Therapy

Have you ever noticed a scent coming back to you hours or days after you inhaled it, as fresh and as potent as it was? And have you noticed that memories associated with that scent come rushing back as well? And that the same thing happens with objects you may see? Or sounds you may hear? A train whistle fading as it passes, a siren rushing to an emergency? Wind chimes warning of an approaching storm?

My head has been swarming with thoughts and memories, dredged up by sensory overload. I could drown out the noise by focusing on yet another volume of fictional angst and fury that dwarfs my own, as I have been doing the past month, but today I yearn only to bake bread.

There’s something wholly satisfying about proofing yeast, the stringent, heady vapors it produces, blending ingredients, small batches at a time until they form a dough that can be twisted, pounded, and kneaded into a satiny mass, rolled into a greased bowl and left to rise, only to be worked again. And when the dough is ready to bake—having been dressed with beaten egg or butter, its aroma rises from the oven, saturating the air, replacing all the other offending scents and sights and sounds with the knowledge that nourishment and pleasure are in the future, along with the joy of that first warm bite, slathered with honey or butter or nothing.

How sweet to look at that glistening, golden braid, or round, or loaf, and say, I made that. How thoroughly soothing; how incomparably delicious.

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A Humble Offering

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As we all know, another holiday season is upon us, which means an assortment of activities, invitations, and celebrations involving food.

I am not shy about admitting  I’ve had a love-hate relationship with food all my life. Growing up with food allergies was no picnic (sorry, couldn’t resist). Finding out in midlife that I could no longer eat wheat, rye, or barley was both a relief and an inconvenience.  How was I going to eat out? What was I going to do if I was invited to someone’s home for dinner? And on and on.

Oh, I messed up a few times, wound up as a guest in someone’s home looking at a table full of dishes that were forbidden to me, but, gradually, I learned how to survive. Which leads to the following….

If you are on a restricted diet, and are invited to someone’s home for a large sit-down or buffet dinner (buffets are definitely easiest to navigate), please let your hosts know about your restrictions as soon as you receive the invitation and ask if they’ve planned the menu. If they have not, ask if you can contribute one of your favorite dishes to the meal. If they have, offer to bring one or more of the dishes your host wants to serve made to serve your needs (I always offer to bring gluten free baked goods, since they are my specialty). So far, I have not encountered a host or hostess who has balked at help, particularly with a big guest list. If they do balk, even after you’ve explained there are things you can’t eat, ask if they would be terribly insulted if you brought something for yourself. If that idea upsets them, and you still really want to go, then eat beforehand, stuff a protein bar or some other filling snack into your purse or pocket for discreet nibbling between courses, and eat whatever looks safest. (Tip: if your host is preparing a salad, and you’re concerned about the dressing, you can always ask if they would set aside a portion of it for you before they dress and serve it. Most cooks don’t dress their salads until right before they bring it to the table, to avoid wilting, so this is usually a safe request, and will avoid the embarrassment of having to explain why your plate is empty.)

I say all this as one who has done all of the above. I do not expect hosts to cook special dishes for me. I do hope they will allow me to bring complementary dishes I can eat and share, but if they don’t, I come prepared in other ways.

Everyone is stressed during the holidays, and the fact that everyone’s expectations for a greeting-card-perfect holiday season are high just magnifies that stress. If you’re like me, and have special dietary needs, please remember that your hosts are as stressed as you. Being honest and offering them help will go a long way toward alleviating that stress for all of you.

Just a little advice, for what it’s worth.

Have a joyous and blessed holiday season, dear friends.

Peace.

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