The days before Passover are probably the busiest time of the year for Orthodox Jewish families. We need to clean our homes, cars, backpacks, etc. of any traces of chametz (leavened flour products.) The kitchen is the biggest part of the job. Everything is scoured, opened packages of foods are finished up or packed away, counters are covered, dishes are packed away, and special Passover utensils are unpacked. Some items can be kashered (made kosher for Passover) through the use of heat. Many families use a lot of disposables for the week. Then there’s another busy time when the holiday ends, and we need to put the kitchen back to normal.
Kashrut is even stricter this week than it is the rest of the year. Most products need special “Kosher for Passover” certification; even items that don’t require special certification during the year. Matzah is permitted, but anything else made from wheat, oats, rye, spelt, or barley is “chametz” and cannot be consumed. Ashkenazi Jews, those typically of Eastern European descent, also don’t eat legumes or rice for the week. Sephardic Jews, those of Southern European descent, don’t have that restriction, but they do have special rules about how those foods are prepared for the holiday.
A great many products are theoretically permitted for Passover use, but are not currently available with certification. This list includes ALL the sweeteners that are permitted to me. Honey and sugar are readily available for Passover, but those are both “avoids” on my food list. Agave and molasses should be acceptable for Passover, since molasses is made from sugar cane and agave is made from a desert plant. But I could find neither with Passover certification. That left me with two choices: don’t eat sweets for the holiday or compromise on compliance.
There were a few other special holiday foods that weren’t compliant. I used spelt matzah since rye matzah isn’t currently available. Charoset is a traditional food for the Passover Seder, representing the mortar the ancient Hebrews used during slavery in Egypt. Our family recipe is a mixture of apples, cinnamon, red wine, walnuts, and honey. I’m not supposed to have apples or honey. I could have substituted pears for the apples, but since I couldn’t find an alternative for the honey anyway, I went ahead with my traditional recipe and limited my own portions.
Other non-compliant goodies included marshmallows and coconut macaroons, and my 17 year old made chocolate/caramel covered matzah, chocolate muffins, and almond macaroons. The homemade treats were compliant except for the sugar, and fully compliant for the kids. I had a small taste of each treat but mostly eliminated all added sugars from my diet for the week. I also made almond milk for the week and had it in my daily yerba mate/cocoa beverage. My family doesn’t use rice on Passover, since we’re Ashkenazi. Without being able to use rice milk or molasses in my tea, I felt the need to add something to make my tea tastier. Since almonds are neutral for me, I figured that the damage from almond milk must be subtle, and felt it was a reasonable compromise for one week out of the year.
I ate far too much sugar the last few days of the holiday. That resulted, as usual, in eating too much food overall and never really feeling satisfied. But I did eat plenty of vegetables and meats, and managed to take a walk almost every day of the holiday. I’ve been eating clean since right after lunch the last day of the holiday, so nearly 2 full days now. Between the “less than perfect” diet and the late hours we were keeping, I got quite irritable and sore. I wasn’t in a full fibro-flare, but I didn’t feel particularly well either. I’m getting myself back on track now, and I hope to do better next Passover.
I’ve been feeling rather worn out for the past few weeks. I felt like I was buried in responsibilities. Some days I tried to take a break to care for my body, but my work piled up and I’d feel guilty about that. I’d create extra stress by not having a clear space to cook dinner because I’d never cleaned up from breakfast! Or Hannah couldn’t find clean gym clothes because I hadn’t washed them yet. Other days I would trudge through the housework and get it done, but I felt burdened and resentful as I went about my day. Any little unexpected thing would put me over the edge, and I was snapping at my kids A LOT!
I didn’t know why I was feeling this way. I thought I was being careful with my diet and supplements. I know exercise is a big factor, especially for O’s, but I find it hard to exercise when I’m tired, dizzy, and in pain. Overall, I was feeling hopeless and depressed, because I didn’t know what caused my fatigue, so I didn’t know how to fix things.
This past Saturday was the Bar Mitzvah of a close friend’s son. There was no way I could miss it, even though I really wanted space alone and was dreading the large crowd. It wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated; it was kind of like I was exercising emotional muscles. It was hard, but it felt good. I also made some “less than perfect” food choices at the party. I stayed away from wheat, potatoes, and obvious corn, but I didn’t worry about additives in the fish or deli meat, or what might have been in the salad dressing, and I ate the tomatoes and cucumbers. Overall I ate lots of veggies and protein, but I also know I ate chemical food additives, "avoid" oils, vinegar, possible potato starch, and either sugar or corn syrup.
By Monday, I was even more of a mess than usual for me. Once I recognized that I was reacting to what I ate on Saturday, it helped me put things into perspective. I know that food reactions are temporary, as long as I proceed to eat right so my body can clear out the toxins. The physical symptoms were still present, but I had hope again. I also analyzed how I’ve been eating the last few weeks, and realized that a few “avoids” have managed to slip in. I ate some sweet potato chips made with “avoid” oils, along with a lot of mozzarella cheese and a little bit of tomato sauce. That can probably account for a lot of how I’ve been feeling.
I’ve been eating clean again since Sunday, so some of these toxins are getting cleared out. Yesterday I made “self nurturing” my primary focus. I went clothes shopping for myself, and I took a hot bath in the middle of the afternoon. But more than the specific things I did, I gave myself permission to be a little self-indulgent, and not spend every waking moment worried about the house or the kids. That attitude shift has made a world of difference.
I’m feeling a whole lot calmer now, and ready to tackle my work.
I was planning to write a blog about the Jewish holiday of Purim; one of the happiest times in the Jewish calendar. But I just can’t get myself into that spirit right now. All I can really think about is that my father passed away two days after Purim last year.
The Jewish laws regarding mourning for a parent last for a full calendar year. I really haven’t been myself this whole time. I wonder if I’ll feel more whole once the year of mourning is complete, or if his yartzeit (anniversary of his death on the Jewish calendar) will just dredge up even more pain. I suppose the point is to have the mourning process go through the whole cycle of seasons, and all the holidays, and this is the last holiday in that cycle.
It’s not like my father and I were even close. He worked 70+ hours a week when I was growing up. Most of my telephone conversations with him consisted of “Hi Dad, it’s Ruth. Is Mom there?” Even the last few years, when I lived in an apartment in my parents’ home, I still didn’t see much of him, or talk to him much. We just never had much to say.
Thinking of him is more about regret. What could have been. Opportunities I didn’t take to get to know him. Jealousy that my son had a better relationship with him than I or my brother ever had. This isn’t about thinking of a great man I knew and loved and miss, and I feel kind of guilty about that. This is all about what could have and maybe should have been.
Could he have been saved if he’d eaten right for his type? We only found out his blood type a month or so before he died. I did notice that he seemed more peaceful and easier to connect to when he wasn’t eating chicken, which is an avoid for B’s. Could we have at least gotten more out of the time he had with us if he’d eaten better, even if we couldn’t get any more time with him?
But then I have to remember that not everything is about blood type or diet. Knowing his blood type 15 years earlier might have changed nothing. I can’t fix the world; I can’t make anybody else take care of themselves, and I certainly don’t have the energy to take care of everybody. Some days I barely have the mental energy to take care of myself. Today is one of those days.
I’m not feeling so good this morning. Last night my family celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for trees. My personalized diet plan only allows my half a cup of fruit per day, but it’s hard to keep the portions so small when there’s a holiday designed for feasting on fruits! We had a large platter with a variety of fruits, all sliced up for sharing. I’d meant to serve a few kinds of nuts as well, since nuts are also from trees, but I forgot to serve them.
I also made two kinds of berry spreads with goat cheese, tuna salad, broccoli, and served it all with sparkling grape juice, rice cakes, crackers, and homemade spelt bread for the kids. I probably ate more fruit than is really good for me, and slightly fewer vegetables than usual. My grain servings were just about right, and I had enough protein. But I still managed to overdo the sugars. I’m not sure if it was from the sheer quantity of fruit, the agave I mixed into the fruit spreads, or the few “avoids” I ate. I limited my consumption of dates to about ¼ of one date, but that might have been too much for me.
After the meal I felt spacey, almost drunk. But getting drunk isn’t quite as intense a feeling as I had last night after dinner. I can only guess my blood sugar was sky high. I went to bed early, but woke up two and a half hours later STARVING. There was no way I could have fallen back to sleep without eating something.
So I got up and ate a handful of almonds and then some of the roast sweet potatoes I’d made for dinner and forgotten to serve. I stayed up and read for a while, and got hungry again while I was still up. I finished off the tuna salad, ate some of the leftover broccoli, had a couple more rice cakes with goat cheese spread, and then went to bed around 2:00 AM. I was also very thirsty all night.
I wasn’t very hungry when I woke up this morning. I’m drinking lots of tea and water and didn’t have breakfast until about 10:30 AM, which is about an hour and a half later than normal for me. I plan to eat lots of protein and greens today, and NOT eat all the fruit I’d intended to eat since it’s still Tu B’Shvat. I think I’ll stick to nuts today.
The Jewish Holiday of Tu B’Shvat is the Jewish New Year for Trees. The name literally means “the 15th of Shvat” so it’s similar to the way American Independence Day is known as “The 4th of July.” As with all Jewish holidays, the exact date on the Gregorian calendar varies each year, and all holidays begin at sundown and end at nightfall the following day. In 2012, it falls on Tuesday night and Wednesday, February 7th and 8th.
Back when the Great Temple in Jerusalem was standing, Tu B’Shvat was used to calculate tithes on fruits and nuts that grow on trees; anything harvested before this date counted as last year and anything from this date forward counted for the coming year. Since we don’t pay tithes or our harvests anymore, Tu B’Shvat has a more symbolic meaning these days.
There are a variety of ways in which Tu B’Shvat is celebrated within the Jewish community. I’m planning to serve a “fruit and nut course” before my regular family dinner. Some families hold a Tu B’Shvat Seder, similar to the Passover Seder, but not nearly as formal. Others serve a wide variety of fruits and nuts alongside the meal but with no special ceremony. There may or may not be a large group of guests at the meal, or a party-like atmosphere. All serve several kinds of fruit. Some have 15 or 20 different kinds of fruits and nuts in all; most will serve all 7 of the special foods associated with The Land of Israel: wheat, barley, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and olives.
Some of those 7 special foods are problematic for my family: none of us should be having barley, only my son should be having wheat, he shouldn’t have pomegranates, I shouldn’t eat dates, etc. It’s HARD balancing our differing diets with the demands of religious Judaism. But I remember that these foods are merely symbolic; it’s not like Passover when there’s a commandment to eat matzah.
I’m going to make omissions and substitutions as needed for the health of my family. But I’m also bearing in mind that there are foods we *shouldn’t* eat and foods we really *can’t* eat. A crumb of wheat could sicken me for weeks, but ¼ of a date won’t do me any harm. I plan to serve the 5 fruits that symbolize Israel, even though they’re not perfectly compliant for all of us. We’ll each eat small amounts and enjoy them, guilt-free. I’ll make spelt bread for the children to symbolize the wheat, and rice bread or crackers for myself. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll make quinoa to symbolize the barley or simply omit it. I’ll also get a variety of other fruits; whatever looks good when I get to the store.
It’s a time to thank the Creator for the bountiful variety of foods that He created, and for making us able to appreciate them. The physical becomes spiritual when we use food for a holy purpose, both by making blessings over the foods we eat and by choosing our foods with a higher purpose in mind.
Certainly the laws of Kashrut are one such “higher purpose” to a Jew’s selection of foods, but physical health is equally important, and is applicable to everybody. If you knowingly eat foods that make you unhealthy, you’re defying the Creator’s will. How can you fulfill your purpose in the world if you’re sluggish from eating too much wheat or sugar, or if you’re bed-ridden from a chronic illness that a proper diet could have prevented? Dr. D’Adamo has given us the tools to nourish our bodies and help reach our physical potentials; I feel a moral obligation to follow those guidelines now that I know of them.