the whole truth

tomato on vine

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.

csa 3

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.

scalloped tomatoes

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.


  1. says

    You know, I’m so glad that you posted about tomatoes today. I came home from work this evening to stare longingly at the large fruit bowl of lonely heirloom and roma tomatoes from my garden… which I can’t eat right now (the acid is the worst). They are begging to be roasted over a spinach and feta pizza, tossed with spaghetti squash or scalloped as in this mouthwatering display. Surprisingly, it was comforting (instead of taunting) to read about them. Hehe… thank you :)

  2. says

    oh yes! If I might add, tomatoes were the perfect, warm and comforting (albeit dangerous) food to divulge the story of your Crohn’s. I truly hope that your situation does not exacerbate. However, if it becomes harder to eat everything you want to, I have a feeling that you will enjoy the creativity of trying to modify dangerous foods to become benign and remain exciting.

  3. says

    I didn’t know about Crohn’s Disease until a couple of days ago, when I found that a very good friend of mine had suffered from it. Like you, I think he has managed it beautifully — by following the lows with diligence and grace.

  4. says

    While I’ve never before known anyone with Crohn’s, I hope that they handle it the way you do – by appreciating the good times just that much more. Finding joy in the little things instead of waiting for the big ones is something too few people do. Although I must say, tomatoes are a very. big. thing. :)

  5. says

    I hope you are feeling better soon. Do certain foods always make you sick and you just don’t know what new ones are safe, or you just never know when you will feel sick? One of my students has Chron’s disease.

  6. says

    I saw in a comment someone made to you that you had Chron’s disease. Take heart, I had a friend (still have her) with Chron’s. Her worst was in her 20’s..then it got much better. She is a major major foodie and has enjoyed food literally all over the world. I think it was a good for you to come forth with this, and I hope you feel better soon. (There may be readers who have same thing and this could help them).

  7. says

    thank you for sharing this with us! i can’t begin to imagine what this is like and you handle it with such grace.

    this dish looks lovely, and with the coming Fall (i’ve woken up three days in a row slightly cold) season, it’s the perfect thing to just whip up and pop in the oven for a warm dinner.

  8. says

    It was lovely of you to share your story, I’m glad you did, Shanna! Would that we were all so graceful about even the littlest discomforts, much less a disease like Crohn’s. Thank you for the inspiration :)

    And that tomato dish looks fabulous! Oddly enough, in Northern FL here, their tomato season is quite early, so we missed the loads of juicy (local) tomatoes by about a month. I’ll have to get some from Publix to try this.

  9. says

    there’s that sound of music song again: “cliiiiimb eeeeeeevery mountaaaaaaain….” do you know what i’m talking about? it should be your blog’s theme song.

    thank you for being honest and sharing your story and always looking on the bright side of things. i hope you feel better today! let’s do lunch soon!

  10. says

    I have a really good friend nearing her 40s with Crohn’s disease. She had a really hard time at it when she was younger and she lost lots and lots of weight b/c of it (she was already a pretty skinny chick!). She found a balance b/w food and the disease and she learns which foods to stay away from and which ones she can inhale at each sitting. Years after dealing w/ it, she has a family, a cute little one-year-old and she lives with it every day, bravely and gracefully.
    I have digestion problems as of lately and while we’re still trying to figure out the exact problem (they ruled out Crohn’s disease already), I’ve been learning what foods are harder to digest than others and figuring out good substitutes that won’t kill taste and texture. I don’t know if that kind of stuff would be helpful for you, but it’s something to look into right?

  11. says

    I have those thoughts too, the ones that get out of control. But try to control them because they can cause you more despair. I hope you feel better soon, that this bad spell passes – it will.

    Thank you for sharing Shannalee, its inspiring to hear.

  12. says

    what an incredible recipe! wow. thank you!

    and thank you for sharing your battle with crohn’s – it is really something that impacts your life, this disability. and yes, i often do worst case scenarios. it’s human nature!

  13. Alicia says

    We’ve talked enough about this, so I’ll just say, hang in there. I hope you feel better really soon. Garden tomatoes are my ABSOLUTE favorite food in the whole wide world, so I refuse not to eat them, and you can too. When you feel better.

  14. says

    This is why I love your blog so much. It’s a cooking blog, yes, but it’s so much more. I don’t even know how I found you, but I’m glad I did!

  15. says

    Get better soon! The recipe has me looking at my tomatoes in a different light. Not that I didn’t love them already.

  16. says

    I’ll echo everyone who is thanking you for your honesty – it is refreshing and encouraging to read a blog with such openness. And I have a friend who was diagnosed with Crohn’s in high school – he is 28 now, and living a healthy, happy life. It’s something he has to live with, but he doesn’t let it stop him from enjoying all life has to offer (that sounds so cheesy), and I can’t imagine you will either.

    Big hugs from the West coast!

  17. says

    Oh, I hardly know what to say in response. When I typed this out last night, I felt a little embarrassed, quite frankly, and wondered if I was ready to just put this out there. And then here you all are, with the sweetest, kindest responses, full of stories and advice and just, friendship, if I can say it like that. Thank you.

    Ragamuffin, I’m so glad to have found you, I really am. So far, the hardest part for me has been that I don’t know which foods are the dangerous ones. It’s such a guessing game, but I am willing to pull up my sleeves and launch into whatever foods my stomach is willing to take—today it was a lot of applesauce and toast and tea, along with two pieces of coffee cake some sweetheart at work brought in, and I’m feeling good. Even had roast chicken for dinner. Who knows. Love that you’re filled with tomatoes, too, and I hope you get to try this!

    Erica, Thank you so much, you sweet girl, for stopping to tell me that. It honestly makes me feel so good to know other people—normal ones, with lives and friends—have Crohn’s, too. Tell your friend I’m rooting for him.

    Caitlin, Thank you for such a lovely complement. I’m not sure I’ve earned it—in fact, I know I haven’t on the days when I’m particularly frustrated, but you remind me of what I want to be like: full of grace.

    Jo, I have no idea which foods are the problem ones, except for coffee (would you believe that?)—I can’t have coffee because it always makes me violently ill, anytime. That was a sad realization.

    Angela, I cried when I read your comment, I really did. I don’t think there’s anything better someone could have told me. Thank you. So much.

    Lan, Thank you, friend, and I hope you try this soon! I couldn’t believe how the tomatoes had changed in the oven, and I ate almost the whole pan in two days.

    Amanda, Thank YOU for the lovely, lovely comment. You are very kind. And I didn’t realize that about Florida! I bet you’ll have your fill of other, tropical (?) stuff all winter though, and that will be wonderful!

    Jacqui, HA! My coworker and I had it in our head the other day when you wrote that on the mountain post! And I agree about lunch. I’ll contact you soon!

    Niki, Oh, that is so good to hear about your friend. Makes me so hopeful. And I’m sorry to hear about your digestive issues! Have they tested for celiac yet? I was reading on Gluten-Free Girl yesterday and amazed at how cutting out gluten ended up changing her life, and I’ve been wondering how many people have the disease. Whatever you end up having, I am cheering for you to find a solution. Hug from the Internet.

    J, Thank you so much!

    Amanda Mae, You are right, I know, and I try. Sometimes just admitting it out loud (or out in type) can help me see how carried away I’m getting. Thank you for knowing how that feels, and thank you for commenting here.

    JessieV, You really need to try these tomatoes—ah-ma-zing. Thanks for your empathy both about Crohn’s and about the worrying. I’m learning, day at a time, that my needs are always provided for, and Grace is always given to me, just as I need it.

    Alicia, I have GOT to bring you some tomatoes next time we see each other—making a serious mental note. Stay tuned and thank you!

    Kathi D, Well, gosh, you are too kind to me. Thank you!

    TJ, Thank you so much, and I hope you’ll try this recipe, it’s amazing!

    Kim, Thank you for telling me that! That’s so good to hear about your friend! And I need more cheesy in my life—you are wonderful.

  18. says

    Poor you! I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. I think you are very brave and it’s totally ok to have bad days. I appreciate your honesty! And, thanks so much for trying out the scalloped tomatoes from my blog. So delighted you enjoyed them!

  19. says

    I don’t know much about Crohn’s so all I will say is that I’m glad you decided to share this story and I hope you feel better soon. Oh, and I wish I liked tomatoes more as this looks delicious.

  20. says

    My husband has had colitis since his teens. For many years it bordered on debilitating but thanks to a great doctor and the right combination of meds he is in remission most of the time. Set backs do come though, usually in the fall or in times of stress but we get through them. I commend you for your honesty and hope you feel better very soon.

  21. says

    thank you for sharing… i am sure it is hard to swing between great times and not so great times…. still – it’s wonderful that you are able to still appreciate lovely things like those tomatoes!
    i hope that you are much much better soon… and stay that way!

  22. says

    redmenace, I still can’t get over how good these tomatoes were. You and Edna Lewis were so right because I LOVE THEM. So really, thank you!

    Gemma, Thank you so much for your sweet words. I wish you liked tomatoes more, too, but I was a slow-comer to them so I understand!

    Beryl, I really can’t explain how much I appreciate hearing stories like that about people who are doing well – thank you so much for posting here!

    Montague, Oh, Amy, thank you!

  23. sue says

    What a sweet, open and honest post. You are always so balanced in your perspective, and I admire your gutsy-ness :) I just love you & your writing!

  24. Stephanie says

    Shanalee, your honest account really touched me, and I’m sure many others, who have similar issues. Sometimes it takes the fun out of being an adventurous eater when you don’t know what the next day or even hour might bring to your digestive system. There is a certain
    shame in our culture regarding such “unmentionables” and I applaud you for sharing your personal experience. I am not alone, you are not alone, and isn’t it wonderful to realize that we all have a story and we are here to nurture and help each other along the way :)
    Can’t wait to try the scalloped tomatoes…brilliant!!

  25. says

    Sue, I love you, too! I miss you so much and really wish we weren’t so far away.

    Stephanie, Thank you for that sweet comment full of empathy. Love your comment about us all having a story, too. SO true.

  26. says

    Thank you for the well wishes, Whitney! I just ate some chicken and sweet potatoes, with rice on the side, after a sandwich at lunch and a full day yesterday that included a mini Twix bar. Things are looking up.

  27. says


    i have been reading and enjoying your blog for some time as a fellow foodie, but have to come out of lurking to express how amazed i was to find that we both have crohn’s! if food & crohn’s are wrong together, i don’t want to be right, man. hang in there. the food will wait for us, and it will be amazing.

  28. says

    Kara, Thanks for delurking on this post! I popped over to your side and read your Crohn’s post and I love what you said about learning to be what/who you were before finding out you had it – and you were only 10 then! So nice to meet you.

  29. Kim says

    I was just led to your website by the post I read in JSonline, post college kitchen…..I too have chrons since I was 22 and am now 40, I have managed it and am thankful and sad that only few things really affect me at this time….fresh hard veggies and fruits i.e. baby carrots (one of my faves) apples, underripe pairs….I was put on medication for it two years ago but, the meds made me violently ill. so I just live with it. the attacks are the worst but am glad that I they don’t happen often. Hang in there. Glad I learned of your blog.

  30. says

    Kim, Thanks so much for that sweet comment. Allison from Post College Cook is so kind to link over here, and I’m glad it brought you to this post. I understand what you mean about veggies/fruit. Sometimes it’s those high-fiber things that irritate me, too (although sometimes not, which is part of what’s so frustrating). We are always learning what works and doesn’t, it seems, huh? Nice to know there are so many others going through the same thing.


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