Then my friend Susan asked me to join her book club and I did and it was great. I haven't missed a meeting since, even though I never got past page 40 of What the Body Remembers.
This book club involves someone hosting dinner. There is the usual depressing understanding among women: No one wants to get fat. But meal planning is more complicated than that with this group. One woman is vegan. One woman absolutely can not eat gluten. One woman was on a cleanse the month I hosted, so she didn't eat anything at all, just drank herbal tea.
Dinner this last Friday, hosted by Alicia, started with homemade cashew "cheese" and gluten-free crackers. Alicia promised to send the recipe and when she does I will print it here, because this cashew "cheese" was sensational. Not as a replacement for cheese itself, but as something delicious in its own right.
We sat down to dinner. Two lasagnas: one vegan and gluten-free, the other merely vegan. We were allowed to choose. Here's what puzzled me: Everyone wanted the gluten-free lasagna. I understand why people with celiac disease can't eat gluten, but most people don't have celiac disease. When I said I didn't mind having the gluten-full lasagna, I felt slightly uneasy, like I'd been left out of yet another important girly secret.
We talked about the book (Shopgirl by Steve Martin) and movies and Michele Bachman and then, over coffee and soy creamer, the conversation turned to cleanses and the whole gluten business. Apparently, it's all about something called inflammation.
Unlike me, you probably know about inflammation, which leads to heart disease, stroke, cancer, pain, everything you don't want. Apparently, some foods are inflammatory, and some foods are anti-inflammatory. White foods -- including potatoes -- appear to be inflammatory and are to be avoided. Alcohol: very inflammatory. (The women in the group do not seem to mind this particular inflammatory.) Tomatoes and eggplant: inflammatory. Blueberries: anti-inflammatory. My book club members believe gluten is also inflammatory, although this turns out to be controversial. For the record, Dr. Weil does not see any reason to avoid gluten if you are not gluten sensitive.
So perplexing. So interesting. I was gazing into the middle distance while processing my thoughts about inflammation when a woman said gravely, "Jennifer, are you okay?"
Everyone fell silent and looked at me, which was awful. I said, "Oh I'm fine. I was just thinking about white foods."
Anyway, this is how dietary theories inform/complicate my life: Last night I was going to cook African food, but in the end I didn't want to go to the supermarket and I kind of wanted to try the box of gluten-free quinoa spaghetti that I'd inherited from my mother and which had languished in the cupboard for over a year. I made a sauce of olive oil (good fat), a whole head of garlic (major anti-inflammatory), broccoli (ditto) and red pepper flakes and served it with the gluten-free spaghetti. Then I added some inflammatory Parmesan cheese, because the pasta didn't taste good until I did. How was it? No one could even tell it wasn't "normal" spaghetti. I drank inflammatory white wine and ate some extra broccoli to offset the wine. This morning when I made my coffee I wondered if soy milk might be a better choice than super-inflammatory dairy milk. But isn't soy milk a white food? Or is it beige? I was going to have a slice of toast with some peanut butter for breakfast, but there's gluten in my bread and we only had Jif, which contains sugar, a white food.
And so I ate a pear with 1 ounce of inflammatory cheddar cheese and felt like I'd started the day on the wrong foot.
Inflammation. Just one more thing I'll worry about when I'm trying to decide what to cook and what to eat, without ever really believing that these inflammatory foods that people have eaten for centuries can be truly bad. On the fence: The story of my life.
Next month's book club book: The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer. It was that or the Dalai Lama's Art of Happiness. I voted for cancer.
On another subject, yesterday we went to a high school football game. It was not exactly like one of the games on Friday Night Lights and I'm sorry to report that while the teenagers in our town are very good looking, they're not as good looking as teenagers in Dillon.
At half time, I walked home with Owen and his cousin Stella, who is 5. I started a conversation with Stella. We discussed school, her friends and her upcoming birthday, for which she would like a rock tumbler. I thought I was being a benevolent and interested aunt when I asked, "Are there any cute boys in your class? Do you have a boyfriend?" She yanked my hand, glared at me, and burst into tears. She cried stormily for the next three minutes while I apologized helplessly and Owen berated me: "MOM! No one likes it when you ask those things." He started to cry tears of sympathy with Stella and pinched the inside of arm so hard there's a purple bruise now.
Life is so confusing!