My wife, Grace, and I had an expedited courtship, a real when-you-know-you-know situation. Within days of meeting, I filled up a sturdy canvas tote bag at my apartment and brought it to hers. It included some clean clothes, a toothbrush and my best Dutch oven. My favorite pot and I were moving in, meaning Grace wasn’t just the woman I wanted to hang out with, she was the one I wanted to make a home, a life, with. She was the person I wanted to cook for every single day, which is the best way I know to tell someone how much you care about them. Roses are pretty, sure, but have you had a birthday cake that someone baked for you even when it’s not your birthday?
During the first two years of our marriage, Grace and I shared more about ourselves with each other through the things we cooked, and we expressed our love through all sorts of late-night grilled cheese sandwiches, bowls of pasta and tall stacks of pancakes studded with bananas and chocolate chips Grace would make nearly every Sunday. Falling in love with Grace made each day feel like a special occasion. Meaning, those pancakes were topped with pools of butter, maple syrup and whipped cream. Just because.
During the 2015 holiday season, just after our second anniversary, Grace started not feeling like herself. A number of symptoms including debilitating fatigue, body and headaches, deteriorating eyesight and unintentional weight loss brought us into a number of doctors’ offices and inspired far more scary questions than sound answers. Grace was eventually diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. While we were both extremely relieved to know why Grace was feeling so unwell and grateful it wasn’t life-threatening, we were both so scared of how much we didn’t know and how quickly her, and our, life was changing.
At the time, Grace and I, like so many people, didn’t really understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, let alone know that you could be diagnosed with Type 1 as an adult. Here’s the quickest explanation I can offer: They’re totally different diseases, and you can be diagnosed with either at any age.
At first, Grace immersed herself into learning all about living with Type 1 and connecting with others who live with it. I dove headfirst into figuring out how I could be most supportive. I turned, as I do in just about every single situation, to the kitchen, land of comfort and healing and life and where I have always felt a sense of control. (I know it’s an illusion, but let a girl pretend!)
While Grace can, and often does, eat whatever she wants, she seems to feel her best when she eats meals that are lower in carbohydrates, high in protein and fiber, and, of course appealing to eat and easy to enjoy since living with Type 1 doesn’t mean you’re allergic to pleasure. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that I feel my best when I eat the same way.
As the resident worrier of our family, I figured that if something tempted both of us but didn’t make either of us feel amazing, it was easier to eliminate it than to resist it. So we said goodbye to a lot of things we used to keep in our kitchen (I’m talking empty carbohydrates and processed, sugary treats) and filled the space they left with things that we also enjoy but don’t compromise our well-being. I kept cooking for her, for us, but traded things like mashed potatoes with bread-crumb-bound meatloaf for garlicky, creamy mashed cauliflower and what I have taken to calling “confetti meatloaf” because it’s fun to say and it’s also dotted with colorful pieces of sauteed peppers and onions, finely chopped herbs and sun-dried tomatoes. Big salads with good dressings keep our meals feeling abundant, and we’ve learned that a handful of perfect raspberries is as good of an excuse for whipped cream as pancakes.
These changes, the pantry revamp and the increased attention to what’s in our refrigerator and on our plates have made it easy to make choices that make us both feel good on a daily basis. All of that work upfront has meant that every decision that has followed has been a lot easier. And we’ll take all the help we can get. Life is hard enough, with or without a lifelong chronic illness.
Three years into Grace’s diagnosis, our habit of eating fun meals together, and treating each one like an opportunity to throw a little party to celebrate love, has not diminished. I’m more grateful than ever for the food in our kitchen, the space we have to prepare it, and most of all for my wife, who still is, wink wink, just my type.
Turshen is the author of several cookbooks, most recently, “Now and Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers” (Chronicle, 2018).
2 to 4 servings
Here, ricotta takes the place of bread crumbs and/or eggs, and makes the meatloaf super moist.
It’s helpful to have an instant-read thermometer for monitoring doneness.
Recipes adapted from “Now and Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers,” by Julia Turshen (Chronicle, 2018).
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small bell peppers (any color), stemmed, seeded and cut into small dice
1 small red onion, cut into small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and minced
2 large handfuls flat-leaf parsley and/or basil leaves, chopped
¾ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 pound ground turkey, preferably dark meat (may substitute ground chicken, pork or beef)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, then use 2 teaspoons of the oil to coat the parchment.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the bell pepper and onion; cook for about 8 minutes, stirring a few times, or until the vegetables have softened and are browned on the edges. Turn off the heat and stir in the garlic. Let cool.
Transfer to a large bowl; add the oregano, salt, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, parsley and ricotta, stirring until well incorporated. Add the turkey and use your clean hands to work it into the mixture.
Transfer to the baking sheet; shape the mixture into a tight loaf that is 10 inches long and 4 inches wide (it will be about 1 inch high). Roast (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 165 degrees.
Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
This is comfort food with no carb-loaded downside. And it can serve as a blank canvas for mix-ins such as grated cheese, sauteed leeks, saffron and a pat or two of good butter.
One 1½ -pound head cauliflower, tough stems discarded, cut into large florets
4 large cloves garlic
¼ cup half-and-half
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the cauliflower and garlic cloves in a pot, then add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and add a generous pinch of salt; reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower can be pierced with a knife. Drain in a colander, making sure the florets and garlic cloves get evenly dry.
Transfer to a food processor (you may have to do this in batches); add the half-and-half and another generous pinch of salt. Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Taste, and add more salt, as needed. Transfer to a serving dish and season lightly with the pepper. Serve hot.
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