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Question: What do you do when you–a lover of all things edible, and a recently minted food blogger–are told that you are allergic or sensitive to almost everything you regularly eat? And what’s more, that you have a low-functioning gallbladder (so you have to take any food allergies/sensitivities very, very seriously)?

Answer: You freak out and wish you could cry, but your shock won’t let you. Your heart palpitates and your gut does flip-flops.

Then: You pull yourself together. And you realize that you’ve been training for this very challenge, for the past several years.

After all, this blog is all about learning from, and incorporating, culinary concepts and ingredients from all around the world. It’s about taking cultural influences on certain ingredient combinations (say, chicken with sweet walnut sauce) and applying the ideas to your own cooking methods and readily available ingredients (say, chicken and potatoes with a cream-based walnut sauce).

You're off limits for a while, chicken and potato deliciousness...

I absolutely love traditional foods from all over the globe, and I’ve been very blessed to be able to try the real deal, from Tajikistan to Mongolia, from Egypt to Morocco, from Easter Island and New Zealand to Malaysia, and lots of places in between. Eating my way through the continents of the world has radically changed and shaped my view of food and how food patterns can be applied with almost any set of ingredients to create a satisfying variety of meals. Whether you’re pairing papaya with pineapple (as is common in Central America) or with fish paste (as is popular in Southeast Asia), one ingredient really can take you in several different directions. And it was my original intent to explore these options on this blog, as an online extension to a recipe and cooking methods book I was compiling for friends and family.

However, I have to admit that after spending the past 2 years in Europe, I have recently been excited to get back to some good ol’ fashioned American foods, and lately I’ve been delving into my old favorites: homestyle mac ‘n’ cheese (click here for recipe), my Mexican favorites–enchiladas and fish tacos (click here for taco recipe), and fried chicken (see my Guiness Fried Chicken recipe here, which incorporates two of my very favorite things). As those of you who have been following this blog know, I like to prepare healthy, albeit rich, foods. As close to nature as possible, organic when possible, local if at all possible, this is my mantra.

See ya later, mac 'n' cheese...

But, it was not even 2 days after making my Georgian-inspired Chicken and Potatoes with Walnut Sauce that I was told that I have a low-functioning gallbladder that should be removed. A few days later, my insurance expired. Long story short, the surgery isn’t getting done anytime soon. In the meantime, I will have to learn to deal with it and help my body heal as much as possible. How? By restructuring my diet. And for better or worse, you get to come along with me for the ride, if you want to!

We had a good run, Corona-battered fish taco... (but I think this one might be easy enough to recreate!)

Western vs. Eastern Medicine

I went to a holistic doctor who was highly recommended to me by a good friend, with a track record of “fixing” a lot of people we both know. He gave me some herbal supplements and basically told me we could at least give a shot at actually restoring the gallbladder so that the surgery wouldn’t be necessary. No guarantee, but worth a try, especially because surgery isn’t going to be an immediate option.

This is also when he dropped the bomb on me. I apparently have an allergy or sensitivity to: wheat, corn, potato, sugar, milk, chocolate, peanut, and tomato. I don’t break out in hives or go into anaphylactic shock with any of these ingredients; however, over a long period of time of basing my food intake on these foods–even my pure, unprocessed, organic, locally grown ingredients–my system has apparently become hypersensitive to them, which has complicated my genetic pre-disposition for certain health issues. So, I have to go at least one month without these foods–and maybe a bit longer–before I can start slowly reintroducing them into my diet.

This is particularly shocking to me because, as I have noted in another post, I really thought I had a stomach of steel from extensive travel and exposure to different cuisines. While I don’t actually get noticeably sick from most foods, I apparently do have enough of an internal reaction to mess up the chi of my system, according to holistic medicine. And it really isn’t necessarily the food itself, but rather the food in combination with your genetic make-up. Some of us are just more sensitive than others to certain things. So, if you or a loved one has even mild indigestion or heartburn on a relatively frequent basis, you may want to re-examine your diet, or even get it checked out by a professional. And in this case, I do heartily suggest going to a holistic doctor as well as a Western doctor, if you can. They treat conditions differently, and they can come back with very different answers. From someone who (unfortunately) now knows.

Oh tricky chi... how much I have yet to learn. Image from http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=97&catid=3

Now, I am no expert in food allergies, and I have only just begun my research. Apparently, potato and tomato are nightshade plants, and that means I likely have a sensitivity to eggplant and peppers as well (two more of my favorite foods). But, I will be doing much more research (out of necessity), and I hope that you will bear with me while I figure out what I can eat. Hopefully, the information will be at least somewhat helpful to you, as well!

Exploring a New Diet

Recent attempts at recreating Western foods with alternative ingredients (i.e. “mac ‘n’ cheese” with rice bran pasta, almond milk and veggie cheese) have taught me that 1) Recreating foods well would take a lot of money and a BA in Chemistry to figure out good substitutes; and 2) It may well be worth going back to my original goal of compiling traditional cuisine tips with the foods I can eat; that is, researching how sorghum, millet, buckwheat, tapioca, arrowroot, and other flours can replace wheat, corn, and potato flours; and utilizing alternative starches to the potato in original form as well, such as the only very distantly related sweet potato, jicama, taro, malanga, and yuca (click here for my recipe for Cuban-style yuca con mojo).

Well, at least my yuca con mojo is still safe

And instead of trying to make these “alternative” ingredients fit the “norm” of Western cooking, I plan on getting much better acquainted with meals that are time-tested and approved by billions of people the world over, even if I’ve only been personally exposed to a small percentage of those meals so far.

So… be expecting much more in the wheat-free, cane sugar-free, milk-free, corn-free, potato-free, tomato-free, peanut-free, and chocolate-free food zones, as well as my experimentation to make (necessarily) healthier versions of some of the foods I can’t imagine living without–namely, brownies, chocolate-covered marshmallows, and of course, who can forget the oh so wonderful Avocado Banana Double Chocolate Chip Frozen Custard?

And there will definitely be more healthy Armenian foods, which I have been meaning to make anyways, with some necessary tweaks on the bulgur wheat (I hear quinoa can work…)… and maybe an attempt for a non-wheat flatbread for lahmajoun (which might also work for non-wheat, non-corn tortillas)….

In the meantime thanks to Karen K. for passing on this awesome Armenian food blog by a cute Florida couple who really know what they’re doing (and make new fusion creations of their own!)…

If you or a loved one has a food allergy to any common food ingredients, I hope the (at least temporary) new direction of the blog will help you to think of new ways to adapt and explore your options. And if you are one of the lucky ones who have no food allergies, well, hopefully you’ll still find the foods worth trying for yourself!!!

More to come…

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