelach, sponge cake with an orange glaze, and mandel bread with big chocolate chips — feeding him obsessively, but never telling him she loved him.
My dad wanted to feel comforted by all the amazing food she had worked so hard to prepare, but he felt angry. He wanted to be thin. He wanted to be popular. He wanted to have self-confidence. The very food, which brought him such extreme pleasure, caused him to be bigger than the other kids, leading to ridicule and worse, landing him in the hospital.
When my dad dieted, he felt as if he was betraying my grandmother and dissolving the one bond they shared. Of course, as a child I didn’t know any of this; I didn’t understand the relationship between my father, my grandmother and food. I just knew that Bubbe Mary was a wonderful baker, and my dad missed her even though he would never say it.
As my dad served us each a warm bowl of mushroom barley soup with sweet parsnips and bay leaves, we looked at each other. “Eat your soup. It’s good food,” we said in unison — imitating Bubbe’s Yiddish accent.
The next day when my dad came home, he smiled, announcing the new tag line and jingle for Campbell’s soup, “Soup Is Good Food,” inspired by my bubbe’s soup.
The soup that revived my dad when he was in a coma. The soup he taught me to cook. The soup that said “I love you” the way Bubbe showed her affections best — spoonful by spoonful.
Mushroom Barley Soup : This soup is made with nourishing bone broth and root vegetables.
Dawn Lerman is a New York-based health and nutrition consultant and author of the newly published book, My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes,. Her series on growing up with a fat father appears occasionally on Well.