Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Problem of Eating

The problem with a no lactose/low residue diet and no appetite is pretty serious. I can't thank Dutchbaby enough for actually doing some research on this and writing such a wonderful blog comment. How generous for her to take time with this problem.

Yesterday was particularly difficult. Quite against inclination, I pulled myself together, committed myself to going out for dinner with K. and C. and then, when it was time, got up to do it. We went to a steak house, inexpensive, very noisy, peanuts on the floor, in a bucket on the table. I thought about steak, but ordered salmon. It came with a fabulous baked sweet potato, but wasn't nearly as good as the Monday meal at the Victoria.

I sat, glaring at K.'s salad, wanting nothing but to stab the rest of her salad dressed lettuce and stuff it into my mouth! By then, I'd read the drinks menu (Marguirettas) and about the deserts (only three, including cheese cake and a brownie) and had shouted with everyone else, one, two, three, whoopie, for the young woman at the opposite table who was seated on a saddle, waving a napkin, for her birthday.

I felt better after dinner, and C. walked me over to Paneras where I bought a cinnamon bagel, the kind that my poet-friend particularly loves. I imagined that it would bring some spark of normal life into the early morning which begins at 5 when I take a thyroid pill, then at 6 the pill to protect my stomach against prednisone (that often makes me gag half an hour later), then 8:30 is the prednisone, then 10:30 is another anti-inflamnatory, and then, in the afternoon, a bit of Lexipro, followed up much later in the evening by another two anti-inflammatory pills.

In the afternoon, I'd forced myself downstairs and outside instead of lying there, rereading Oliver Sachs (No Leg to Stand wasn't worth it.) I've reread Dubliners, Travels with Charlie (what a wonderful book), a study by Luria, the first third of Stephen King's book on writing (I've never seen one of his movies or read his books, but the part about his childhood, marriage, alcoholism is touching.) I thought Liar's Club, though it's so novelized, gave interesting information about the cultural and economic plight of her family. A book on NY by Dan Wakefield and another on a trip down to see Ted Williams before he died that was so baseball technical that I could hardly understand it. And more.

But basically I failed food for the day. The miso soup didn't have the right proportion of miso, though the tofu tasted good. Carrots weren't worth it.

This time I tried sauteing the sole, but the couscous and zucchini tasted awful.

(In the early nineties, I took portraits and did interviews with women who had been homeless for an exhibition and catalogue. I'd met one of the women a few years earlier when I was working some 3-11 shifts in a women's shelter. She was a remarkably articulate woman who I'm quite sure had grown up with money, but fallen off her uppers. Therefore, her use of language was gorgeous, as was her ability to promote various schemes including renting an apartment on Commonwealth that she furnished almost entirely with things she found in the back alley on garbage day -- most of them not even unwrapped. Electric coffee pots, toaster ovens, sheets, towels, blankets. Some man who she met every month or so rented the furniture for her and she tried to rent out the downstairs apartment.

Over the time I knew her, she gave me any number of things including a brass lamp that needed rewiring ("What, you don't know how to rewire a lamp?"), another multi-headed lamp that I promptly ditched, and this parsley plate. I was so sorry that when she got really ill, just before she died, she wouldn't let the social worker call me. I would have thanked her for the experience of knowing her.)

I love to peel and cut a macintosh apple, but am I allowed to eat it? It's not apple sauce.

What I like in the morning is that K. comes up with Happy, sits against the wall, her face in sunlight, and talks about this and that. It's very comforting.

Now I'm waiting for her to take the dogs out and then they will drive up the coast for lunch, an outing..... that's good. I had half the bagel and have peeled an apple and will continue onward with the job of eating. I'm horrified by how much weight I've lost since February.


  1. I read this post last night, Melissa, but was too tired to comment then and a bit too overwhelmed I think in considering your awful struggles to eat.

    It's such s reversal of the problem that so many others have, the desire to eat too much.

    I think the idea of you fading away is dreadul, you of the wonderful mind and perfect turn of phrase.

    So I send you my best wishes and hope that you get your appetite back as soon as possible.

    Lord knows you've got to eat to be able to write.

  2. Melissa, dear:

    I hope today will be better.


    Can you drink lactose-free milk? "Lactaid" I think it's called, and other brands, which you can find at Whole Foods? Also smoothies made with bananas and soy milk and honey.

  3. thank you, dear hearts...
    smoothies sound good...I tried lactaid, but right now my mind is set against it...but that's a great idea...

  4. Hello Melissa,

    I took a tofu recipe from my favorite vegetarian cookbook and modified it to isolate the fibrous ingredients. I have not tested this, so forgive me if this is unworkable.

    Tofu in Coconut Sauce with Ginger and Lemongrass
    Modified Deborah Madison recipe

    1 1-pound package Chinese-style firm tofu, drained
    3 tablespoons peanut oil
    8 shallots, thinly sliced or 1 small white onion
    Salt and freshly milled white pepper
    1 bunch cilantro
    1 “toe” fresh ginger, bruised
    1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
    1 jalapeño chile, seeded and bruised
    1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk plus water to make 2 cups
    3 pieces galangal, optional
    1 teaspoon soy sauce, preferably mushroom soy

    Drain the tofu, then dice it into ½-inch cubes.

    Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet, add shallots, and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add ginger, lemongrass, jalapeño and galangal. Season with a few pinches salt, then add half the cilantro. Remove from the heat and set aside.

    Heat a wok, add the remaining oil and swirl around the sides. When hot, add the coconut milk. Place solids from the skillet mixture into a cheesecloth and tie into a beggar’s purse with cooking twine. Scrape any liquid and brown particles into the coconut milk and drop in the cheesecloth beggar’s purse. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, add the tofu, and simmer gently until heated through and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the soy, season with pepper.

    Good luck!

  5. P.S. Please check with your dietitian to make sure this is all within the guidelines of your diet.

  6. The smoothies are so easy and nourishing. I would make them with 2 bananas. If it's OK for you to have vegetable oil, you can add a tablespoon of canola oil. It will build you up and provide calories.

    Happy slurping!


  7. Melissa, I just came over to say thank you for your comment on my blog. But having now read a few of your recent posts and found out a little of what you've been going through I must say I do hope you continue to make progress. I also had an illness that made eating difficult and lost a huge amount of weight, but after an operation at Christmas I am fine now, as far as I can see. Food is so fundamental to our lives, not just because we need it to live, that when one can't eat everything else becomes trying too. Very impressed with how much reading you are doing.