This is going to seem like a terrible story to tell on a food blog, I mean, on this food blog, the one where I’m always saying we should embrace new things and shake food preconceptions and, Hey! You have no excuse not to try this!, but I’m going to tell it anyway, because if there’s one thing I want this place to be, it’s honest, and I think it’s time I was.
From where I sit tonight, with a cup of decaf green tea at my side, I have to tell you this uncomfortable fact: I have a sensitive stomach.
I’ve hinted at it before, even come right out with it when we talked about vegan ice cream, but I’ve never really given you the background, and seeing as that full story is how I first met my friend Nealy in grad school and the kind of thing that comes in handy when another friend gets diagnosed with colitis, as one did recently, I figure you might want to hear it, too. Maybe you know someone like me, or maybe you are someone like me.
So my mom says that when I was a baby, I couldn’t keep any food down, which maybe isn’t that notable except that, for me, this sensitivity never really went away, well into my teenage years. There was the easy sick feeling that would hit me, unexpectedly, because of the ambiguous something I ate, and there was the total lack of interest in trying new foods, not just because I was picky and narrow-minded but also because my memory knew what could happen if this new something didn’t agree with us—that is, my stomach and me. I still ate most things everyone else did, though maybe smaller portions, and I still went away to college and worked jobs and traveled and, well, you know, lived, so it’s not like my life was hard because of this; it was mostly an inconvenience and I got used to it. In fact, if you knew me then (or really, if you know me now), unless you spend days at a time with me, you probably wouldn’t have the first idea that there’s anything wrong with me or my digestive system. I will be eating and telling you how much I love it, and we’ll probably be talking about anything and everything besides my stomach.
But see, in college, the little sick feeling became a lot more than just a small ache and much closer to doubled-over pain every few months, and after seeing a different doctor every year for five years and never being accurately diagnosed, I finally met one who ordered the test that would diagnose me correctly. She said I had Crohn’s Disease. I was 22.
OK. So now you know I have this stomach thing, and you already know I have a food blog—what of it, right? There isn’t a real lack of any type of food on this site (except maybe meats outside the poultry and beef realm), and I’ve been blogging for, what, more than a year, without ever really coming up for air at the table, so is this really a big deal?
To be honest, I don’t know. That’s exactly the kind of question I am asking myself, both when I tell you in conversation that I have Crohn’s Disease and now, when I’m writing it out in a blog post. It’s what I wonder when I approach all the new vegetables in my biweekly CSA boxes. A lot of the time, I feel SO AMAZINGLY FINE, and I’ll actually think to myself, What disease? Could I ever stop feeling this great? Ha, doctors! Ha, medicine! Maybe I could feel that way tomorrow.
But usually, the highs are followed by lows, as is evidenced by my blanketed perch tonight, next to a cup of tea. I haven’t eaten much today, and I still feel lousy. So lousy that I’ve been having these awful worst-case scenarios dreamed up where this becomes much more serious and I’m hospitalized or worse, made to have surgery, and then I die, and the part that really bothers me is that everyone who knows me will then become people who lost. Does anyone else think things like these? It’s sick, I know, and it’s terribly unhealthy—but I’m being honest with you today, and this is honest.
On the plus side, having occasional bouts of stomachache do make the times without them that much sweeter. Actually, if I am very bold, I might say they are the very reason food holds so much joy—a lot of things become more precious when you almost lose them—like my life after the mountain, for example, after which I’ve looked at my knees and my hand so many times and been glad we made it, when I usually don’t give them another thought.
And as for me, as soon as things are back to normal, I fully intend to launch into the overwhelming crop of tomatoes filling the countertops, the refrigerator, the garden and several recent recipes around here.
And when I do, the recipe that has won my heart is scalloped tomatoes, posted over at A Chow Life and adapted from Edna Lewis. Something magical happens to the juices when they’re baked for such a long time, and the bread soaks up the flavor until the whole thing becomes this sweet, caramelized deliciousness that you won’t believe is so good, I mean it.
I can’t wait.
Edna Lewis’s Scalloped Tomatoes
from A Chow Life
One note about this recipe: I’ve made it twice, and the second time I mixed up the order of directions while I was also doing something else, and let’s just say it mattered. The instructions are not at all difficult, but follow them! You’ll be glad you did.
6 large vine-ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1 & 1/2 inch pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp sugar
4 slices crusty white bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
7 tblsp. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Put the tomato pieces and the chopped onion into a large, nonreactive bowl, and season them with the salt, pepper and sugar. Toss well. Put bread cubes in a baking pan and drizzle four Tablespoons of the melted butter on top until they’re coated evenly. Put in the oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, turning once, until they are evenly golden brown throughout.
Add these bread cubes to the bowl of tomatoes and toss. Taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking. Turn this all into a buttered 9-by-13 baking dish, and drizzle the remaining melted butter on top. Place a piece of parchment paper directly over the dish and then cover the whole thing tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes; then uncover and bake for 10 minutes longer.