Monday, March 21, 2011

The Loveliest Cookbook & Thoughts of My Grandmother

The first day of Spring always makes me think of my grandma Hilde, since today was her birthday. The photo above is my favorite one of her. It was taken on the ship that took her from Germany to the United States where she would settle with my grandpa Roger and her two boys (my dad Mark and my uncle Gordon). Although I was 15 when I lost my grandma, we had enough years together to share some pretty spectacular memories. Most of all, I remember the mouth-watering smells of her kitchen and waiting with bated breath as she prepared her famous soups, casseroles, swedish meatballs (this was before I went vegetarian), puddings, cakes, pies, etc. The list goes on and on. I'm grateful to have these memories of my grandma who is very much on my mind today.

On this first day of Spring, I thought it was a good day to introduce the extraordinary cooking project begun by my friend Kate - something my grandma Hilde would have loved. It's been about one year since I've known Kate and we have come to share so much more than a diagnosis. She has become a friend and confidant beyond words and I'm always learning from her amazing approach to life. During Kate's December visit, she got me started on a gluten free diet and, except for a few little missteps, I've stuck to it! Hearing about the success that Kate had by removing gluten from her diet made me extremely curious. Sure enough, it has worked wonders for me! Whenever I think that perhaps a little bread or pasta wont have an effect, my body immediately reacts with intense joint pain, fatigue, and a headache. Among all of the wonderful things Kate has brought to my life, this lifestyle change has been tremendous. For more information on the benefits of a gluten-free diet, check out these articles:

I deeply admire Kate's enthusiasm and her ability to jump head first into her ideas. While she has many interests, cooking gluten-free for herself and for her family has become one of her favorite things. In addition to being a wiz in the kitchen, her photography is gorgeous and her writing is flawless (I've though that since the first letter she sent me). In my eyes, all of these ingredients add up to a perfect recipe for a blog. "Going gluten free" is more and more common these days, but Kate's blog acknowledges how completely overwhelming that change can be. She has developed the simplest and quickest recipes possible, helps us reorganize our pantries, provides us with lovely back stories for each recipe, and makes gluten free food looks both irresistible and possible! Now, allow me to introduce...

Kate writes "here you will find a blend of recipes, photographs and words on health and life. After learning that eating gluten-free significantly reduced my symptoms of arthritis, I delved into a new world of ingredients and information that could benefit my health. And in the process, I’ve learned to love cooking & baking." Although her wonderful posts speak for themselves, I did ask her a few more questions...

What initially got you thinking about food and nutrition? Why gluten free?

After being diagnosed with arthritis (Ankylosing Spondylitis), I was reluctant to start medications right away and so started looking for alternative treatments. I began to read a lot, both about medications and alternative treatments for arthritis. Although there is not a lot of scientific evidence linking dietary changes with decreased arthritis symptoms, I found there was an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence: real people's stories of how their lives had changed so much since considering the role their diet played in their disease, and eliminating certain foods. I thought, surely there is some truth in this-if there is even a slight possibility that foods could be the key to feeling better-than it was worth trying. So I did. 

How has diet changed your life?

Part way through last year, I started eating gluten-free. I began to feel changes quite quickly: regular nausea and back ache stopped, and some problem joints were able to move more freely. But I still had problems with my knee: it had been very swollen for almost 3 years, and was still troubling me. I continued reading about the link between gluten and autoimmune disease symptoms, and came across information about all grains contributing to symptoms, not just the gluten-containing ones. And so very recently-only a matter of 8 weeks ago, I stopped eating grains altogether. The improvement in my knee has been phenomenal. I can see my knee cap again (hooray!) and flex the muscle, whereas it had been an enormous mass of swelling for so long. 

The changes in eating have not only made my physical symptoms so improved, they have given me a new love in cooking and baking. Food really is a gift, a medicine. Think of the effect of one small pill on the body-surely the foods we eat have the most dramatic impact on how our bodies act and feel. 
What is your ultimate hope and mission for your beautiful blog? 

Before I answer, I want to emphasise that I'm by no means 'anti-medication'. I know that they help so many, so much, and are needed. But I hope that the approach to treatments can change in the future. Rather than exclusively prescribing one type of treatment-medicationor 'alternative' medicine, I would love to see a more collaborative approach to health care. Doctors working with professionals from other areas. The most beneficial treatments for me have been diet and acupuncture, and yet neither were suggested by my mainstream doctors. 

Although I wish I had the perfect formula for everyone, I know that I don't. But I truly feel that the foods we eat can make such a difference to our overall health, that I hope the blog will encourage others who may be struggling with their current health treatments, to look towards changes in their eating alongside other treatments. I feel that if this blog can help even just one person to see positive changes in their health-whether they are an arthritis sufferer or not-then I will feel that this has been a great thing. 

I also hope that the blog will encourage others to enjoy being in the kitchen and learn to love food for all the good it can do for us. Cooking from scratch doesn't have to be difficult or fancy: but moving away from processed foods, and making changes to incorporate healthier types of flours, natural sweeteners and fresh ingredients, is something we can all gradually move towards-I hope to encourage this in others, too. 

What is your personal favorite recipe and why?

Hmm that is difficult! It certainly changes (ask me next week!) but at the moment, it is the Almond sticky date cake from my blog-it's the perfect combination of a warm dessert and a moist cake, but also such a healthy recipe.  (see photo on the left)

If you could have one person (living or dead) as a dinner guest, who would you invite? What might you cook them?

Another tough one! I was thinking of famous names, but then the people I really love cooking for the most are my family! Seeing their enjoyment and knowing that what they're having is so good for them. So I'll have to go with my big sis, Emily, who lives on the other side of the world-and so to have her at the dinner table more often:) We both love fish, so I think maybe salmon with roasted pumpkin gnocchi would be on the menu (a recipe to go on the blog soon), followed by sticky date cake with yoghurt and maple syrup. Now I'm hungry! 

~Thanks everyone for reading, and to Maya for introducing me to you all :)

Thanks so much, Kate. I miss you every day!



  1. Thank you so much for this lovely post! And for including me on your grandmother's birthday, thank you so much, it makes it all the more special. She was a real beauty, and I'm touched to share a post with her.

    Missing you too xxx

  2. Lovely post Maya. Great to see a picture of Hilde, I can see a resemblance! Martin

  3. Thanks Jodi! It's all Kate, though...

    Kate, it just felt right to combine the two elements: your cookbook and my grandma. The look of your food and your passion for cooking reminds me so much of hers.

    Hi Martin :) It's an honor to hear that I might resemble her in some way. Thank you for reading!