Right now it’s the middle of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It commemorates a time in Jewish history when a small group of Jewish soldiers, called the Maccabees, defeated a much larger Greek army. Following the miraculous battle, another miracle occurred in the Great Temple. At that time, extra-virgin olive oil was used to light the large candelabra, called the Menorah. The Temple had been ransacked, and most of the lamp oil was desecrated, but one small jar of pure oil was found, just enough to light the Menorah for one day. At that time, it took 8 days to get more oil, though it’s not clear if it was an 8 day process to make the oil or if there was a large supply a 4 day journey away.
Miraculously, the small amount of oil burned for 8 whole days, until more pure oil was obtained. To commemorate this miracle, Jews all over the world light 9 branched candelabras called Menorahs or Hanukkias, and eat foods fried in oil. Some use actual olive oil for the Hanukkah lights, but candles are much more common. My family has always used candles.
For generations, Jews of European descent have eaten potato pancakes, called latkes, for Hanukkah. Israeli Jews usually have jelly donuts instead. My shul serves both. Wheat AND potatoes- what more can an O nonnie ask for?
I limited myself to water and seltzer at my shul’s Hanukkah celebration, though I let my children eat whatever they wanted. They’re healthy enough to handle a few “avoids” occasionally. I’m still detoxing from Hurricane Sandy and can’t afford any “cheats” right now.
At home, I’ve created some new holiday traditions. Before I found BTD, but had identified my problems with gluten, I made gluten-free potato pancakes. I started with boiled potatoes, mashed them, added salt and onion powder and eggs, then fried in olive oil and served with apple sauce and sour cream. The traditional recipe calls for grated raw potatoes mixed with eggs and flour or matzah meal, but I found a way to make it without the added wheat.
Not being able to eat potatoes presents an added challenge. I’ve successfully substituted sweet potatoes in other recipes calling for potatoes, so I did the same with my latke recipe. Start with cooked sweet potatoes, add salt, onions, and eggs, and fry in olive oil. It didn’t hold together very well, though, as sweet potatoes are much less starchy than white potatoes. A little rice flour in the dough fixed that right up.
On Sunday, Leah wanted to make latkes but we didn’t have any cooked sweet potatoes in the house. Instead, she grated raw sweet potatoes and mixed them with eggs, spices, and rice flour before frying in oil. They took longer to cook, but came out delicious! Monday I baked sweet potatoes to make latkes with my usual recipe, and found that they weren’t as good. It’s more work to grate them than it is to mash up cooked sweet potatoes, but I think it’s worth the effort. I plan to use the grated raw recipe for the rest of the week.
Another problem with traditional latkes is the applesauce served alongside. I buy unsweetened applesauce for my family, but O nonnies shouldn’t have apples. Last year I bought a jar of pear baby food to eat with my latkes, and it was delicious! This year, I wanted to stay away from the ascorbic acid added to jarred baby food, since I can’t guarantee that it’s corn-free. So I bought two large bags of pears: one for eating and one for cooking. I peeled and chopped the pears, then put them in my crock pot with a little water. I cooked them on “low” overnight, added a little nutmeg, and then blended with my stick blender before putting them in a jar in the fridge. I think this batch came out a little bit too runny; I think I’ll use less water the next time I make this. But overall the recipe is a winner- I’ll be making pear sauce for Hanukkah every year from now on.
I’ve been on BTD for several years now, and I’ve long since discovered that I need to be very careful with my diet. Even small amounts of “avoids” can wreck havoc with my system, causing pain and fatigue. I couldn’t understand why some people were so hesitant to give up things like restaurant meals or bottled salad dressings. I’m doing it, so why can’t everybody else?
My kitchen was well stocked with compliant ingredients in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. On days I’m too tired to go out food shopping, I’d pull some meat and veggies out of the freezer for dinner. There was never a reason to buy less than perfectly compliant foods.
Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and we lost electricity for 9 days. My pantry was safe, but I had to throw out food from both my refrigerator and my freezer. The contents of the chest freezer in the basement melted and then re-froze, so it was another week before it thawed enough for me to clean it out. I was also hesitant at first about re-stocking the fridge and freezers, since there were power lines on my lawn and I feared we’d lose power again soon. Those power lines are STILL on my lawn, a month later, but power has been consistent so I’ve let go of that worry.
Jack’s 11th birthday arrived during that time, when power had newly been restored and the basement freezer wasn’t cleaned out yet. I’d promised him a special dinner for his birthday, separate from his postponed birthday party with friends. He wanted tacos; something we’ve stopped eating regularly since corn is an “avoid” for all 4 of us. I figured on a relatively healthy meal with organic taco shells, ground beef, smashed spiced pinto beans, guacamole, shredded lettuce, and salsa. I could easily skip the taco shells and have a compliant dinner of beef, beans, guacamole, and salsa on a bed of lettuce.
I’d made a few compromises on compliance when we were still without electricity and fuel for my car. I could only purchase what was available locally and that could be prepared without an oven. I tried to resume 100% compliance in the following weeks, but I wore myself out in the process. I found myself going to 2 or 3 stores in one day, if one store was out of an item I usually bought there. I’d run out of the house before eating lunch, then find myself skipping meals altogether. I soon realized that skipping meals was as toxic for me as eating avoids, at least when it turned into a consistent pattern.
So, I made some compromises. I bought some almonds and a kombucha with chia seeds for lunch, even though kombucha is a “black dot” for me- it’s better than skipping a meal. I couldn't find ripe avocados, and hadn't been able to purchase them 3 days before, so I purchased ready-made guacamole with vinegar in it. I bought ready-made salsa with vinegar rather than the ingredients to make my own. I then came home from food shopping ready to put together the taco dinner- I wasn't weak from skipping lunch, and food prep was easy when I had to open up two containers rather than start making a bunch of sauces.
Compromising on compliance for Jack’s birthday was the smart thing to do. I wish I’d thought to take some shortcuts a few days earlier- I might have saved myself some extra stress during an already stressful time. However, 3 weeks of carelessness is starting to catch up to me. I've been fatigued, brain-fogged, and plagued with rather severe sciatica pain, along with some low-level muscle pain all over. The fatigue, brain fog, and muscle pain have responded well to careful compliance in the past, and I suspect my diet is affecting the sciatica too. It’s time for me to resume my prior “zero tolerance” for avoids.
However, I now have a much deeper appreciation for why people choose convenience foods and feel like they “can’t” be more compliant. It’s not all a bunch of excuses! I’ll try not to be such a “compliance snob” in the future.
Preparing for Shabbos without electricity was one of my biggest challenges. I only had access to a stovetop, not an oven, so I couldn’t bake bread or cake. Since it was my Mom’s gas stove, and not my own, I didn’t have the authority to leave a flame on all night. I couldn’t prepare a hot stew for Saturday afternoon, or even keep hot water available.
Making a special blessing over the bread is an integral part of Shabbos observance. It’s supposed to be made over two whole loaves, symbolizing the two portions of Manna that the Israelites received on Fridays in the Desert after leaving Egypt. It’s supposed to be made of wheat, spelt, rye, oats, or barley, but rice is an acceptable alternative only for those who cannot eat any of the other 5 grains. I normally bake rice challah rolls for myself, and spelt for everybody else. I make rolls so we can have “whole loaves” without using large portions of bread.
This would have been a perfect time to buy bakery challah, had there been any available we could safely eat. But no bakeries in the area prepare spelt or rice challahs, so we used spelt matzah on Friday night. Shortly after making the blessings, we discovered some spelt rolls left from the Shabbos before- we’d have used those if we’d realized we had them! I couldn’t find rolls made of rice flour anywhere, but I did find a sliced loaf of rice bread, so I used two slices, instead of two loaves, that week.
Friday night’s meal wasn’t all that different from the other dinners we’d been eating. I made white rice in one pot, and in another pot I made a stew with chicken cutlets, sweet potatoes, and green beans. . I wasn’t entirely happy with serving chicken, since it’s an avoid for my type B son, but we had chicken in the freezer, now thawed, that would have otherwise spoiled. I did buy some turkey bologna for him. I’d feared the meal wouldn’t feel special without dessert, so I bought chocolate covered marshmallows. I needn’t have feared: the meal was elegant.
Saturday was another story. Since I couldn’t heat anything up without violating Shabbos, and I couldn’t keep anything warm without electricity, we were stuck with cold food in a cold house. I’d prepared a pea salad with frozen green peas, ume plum vinegar, chopped onions, and toasted sesame oil. We also had romaine lettuce, slices of assorted cheeses, and canned tuna. It was the kind of food I normally serve on Saturday afternoons in the summer, and it wasn’t really satisfying with a cold house and no hot beverages available.
The following Shabbos felt kind of strange too. We got power back on Wednesday night, and I was super-busy on Wednesday night and Thursday, then on Friday I crashed. I had to serve chicken again, because the second store I went to didn’t have any kosher turkey available. The first store I’d gone to, the one that normally carries a wide range of kosher meats and poultry, was without power and wasn’t selling any perishables at all! I still couldn’t drive beyond those two stores because I hadn’t bought fuel for my car- the lines were now manageable, but I didn’t have time or energy to go buy any.
Thankfully, I was now able to bake challahs, use the electric hot water urn, and prepare a variety of dishes in the oven! But I was completely worn out and in a fibro-flare, meaning that I was sore all over, mentally and physically exhausted, and very irritable. I slept a lot over Shabbos, but still needed much more sleep. I’ve been in that flare for a whole week now.
It’s almost time for Shabbos again and I’m starting to feel a little bit better. I’m just about caught up with my housework and errands- the fridge and freezers are clean and we have plenty of food in the house. I even have a full tank of gas! Just being able to resume these bits of normalcy is doing wonders for my mental health, which directly affects my physical health. I’m looking forward to resuming my normal Friday routine tomorrow, and then relaxing and enjoying Shabbos.
On October 30th 2012, the day after the storm and our first day without power, Jack, Hannah, and I went for an afternoon walk, assessing the damage to our neighborhood. Uprooted trees pulled up chunks of sidewalk and completely blocked the roads- one on our street, just a few houses away, but we encountered many more in our walk. Some trees had landed on cars or houses, although most landed between two houses or on the road. Plenty of houses needed roof repairs, though the overall damage clearly could have been a lot worse.
When it got dark that evening, it seemed way too dark in the house. We turned on battery-powered lanterns downstairs in my Mom’s part of the house, and lit candles upstairs, but nothing seemed to dispel the gloom. It was too dark to read and our eyes were straining uncomfortably when playing board games. Hannah and I decided to go for a walk. while Leah and Jack continued playing games with their Bubbie (grandma.)
That walk was magical. Our eyes quickly adapted to the dark, and the lighting felt natural, not dismal. We had to watch out for debris on the sidewalk, but there was very little traffic because most roads were still impassable. It felt more like a walk in the country than a walk in the suburbs. We didn’t get blinded by headlights from vehicles or floodlights from people’s porches. We passed houses that were gently lit within from candles and lamps; there was no harsh light anywhere. I don’t even think we passed any generators that first night.
When we returned home, eyes adapted to the moonlight, the candlelit interior was plenty bright. We played a few games of Boggle by candlelight and then went to bed, feeling much more relaxed than we normally did on evenings full of computer screens and artificial light.
It’s unfortunate that our experience wasn’t repeated on subsequent nights. We did go for walks, but clear roads meant we encountered numerous headlights. Many of our neighbors regained power days before we did, so we dealt with harsh exterior lights that ruined our night vision before returning home to candlelight. That one moonlit walk was an isolated, magical moment.
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, my family was without electricity for 9 days and 9 VERY long nights. Thanks to the gas crisis that hit Long Island, I wasn’t able to drive beyond the library or the two closest supermarkets during this time either. It’s almost like we lost over a week of our lives, as “normal things” such as school and my usual errands were completely on hold. On the other hand, we created memories to last a lifetime. When else would the entire family have played games together by lamplight, or gone for a moonlit walk, free of light pollution, in our suburban town?
When we were without power, I started taking lots of walks. There wasn’t much else to do! For the first 8 powerless days, I went for at least one walk a day, averaging 2-3 miles a day towards the end of the week. The 8th day was windy and snowy, since the nor’easter was coming through, and it wasn’t safe to walk outside. Unbelievably, that’s also the day that workmen from Texas finally restored our power- during the storm itself! It was pitch black outside- but only 5:50 PM, when power was restored. Two hours later, trees fell over the power lines in our backyard, but miraculously we still have power! I don’t quite trust that we’ll KEEP the power back, and won’t fully restock my freezer until the power lines are repaired. I expect that will take several weeks since LIPA (Long Island Power Authority) needs to restore power to other homes first.
After a week of “not doing much after dark” I cleaned out the freezer and did several loads of laundry before bed on Wednesday. Then I cleaned out the fridge, scrubbed the kitchen floor, did more laundry, and shoveled snow on Thursday. By Friday I “crashed” and my Fibromyalgia flared up again. Chronic low back pain, which was nearly gone last week, is back with a vengeance. I’ve been taking prescription pain medications for the past 3 days- something I hadn’t needed since starting BTD.
I have electricity in my home, gas in my car, and schools have resumed normal sessions, but things don’t “feel normal” quite yet. I’m worried about the power lines in my backyard. My heart hurts for friends on the south shore of LI who have been displaced from their homes. I’m feeling physically and mentally worn out.