Last night we went to an Italian restaurant. The food was delicious but by the time we got home my stomach felt like it had been inflated with a bicycle pump. I hung my tongue out, airing my taste buds. "Too much garlic," I said, reaching for the Tums.
This happens all the time. We have a nice dinner and then we suffer. "Now we know why our grandparents ate cottage cheese and canned fruit," my husband said. "There are only a few foods left that don't hurt."
Once upon a time, we ate everything. Want a three-cheese bean burrito? Sure! Raw onion on that pizza? Why not? Remember when a pint of ice cream was a single serving?
Go out to dinner with anyone over 50 and you'll be astonished by the lists of dietary restrictions:
"I can't eat onions."
"Is there butter in that?"
"I don't eat dairy."
"Garlic doesn't agree with me."
Salt, gluten, red meat, shellfish, shelled nuts, stone fruits..... Older stomachs, it seems, just aren't that accepting.
I'm a careful eater. I don't gorge on fast food unless you count Chipotle which, according to my children, is health food. I haven't had a bowl of sinfully rich fettuccine alfredo or mouth-watering fried chicken in decades (I'm weeping as I type). At home, we eat balanced meals thanks, entirely, to a husband who believes that every dinner should have one protein, one vegetable and one carbohydrate. Before we met I was living on Cap'n Crunch cereal and Hershey's chocolate syrup straight out of the can -- and never suffered a moment of gastric distress.
Still, at age 52, I suffer.
Some of our friends have converted to health foods. I thought I'd give that a try. I tagged along to the organic market where a friend bought what looked like mulch from a row of topless barrels containing grains, legumes, rice that clearly needed rinsing and many varieties of what might have been gravel. I bought quinoa which, my husband and I agreed, tasted like packing peanuts. We tried grain-fed beef, cage-free eggs, free-range chickens, hormone-free milk and pesticide-free vegetables that brought woodlice into my kitchen, an invasion that cost $78 in exterminating fees. So far, the only discernable difference in my life is an empty wallet.
Just recently a couple told us about a new restaurant. They're wwoofers. Wwoof means: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. You tend the animals, till the land, sleep in a tent and eat what you sow -- boiled over an open fire in a cauldron (yum). The restaurant they recommended bought foods from the farm they'd wwoofed. We made a reservation, which was unnecessary as there were only two other patrons that Saturday night, and off we went.
We began with a lovely wine, supplied by a local organic winery. After a while, we signaled for the waiter. "We're ready for menus, please."
They didn't use printed menus. Rather, the evening's dishes were described with great flourish by an earnest waiter wearing a tie made of straw. "You'll love the stew," he promised. "It's lush, rich and rife with cruciferous vegetables."
My husband ordered the stew: Seitan Bourguignon.
I ordered the chef's "imaginative interpretation of pasta primavera": Ginger, apples and collard greens over cracked wheat noodles. I was a little worried about the combination but I figured, you can never go wrong with pasta.
After we'd ordered, I whispered to my husband. "What is seitan?"
"Some sort of meat, I'm guessing," he answered with a confident expression that meant he had no idea what he was about to eat.
The bowls arrived.
The stew was the color of green tea. "Is this the beef stew?" my husband asked.
"It's seitan," the waiter insisted.
"Seitan." His eyes shone like he was about to disclose the recipe for manna. "It is vital wheat gluten, carefully rinsed and dried and then shaped with great care to augment each recipe individually. Our chef is an artist when it comes to making seitan." His shoulders twitched with excitement. "We vegans call it wheat meat." He chuckled with a hand over his mouth.
"That's funny," I said, twirling the pasta around my fork. I couldn't wait to watch my husband eat vital wheat gluten. I slid a tangle of noodles into my mouth and began to chew. And chew. And chew. It felt like I had a mouthful of hay. I breathed through my nose and prayed that one of the other diners might know the Heimlich maneuver.
My husband dipped a shard of kelp bread into the stew and tasted it. "It's not terrible," he said. "But we're going to need to eat again later." He looked over at my bowl and asked, "How is yours?"
The noodles went down easier when I ate them one at a time. "Interesting," I said, "but I'm suddenly overcome with an urge to whinny."
I don't think health food is in our future. We're down to cottage cheese and fruit.