Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Food Allergic River: Grandma's Visit

While I was making jambalaya and chili ancho rubbed skirt steak this afternoon I was thinking of how I could explain to those aspiring to cook for my family how best to approach preparing safe food that is "separate" but being cooked on the same stovetop as an unsafe food.

I divide the stove into two parts, left and right.  On the left is the "unsafe" food that my husband and I can eat.  On the right is "safe" food for our food allergic child who cannot have steak (among many other things).  Her (and our) jambalaya is made with chicken sausage (and no shrimp in case you're wondering).  The outcome is we have one dish we can all eat, and one dish that Jim and I will share.  We will also have a veggie that is shared - today it was plain steamed broccoli.

We've developed our strategy over the past 12 years and perfected it to be second nature.  Different spoons that only go into their respective pots and/or pans; timing on frying unsafe foods next to safe foods to minimize splatter.  The moment the spoon "crosses the line" we have to figure out what to do with the meal.  Do we forget it and move onto a new meal?  Or, do we take a clean utensil and get rid of the contaminated food at the point of impact and around.  Luckily this is something we rarely have to confront anymore.

Except when Grandma comes.

When Grandma comes, our normally well controlled food allergic kitchen becomes confusing and chaotic. Within moments of arriving in the kitchen, Grandma has spoons dipping into Steak laden sauces, and quickly mixed with our child's Turkey chili.  Dishes are ill-washed with rags that cleaned up the steak juice spill on the counter, leaving Jim and I to merely gasp.  Though Grandma means well, her presence and inability to sit idly by while we do the cooking is a source of incredible stress for us.

The other unique phenomenon that happens with Grandma, and many other family members, is that they're never quite sure what our daughter's allergies are. And instead of asking before they come, they'd like to make it into an hour long discussion during their visit. If there's one thing we've learned, it's that having long drawn out discussions about food allergies in front of a food allergic child is uncomfortable for us and for them. We try to limit those conversations when at all possible and deflect with sentences like, "She's thirteen now and has an exemplary diet, is right on track for weight and height, and is very intelligent."

Life isn't all about food. Or is it?

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