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Living Bread

I never realized how green a pea was.  Or how good it tasted simply mixed with salt and oil. I always knew quinoa was quirky, but never so much now as I stared into a bowl of it, noting all of the little germ rings daintily sitting upon each grain like a tiny lasso.  Never has coconut oil been so buttery, or salt so clean.  Why?  Because some of these things are the only foods I’ve eaten for the last few weeks as I allowed my body – and my mind – to slowly heal.
For the last seven years or so I’ve been on a quest for happiness in limited variety.  I’ve been here to prove to myself that there is more out there than what my culture has to offer, what the freezer section beckons me to buy and what my body says I can’t have.  I’ve been convinced that there is hope out there, hope eternal and external that this foodie could be consoled by as she forever said goodbye to bread, and yeast, and sugar.  Now, I don’t know if forever existed at all.

Food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities, and fear went away yesterday as I took in every part of the tasting experience during my own sacred and spiritual moment yesterday.  It was the moment.  That moment.

I. Ate. Bread.

I slowly felt every part of the object in my hands.  The soft inside, the crusty outside.  I brought it to my nose and breathed in,  deeply and consciously.  I asked the bread – and myself – permission.  I asked if I could trust.  I asked if it was safe.

Safety.  What a word.  It didn’t save me from the pain and heartbreak.  It didn’t shield me from the lies.  What it did was put up a wall, a net.  One I would keep up for seven or so years.

I broke off a piece of the white flesh and took a bite.  No chewing.  No swallowing.  Just a bite.  In me welled every emotion possible.  And then peace.  Peace. Quite a concept.  I had been waiting for peace.

I swallowed peace. I accepted peace.  I allowed it to slowly travel to my stomach, and I allowed the love to travel to my heart.  From my heart, I opened up a door to my lips.  And smiled.  From my lips to my brain, and from my brain to my mind.

Sometimes the connection between pain and family is so strong that we separate the very elements of our personal joy to cope.  We take food – so strongly connected to love and sex and identity – escape into it literally for dear life, life we are desperately holding onto, and hoard it deeply within ourselves.  We cope through intense fear and shame and all of the Why’s in our world until coping becomes a mechanism of it’s own.  We are not afraid of being fat.  Or lazy.  Or addicted.  Or a glutton.  We are afraid to live a life beyond the scared words of another person.  We are afraid to prove it wrong, and to be proved wrong because it hurts. so. damn. bad.

Bread.  Bread is life. Bread is the heartbeat.  Bread is blood. Bread is living.  For seven (or so) year I haven’t been living.  I have been afraid of life.  Afraid of bread.

I feel the crumbs scatter around my feet, falling down my legs to the floor.  I hear the drip drip of my watering mouth with closed eyes as I use this piece of life to pacify such deep hurt.  Hurt that is coming out.  Hurt that can no longer hurt me.

I take in a breath. It is time to trust again.  Mine is the only voice that is truly left.

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Jason Toraldo really likes pulled pork.  He also really likes Christmas.  These seemingly unrelated things didn’t mean much three seasons ago, until a brainchild of an idea turned into another quirky Baltimore business.  Businesses around here, if they are unique and friendly enough, tend to turn into traditions.  Throw in a little fun and you have Pork & Pine.  It’s how a graduate student with a bike trailer and a Santa suit became a local sensation.

It all started in the Fall of 2011 when Jason was brainstorming with a childhood friend one night at his apartment in Federal Hill after enjoying said friend’s father’s recipe of delicious pulled pork.  How cool would it be, they thought, if someone opened up a local Christmas tree lot right there in the neighborhood, and along with the trees sold a delectable pulled pork sandwich? The idea seemed plausible enough so on went the search for the perfect lot location.  After a little looking Jason realized that there just wasn’t an available space in the somewhat cramped downtown neighborhood and decided to take the idea on the road.  Thus started the first season of Pork & Pine.  Dressed in a Santa suit with trailer in tow, Jason and his roommate grabbed a boombox with foil-wrapped piggy-in-hand, and  hopped on bikes to deliver just over 20 trees that season.

Lo and behold, after getting much publicity that year in the local news and papers the health department rang.  Apparently, you can’t just borrow some BBQ from your friend’s dad, throw on a Santa Suit, and show up to your neighbor’s houses with a huge pine tree for profit. Who knew?  The second search then began for the perfect way to deliver pork legally. Red tape is fun here in Baltimore. So fun that Jason finally decided to outsource his pig.  In comes Harborque.  The downtown BBQ joint mulled it over between beers and decided why the hell not? Free publicity and Christmas joy for all sounded like a really good idea.

This year for their third season of balsam and pork fat, Jason is estimating a record 70 trees in sales.  But it’s not about the money for this Johns Hopkins University graduate student, who now uses his dad’s spare Jeep to deliver the goods all over the Metro Baltimore area. “I dunno what the future holds,” Jason muses, “but for right now I’m just having fun doing it!”

It’s more than fun, though, which Pork & Pine proved when they added a charity component last year to the mix by raising $1,100 for The Ronald McDonald House.

Pork, fun, and charity.  Who could ask for more?

For more information on how to have a tree and a meal delivered to your house this year by a skinny white guy in red velvet go to http://www.pork-n-pine.com/Home.htm

As a bonus, the the bun is always served on the side, so just in case you were wondering when the food-allergy friendly part would come in, here it is! 

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie

It’s All Greek to Me

~Note: I wrote this post last year right before I went into labor and had the cutest kid in the world (for more on The Cutest Kid in the World, see previous post), Thousands of wipes, diapers, and spit rags later and here I am finally posting it. Now, that I’ve set you up for an appetizing read (recipe included) I hope you enjoy this blast from my past.  Last year seems light years away. If you’re going to travel that far and fast, you might want to bring something hearty along with you for the ride.  Moussaka it is! ~

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I recently had a friend bring over what must have been a 30lb foil tray of the closest thing I’ve ever had to an eggplant-free Greek-inspired potato casserole.It made me think of the fact that I would have been partially Greek if my goofy uncles hadn’t beaten up the poor guy who wanted to marry my very Sicilian grandmother back in the 1940s. Brokenhearted, she ended up marrying her, um, psychologically unhinged first cousin instead and had a wonderful marriage of ducking knife-throws and sauce spoon rampages by a bald man in a head scarf.  Don’t blame me – it was 70 years ago and people were strange, but I still think I would have made one heck of a good partial Greek (and Athena would have been such a cute middle name). But anyway, back to the casserole of wonders.

Upon tasting and devouring half of it for a week I decided to call the delightful dish Autumn Moussaka and ever since have scoured recipes for different variations of a dish my wonderful friend packed with so many different vegetables and cheeses I started to wonder if I would find the holy grail hidden between the layers of potatoes, ground beef, and copious amounts of mozzarella and ricotta.  Grail still missing in time, but what I did find gives a great alternative to the tried and true, yet exhaustively tired array of Anything Made With Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Something as a Wonderful Fall Meal.

I make mine sans the eggplant, since I’m still not sure if it’s a true allergy of mine or not, and haven’t had the gumption to sit in my car in the Good Samaritan Hospital parking lot with a big chunk of Baba Ganoush and toss the Food Allergy Dice – Swelled Tongue Edition. Plus, there’s nothing like a potato-based, baked, layered slice of delight for these chilly Fall evenings here on the East Coast.

Here you go, Loves – from my growing tummy to your deep dish baking pan.  Opa!

Autumn Moussaka

What you will need:

oven, preheated to 375

 medium-sized glass baking dish, foil pan or deep cast-iron skillet

about 4 Yukon Gold or White Potatoes, parboiled slightly and  sliced (peel if you wish)

1 med onion, sliced

1/2 lb ground meat or keep veggie if you wish, doubling the quantity of vegetables you use or fill in with a pack of med crumble tofu

assorted veggies: broccoli, cabbage, spinach, zucchini,root vegetables, etc – anything seasonal that you have on hand and want to throw in

end of season tomatoes (about 3 med) or a med can of whole tomatoes, sliced

1 cup each cheese of your choice: ricotta or other soft cheese, mozzarella or cheddar and a 1/2 cu, romano, parm or other hard cheese to grate on top cheese layer (you can also make this vegan by using a variety of non-dairy cheeses, or nutritional yeast, if you can handle the stuff)

2 eggs

oil for pan

butter or coconut oil

fresh basil leaves

 small bunch each end of year fresh herbs: rosemary, oregano, parsley, dill or dry herbs to taste

few dashes of paprika (smoked, if you have it)

How to:

 Saute onion in a large sauce pan in butter or coconut oil until just translucent.  Add cabbage (if using) and saute until soft, about 10 mins,stirring frequently. Throw in rest of veggies (except potatoes) until just slightly browned, salt and peppering mixture to taste. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat about a 1/2 c of butter or coconut oil under low heat, stirring, until browned.  Pour butter or oil in a bowl over sliced potatoes, add paprika, and stir carefully to mix.  Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix eggs with soft cheese.  Oil pan and start layering potatoes first, followed by meat, veggies, tomatoes, soft cheese mixture, and other cheeses on top of that laying or sprinkling herbs over last layer of hard cheese.  Keep layering all the way to top of pan making sure you save enough cheese for the top layer.  Make sure your herbs for the top layer go under one layer of med-texture cheese so they don’t burn on top.

Stick it in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes until a large skewer or fork goes through middle of casserole easily and cheese is melty and bubbling on top.

Let sit for about 10-15 minutes and happily devour.

This would also be good accompanied by a white sauce.  Here’s a nice, basic coconut milk based recipe:

Dairy-free White Sauce

If you don’t want to go dairy free completely, feel free to add some grated cheese in with the coconut milk for a really creamy, rich texture.

  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk
  • 3 tbs butter or cooking oil
  • 3-4 tbs arrowroot, corn, or tapioca starch
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • additional seasonings as desired – like Italian seasoning, or Herbes de Provence
  • 1 sm onion or 2 sm shallots,  1 stalk celery,, minced
  • 1/4 broth -veg or other

How to:

Melt butter or heat oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add minced garlic or shallots, and celery and sauté until tender.

Mix 3 TBS starch into the saucepan, it should become a thick paste. If it’s runny, add a bit more starch until it’s thick.

Whisk in the broth, continue whisking, and pour in the coconut milk. Add salt and spices and continue whisking over med head until sauce thickens to desired texture.

Try not to drink it straight from the pan (always my downfall).

Athena may not publicly approve but she’d lick her lips between forkfuls in the privacy of her own temple atop Mt. Olympus while going over final blueprints of the EuroDisney mini Greek Parthenon exhibit.  Or something like that.  Just go with it.

Opa!

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie.

Special thanks to Julie Baker for inspiring this recipe and filling my tummy with Large Baked Things on an almost weekly basis.

My Year with Ronnie

IMG_1627Melissa d’Arabian and I have a lot in common.  I didn’t know this until I opened up this weekend’s Parade Magazine (yes, three days late, and yes, from the back page first like the south paw that I am).  We both write about food and we have both lost our mothers.

I admire writers that can every once in a while seamlessly remove their feet from their usual and very comfortable platform to write about a subject that is personal and close to their hearts.  Eating, or should I say the love of eating, is the reason I write this blog.  That, and to show others that food limitations don’t have to limit your life, or your love for the table.  I’ve written before about how my upbringing with two ethnically diverse parents who cultivated my love for food and family has shaped my life. I have yet to write about how my son has done the same in ways I could have never imagined.  To celebrate the first year of his life on this fateful week of his birth I will do both: honor my son and my parents, and how they have shaped my appreciation, gratitude and love for all of the things that we eat.

A year ago today I didn’t expect our little boy to be in the infant neo-natal ward at Johns Hopkins hospital for six more weeks, or to come home after those six weeks with the most unfamiliar medical contraption I’d  ever been confronted with: a feeding tube, installed in his chubby little belly.  After all, Ronnie’s time in my womb was fairly uneventful, and having had him at a birthing center, we didn’t suspect he would come out with a slew of complications, failure to latch and swallowing dysphagia being on the top of the list.
I wondered what this would mean for me as a person who helps those with limitations see the hope in the one of the most essential processes of our human lives: eating.  If my own firstborn child couldn’t even do that, how was I supposed to help anybody else?

It has been a year of ups and downs, fears, hopes, and sheer stubborn bravery.  We experienced the joy of a new bouncing baby along with the terror that one false move on our part could affect his health permanently.  We struggled with following our gut feeling versus what his team of doctors had to say – a very daunting challenge indeed.  In the end, our guts won out, ironically so, because it was our very guts that told us our child could eat, to let him eat, a tiny little bit at a time, by the milliliter week by week.  And that’s what we did.  It was scary.  It was daunting.  It was wonderful to see a child who was being treated with such silken gloves not simply survive, but thrive by his own sheer will.

I used to think that humans alone were absolutely amazing, but it is truly the youngest and lamest of us that prove where real strength and perseverence come from.  Ronnie has shown me that when a person, no matter what age they are, is determined enough to be healthy that they will do just that.  They will be healthy.  Experts say that thoughts are things.  I wonder what thoughts went through the mind of my five month old when he tasted solid food for the first time.  I wonder what it was like for him to drink an ounce of milk by mouth without aspirating.  What did it feel like the day we didn’t pour formula through his tube? That day, a month ago.  That day we knew would come – the day our baby went from tubie…..to foodie.

And that, folks, is what it is all about.

You ask me what makes The Hopeful Foodie so hopeful?  This does.

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Hopefully yours,

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie

star shortcakesEver since I was a kid I have adored shortcake. I even asked for the strawberry variety once on what I believe was my 5th birthday. Imagine my delight when I came upon a recipe for blueberry shortcake cookies in Guidepost Magazine. I love the fact that a non-food-focused publication prints some of the best recipes I’ve ever tried and that they all convert to allergy-friendly meals so easily. Being a lefty I have the habit of reading all my mags back to front, and since the food section of Guidepost is usually the very last story it’s a nice treat every month. What can I say – it’s the little things.

These little things – star-shaped shortcakes that go gluten-free in a snap – are easy and fun to make, especially if you are using my dirty little secret: Cup for Cup gluten-free flour. It comes already mixed with our favorite sticky component, xanthan gum, so you don’t have to worry about an accidental crumbly mess lest you forget the stuff (we all remember the crumb graveyard known as Cellina’s Neighborhood Association Party Brownies of years past). It’s a pricy bag of ground grain and totally worth Andrew Jackson’s face on a piece of green paper. I also splurged and bought extra heavy cream for whipping. What the heck – it’s July, I haven’t baked in ages, and the thought of adding “hand whips her own cream” to my domestic resume` next to “uses eco-friendly disposable diapers for her child’s bum” sounded like a plan. The raspberries are from a wild crop in our own garden. I’m baking, inadvertently growing berries next to my house and doing it all while my little one coos in his bouncy chair under my feet. Yep, The Hopeful Foodie is back, hons – mom style!

*Kathleen King’s Star-Shaped Blueberry Shortcakes (from the July issue of Guidepost Magazine)

*to convert to GF subsitute Cup for Cup gluten-free flour for the unbleached wheat flour.  You’ll have to add a little more liquid (cream) to the mix.  The pro is that the recipe will be bigger, allowing you to nosh more of these delectable shortcakes while no one is looking.

Happy 4th!

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie

Where everybody knows your name.

Now that the Summer season has officially come to a close, and the joys of cider-tinged, crisp and cool Autumn are upon us, I think it’s safe to share what I spent those previous three glorious months doing: eating sugared ice out of a cup, innocently flirting with cute twenty-one-year-old proprietors and milking the pregnancy card as much as humanly possible.  Oh, yeah, and growing…..proudly and profusely!

This Summer the best place for a crazy pregnant lady such as myself and her equally-insane foodie cravings surprisingly turned out to be – you guessed it – the local snowball stand.  It’s where a gal can order her ‘Regular’ – a small egg custard – with a smile, a story and a great memory of her first pregnant Summer.  It’s a place that boasts the old-fashioned, homemade flavors of days gone by (no “SpongeBob” or “Spiderman” to be found here) as well as those mystery concoctions thought up in the ’70s that stuck to Baltimore like Old Bay Seasoning and mosquito netting to your favorite crab-eatin’ shirt (Skylite, I think, is the only flavor that actually tastes like none other than the  color blue.  We still haven’t figured out what it’s really made of; at this point, after 25 years of enjoying the mystery of it all, I’m not really sure I want to know).  As is my habit, I usually highlight establishments that offer special perks and accommodations to the food allergy crowd, but every once in a while I come across a place that is so unique, so Baltimore, so Hon that I just can’t resist.  Welcome to Walther Gardens Snow Ice. You will never forget you came.

Why?  Where else can you get a complimentary homemade pickle with your medium-sized egg custard in a Styrofoam cup? Or a free sample of the newest experimental hot sauce flavor of the week between drippy spoonfuls of strategically-layered marshmallow fluff (my personal fave is the Three Layer Yeah Baby, AKA:  Snowball Salad)? Or have a leisurely, engaging conversation on any given evening with someone who’s been an on-going customer for the past 60 or so years while sitting on a weather-aged wooden bench as the sun goes down? At this point, with all the quirky haunts we have in this great little city of neighborhoods I think I’ve found the mother lode of local ice creations.

Pickles; really?  I can’t make this shit up.

Back to the brined cucumbers  in a minute.  First – a history lesson.

Walther Gardens was founded sometime between 1880 and the beginning of the 20th century.  No joke – no one, not even the founder’s grandson, Henry “Phil” Sinsz, who runs the place today, knows exactly when the “small greenhouse  in the back” became a full-fledged neighborhood business.  The stand’s been up since around 1929 and has been serving the locals the best snowballs this side of Old Harford Rd ever since.  Sinsz’s grandfather and father (Harry and Henry, respectively) ran the fledgling business for years, providing three greenhouses full of flowers, herbs and vegetable plants to every home garden in the northeast Baltimore areas of Waltherson, Arcadia, Gardenville and Beverly Hills.  It’s a hard-to-miss place, too.  Just look for the gigantic 200-year-old pink Victorian house.  Or the shells of old greenhouses long-gone of their covers, sticking out like living skeletons from some strange plant-based Earth.  Or Phil, who wears suspenders over his stained white work shirt and always complains about what’s wrong with this country with a smile on his face and cigarette in his hand.  I call him The Jolly Curmudgeon  – and he really is, in the most endearing, shake-your-head, only-in-Baltimore kind of way.

Phil manages the plants, a wonderful array of annuals and very unique perennials, beautiful hanging vines (the Black-Eyed Susan variety is my favorite), plus veggies and herbs galore, while the “youngins'”  run the stand itself.  They would be the wonderful, yet goofy, Connor Knox and Rebecca- I’m-too-damn-preggo-brained-to-ask-for-her-last-name cute blond girl.  And no, they are not brother and sister.  Or a couple (just in case you were one of dozens to ask this Summer, or wanted to know) or Phil’s grandchildren (that one got a big, “Oh God, no!” from both of them, which, after getting to know said owner this season, makes me giggle).  Between the three of them, plus the um, interesting variety of customers that frequent the place on a daily and weekly basis, well, it makes for a pretty amusing hangout during the dog days of June, July and August.

Now, back to the pickles.

Yes, pickles.  It seems that scooping ice and pouring sugar crack into a Styrofoam cup all Summer isn’t exactly the most stimulating profession.  You need a hobby to kind of even it out.  Something else to look forward to other than the gigantic paycheck working at a snowball stand most obviously brings. Meet Connor – amateur connoisseur of the canning and pickling arts and one heck of an amusing, goofy, and very generous dude.  Connor graciously let this crazy pregnant foodie sample his homemade pickles (conveniently created in his kitchen, just next door, and stored in the stand’s back fridge) and hot sauce all throughout the season between shared comparisons of our favorite true-crime stories and serial killers (he’s working toward eventually studying criminology)  for the benefit (hopefully) of both of us.  I got my “give me something sour right now or I’ll rip your stomach out” craving of the week fulfilled and he received an honest opinion on his handcrafted goods, as only a candid, hormonally-influenced gestating wonder can provide.  Connor calls his yet-to-be branded operation Spoons and hopes to one day launch the line officially.  In the meantime, I’ve had fun being the guinea pig of such delights while hearing the hilarious “horror stories” of batches gone awry, like the failed attempt at bacon-flavored pickles, which turned out to be “…..a greasy, scary mess,” as well as the garlic salsa from hell (apparently, one must learn the difference between a bulb and a clove of garlic the hard way) – thrown away after one sample.  When Rebecca is manning, um, womanning, the stand, the stories are equally amusing, but different.  Like how she had three allergic reactions in one week and ended up in the hospital while on vacation with the same friend (prompting me to question whether or not she’s suspected said buddy has it out for her life).  Or how she has already predicted that Phil’s demise will come via the storage room ceiling crumbling down on his head one day. (“That place is falling apart!” she humorously quips between scoops). And of course there are stories about the customers themselves, like the one kid who ate a whole entire jumbo cup of marshmallow on a dare, only to have to be taken to the hospital by ambulance 15 minutes later to have his stomach pumped.

Just add pickles

The most amusing part of an evening spent at the stand, however, is Mr. Sinsz himself.  It starts with a grumpily enthusiastic “There she is!” and usually weaves its way into a casual discussion about what’s wrong with everything in Baltimore City, the State of Maryland, and “this damn country” as a whole,  usually ending in with the phrase, “all gone to hell” said in the most jolly way possible.  Long-time customer and local resident, Joan Ford, happily banters between spoonfuls of ice, while sharing stories of Moving Nights gone by, where the local officers didn’t care how much she moved her neighbors porch furniture around as long as she “put it back by the end of the evening,” along with wistful tales of the City College bridge, where she’d meet potential suitors for date nights when she was a young woman. In other words, “The Good Old Days” before we “let traditions go” including “a lot of good that we shouldn’t change.”  I have to agree, wholeheartedly, which is why I’m sad to learn that Phil, who has been telling the neighborhood that he’s going to the sell the business for the last seven years or so, is apparently going through with it after the Christmas tree selling season this Winter.

“Bullshit.”  I replied.  “No!”  He said with a laugh, “I’m serious this time!” and sadly, I think he really is.

Connor is hoping that whoever does buy the place plans to keep the stand open to lease. He’d like to use it as his first real rental space, scooping snowballs and selling his branded jarred goods by day, and trying not to blow up his kitchen making the stuff in the evenings.  I suggested they use the stand this last Winter season to sell cider and hot chocolate so potential buyers see how much this little local place means to the community.  Phil, whose wife used to help run the stand during the holidays, is determined to retire after Christmas, laying  to rest a neighborhood staple that’s, though “not what it used to be” due to lack of help and the appearance of huge home and garden chains like Home Depot and Lowes, is much beloved by this tight-knit Northeast Baltimore community, nonetheless.  Being that in the all the years I’ve been buying plants and snowballs I’ve never actually seen Mrs. Sinsz I’m starting to suspect he’s got her buried somewhere under the begonias and wild mint and is hoping to save his hide before we all find him out.  It’s a theory.  An amusing one.  Just like the memory that Walther Gardens may become next year.  I’m crossing my pickle- and custard-scented fingers and hoping that, for once, some wise, nostalgic soul will listen to Ms. Ford and not let this particular tradition go, like so many have before.

With fluff and love,

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie.

Earth’s natural alternative to a Dalek.

I’ve been pretty annoyed lately.  What do I do when I’m usually annoyed?  I eat.  I understand that this isn’t the best of habits; however, today I’m cultivating it into something beautiful, since I consume something that was once living on or in the ground about every fifteen minutes these days.

Today, I turn my annoyance into a tribute to my grandfather, the joy of rebellion, and the delicate balance that is Moderation.

Salt.  The country I live in has been going back and forth now for a while over whether or not it is good for us Americans.  The fact is, a healthy human being needs a moderate amount of sodium in order to survive.  It’s all about how you get it, what you do with it, and of course, how much of it your body is craving (and if the reason behind it is motivated by something healthy or unhealthy).  That might sound complicated, but I think it’s the natural flow of just about everything we stick down our gullets – if we really want to be balanced we need to know our bodies on the simplest level, and the simplest thing is knowing what motivates us. For example, are we eating what we crave on an emotional and physical level (often called comfort or emotional eating), because it is something our physical body really needs at the time (a mineral motivation) or because there’s a problem deep within the balance of our digestive system (like an overabundance of acidity or a microbe issue, like candidiasis, for example, that causes the once-happy feeder to crave sugar like nobody’s business)?  When we figure that out, life is a lot simpler, and the fear of what might be right around the corner to kill us via our silverware seems to go right out the window. When we don’t have that, however – that awareness – well, things can get pretty complicated…..and annoying.

See, here in Baltimore, it’s pretty damn hot.  Here, in my body, things are pretty damn hot, too.  My system is basically cooking a baby and everything is doing its best to adjust to that. Organs are shifting, ribs are adjusting, hormones are raging, and fluid is increasing as this Thing eats me literally out of house and home (okay, the house and home part is due more to the fact that we’ve been out of power for five days due to a freak storm, but is also due to the fact that I eat about a pound of cheese a day at this lovely week 19).  It’s quite a bit to get used to, and as I do my best to go with the flow, the flow sometimes takes a little catnap in my ankles.  That’s right, the joy of swelling, water retention, edema – right smack in my little piggies.  It’s quite a normal thing for a gestating chick to experience in the middle of Summer during a time of rapid growth in this process we call pregnancy (or as I like to call it, “Aaaahhhh, my ribs!”).

This is about more than pregnancy, though; this is about tomatoes.  Excuse me as I digress.

The gist of my annoyance is my problem with extremes as a whole when it comes to the natural processes of life, like eating, and yes, if one chooses to go down that interesting road, procreating.  In a matter of a week, three separate people have looked down at my still sturdy ankles and given me the third degree about salt.  One person told me I was on my way to bed rest (which she was sure of since part of her education was in nursing some thirty five years ago), another pointed to my feet and declared that pregnant woman shouldn’t have salt at all, as she interrogated me about the cracker I happened to be munching on at the moment (let me also note that this person has a college degree in Math, not Uteruses).  The third person looked down and simply grumbled, “You’re not watching your sodium,” as if all of the apples I’d eaten that day were nothing compared to the three slices of salami I’d consumed the night before.

So what do I do with all of this positive feedback from random people? I fry tomatoes.  In bacon grease.  And then I eat them.  Ravenously.

You can call it rebellion.  Maybe it somewhat is.  But I also think it’s my body and mind telling me I really am okay.  For one thing it’s taken some time getting used to tolerating foods I used to have to stay away from.  My body craves cheese and yogurt, natural sugars, and yes, even sodium, for reasons that are finally good and healthy, and not because of crazy imbalances in my digestive system and food allergies that were eating me alive four years prior. My body also craves those things that are sentimental to me – it’s emotional eating without the dysfunction.  Call it nostalgic noshing.  I call it Pop Pop Hubert’s (yes, Hubert) fried ripe tomatoes, and damn do they taste good!

It all started with the One Who Started It All, a not always so modest working class goofball from Northeast Baltimore named Hubert Sturm, who decided one day to take a ripe tomato and fry it along with the bacon and eggs he made himself every morning for breakfast.  Don’t act so surprised to learn he lived a whopping three months shy of 96 with this daily diet.  Thus, my lack of concern over my every blue moon pregnancy craving.  When you take the fear and alarmism out of every little thing, you are left with the smiles and memories that mean the very most in life.  I’m grateful for these cravings, for sodium as a whole, and the urge to live this time in my life to the fullest with the essence of those I’ve loved and let  go of around me.

“Damn good tomatoes, Pop.  Damn good tomatoes.”

Love and Edema,

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie