In the kitchen again.

Monday, November 18, 2013

My sous chef, sorting strawberries.
Just after we got married in December 2008, Shawn and I moved into a corner apartment on W. Elm Street in downtown Chicago. Being in such a central location, there were two grocery stores within a block of us. As I walked home from work each day, I'd stop at one of them and think, "What should we eat tonight?" and pick something up. Our dinners were usually simple - lots of pasta with veggies and chicken - but they felt lavish. We felt the warmth of newlywed bliss and our cozy apartment as the snow fell outside. Elm Street remains our favorite spot we've ever lived. We ate salmon once or twice a week, I baked muffins or breads almost every day, and we soaked it up. Our budget could hardly handle it, but it was all we knew. Eating well, often, together. Every restaurant you could imagine was just outside our door, but it usually felt better to stay out of the cold and cook.

Within a few months, though, my gluten allergy reared its ugly head. We spent months not knowing why my health was declining, and finally got an answer 8 months and countless doctors' visits after my initial symptoms. With my diagnosis - Celiac disease - came a mix of relief and anxiety. We were grateful to know how I could get better. But what was I supposed to cook without half the ingredients I knew and loved?

I picked up a gluten free baking mix at Whole Foods and made my first scone. What came out of the oven tasted dense and sprouty, and I cried. It wasn't the taste that brought the tears. I was convinced I'd never eat a baked good that tasted good for the rest of my life. I grieved the loss of my favorite ingredients and the comfort they brought. I had just gotten the hang of cooking for my new husband, and now, I had to start all over. I had to relearn how to cook.

Then came our move to Nashville which commenced an intensely busy season. We lived a 20 minute drive from our favorite grocery store, which meant I really had to plan or we'd end up eating out. I was juggling a part-time job teaching painting classes, then working from home on Brighter Day, and going to nursing school. Planning, prepping, cooking, cleaning - it all felt like such a burden. I didn't want to spend hours in the kitchen cooking because I felt like whatever I made usually didn't taste good anyway.

So when Shawn would ask about dinner, I would get defensive, as if he was insinuating it was my wifely duty to take care of all the cooking on top of everything else I was juggling. (A man's gotta eat, though, right?) We ended up at Chipotle more times than I can count. We would eat there 3 to 4 times a week for months. Seriously. I blamed it on busyness, which was partly true. But mostly I was just so frustrated by my limitations.

That catches us up to today: here in Raleigh in our first home with our first child. With one of us in full-time ministry and one working from home, we have a budget that demands we eat in more than we eat out. We also have a one year old who does not behave kindly in restaurants.

And finally, five years after my gluten allergy diagnosis, I'm beginning to feel really comfortable in the kitchen again. These days, I actually want to be there. I've begun to plan meals out two weeks in advance, which takes less than an hour and spares me so much time agonizing when meal time rolls around. It's a different season for us. Less fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants in many ways. But I'm learning to love it.

Whereas cooking just last year felt like such a chore, today it's feeling much more like a privilege. Just this weekend, we had blackened chicken tacos for lunch, rosemary tomato soup with homemade parmesan croutons and a salad with lemon vinaigrette for dinner, and apple crisp for dessert. I make most of Liam's baby food and I love seeing if he'll enjoy what I've steamed and mashed and created for him. And today when I cook, it's rare that I think, "Is this gluten-free?" It's become so natural to cook gluten-free that it's not an issue anymore. Instead, I chop onions and glide across the hardwood floor and stir soup and feed little bits to the tiny boy hanging onto my leg. And at mealtime, I watch as my boys' bodies are filled and nourished, and their souls can breathe. It's something no restaurant - however delicious - can do for my family. And in that way, it feels like such a gift.

PS - I just went looking for our old apartment on Craigslist... sure enough, this post came up and the first four pictures are pictures of our apartment when we first moved in! Gotta love our blow up mattress, Shawn's guitar case, and the cross wall in the living room. Makes me nostalgic. (And whew... prices have gone way up!)


  1. I am following your seasons Whitney, I work at a cafe and cook all day so the last thing I feel like doing is prepare dinner when I get home. Luckily my hubby is an amazing cook and helps me out. But we have our first baby on the way and I am looking forward to the days when (child permitting) I can spend my days in the kitchen making bread and dinner and I do it all with a willing and grateful heart rather than as a chore.
    Thanks for being honest and inspiring!
    And isn't it funny looking over the wedding-moon pics?! Our flat didn't have couches for the first 2 months so we used a blow up bed folded in half as a couch! And we loved it!

  2. It's been about 5 years also since my husband has been diagnosed with celiac. A couple years later after eating gluten free wasn't improving his symptoms, we figured he has a dairy and legume intolerance. I hated cooking for a long time, but now I have the hang of it! Lots of meats and veggies, and substitutions!! Good luck with your cooking

  3. Our little boy is almost 9 months, and I just finally feel like I am getting in the routine of meal planning again. It really does much such a difference when I take the time to think about what to eat and prepare than just waiting for dinner to roll around. Plus we eat much more variety when I make meal plans, which is always a good thing.

    I would love to see some of your baby food recipes sometime!


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