How to live without onions?

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking into what fructose intolerance/malabsorption is, because it affects my husband, not me – I’m so caring! (not) If you want to know more about it, there’s a good website on allergy symptoms here . I just need to know what I can and can’t cook.

All I know is that there are foods that I can’t use any more – like onions.

no-onions

Great! I LOVE onions. I use onions in everything. How can you cook without onions? Their caramelised yummyness ads depth and sweetness to curries, casseroles, soups, risottos – you name it. And onion powder seems to be EVERYTHING! While I try to avoid using too many processed foods, I will admit to relying on stock cubes pretty often, and things were getting a bit flavourless and grim for a while there, until I discovered two things:

  1. It may not be your favourite vegetable, but CELERY has become my new staple when I need flavour, and
  2. There’s a brand of stock cube (photo below) that contains NO onion or garlic, and is gluten free!

stock cubes

I must remember to write Massel a thank you letter.

The stock cubes are fairly self-explanatory, but the celery needs a bit more of an explanation.

Celery, I’ve found, is a pretty unpopular vegetable. You can occasionally get away with public displays of celery by filling it with peanut butter, but not many people (with the exception of my mum) would say “Oooh yum! Celery!” (Correct me if I’m wrong!)

If you hate the texture of celery, you can either cut it up really small, or you can grate it. Grating it removes the stringy bits (which I don’t like either) and disguises it pretty well.

If you object to eating celery because it has a reputation for absorbing pesticides used in conventional farming, buy organic or grow your own.

If you have a fructose problem in your family, I suggest coming to grips with your prejudices and learning to love this magic vegetable, because if you do, it will love you back.

The other trick to using celery (once you’ve grated it) instead of onions is to sauté it properly (i.e. slowly, so that it has time to develop and start to caramelise), just as I would recommend with onions. This way you get maximum flavour. The dish we cook most often in our household is spaghetti bolognese. I like to think mine is the best, but it’s one of those meals that is particular to every family that makes it, so I know not everyone will agree with me. I’ll give you my recipe in the next blog.

 

A Bit of Background – Part 2

So now that you’ve got a bit of an idea about where I come from in the food sense, let me tell you where I’m at right now.

To do that, I’d like to start by re-winding back to May 2014. I had just returned to Melbourne after a dreamy 3 week trip to Europe with my beautiful daughter, who had turned 14 in Paris. It had been a completely idyllic experience that I will never forget, and I felt so at home in France and Italy, mainly because of the FOOD!

We swooned our way around street markets and restaurants and supermarkets, gorging ourselves on brown paper bags full of apricots, fresh peas, strawberries; crying over deep fried artichokes, hand made ravioli and fresh buffalo mozzarella. Wren was eating up to 3 gelato cones a day! It was heaven on a stick.

So my delightful husband picks us up from the airport after this fabulous experience, and proceeds to tell me on the drive home about his recently diagnosed fructose intolerance, and all the things he can no longer eat. I literally felt the sides and roof of the car closing in on me as my dreams of what I would re-create in the kitchen from our holiday to share with him were extinguished, one by one.

So can you eat artichokes? No.

Apricots? No.

Tomatoes? Not sure.

Eggplant, broad beans, potatoes? Can’t remember…

What the hell was this nightmare I was coming home to?!? How the hell was I supposed to know what he could and couldn’t eat? Why was he telling me all this on the way home from my wonderful holiday?! Was it too late to get back on the plane to Rome?

Now, I recognise this as the first world problem that it is, and I know there are FAR worse things that happen to people every day, but I really did feel like someone had burst my little food-bliss bubble, and things have never been the same in the kitchen for me since.

It’s almost two years since that day, and I’m still adjusting. But I’ve come a long way in that time, and I’d like to be able to share my learning curve with other families who are coming to grips with food intolerances, to try and save you some of the pain and frustration that I went through, looking for recipes and information that might help me navigate this crazy new ‘diet’ (yes, I STILL hate that word) so that I can pursue my love of cooking without leaving my husband in agony as a result.

Did I mention that he was already diagnosed as gluten intolerant? And at that stage (in 2014) he thought he might also be lactose intolerant. Thankfully the tests came back negative for that one or it might have lead to divorce.

So no wheat. No onions or garlic (kill me now). And no to a whole list of other things that were a big part of my life and self-expression up until that date (not to mention my husband’s diet – it’s not ALL about me here. Hehe). No lentils! No kidney beans! No figs or stone fruit!!!

But now that I’m getting the hang of it, it no longer seems like a long list of “No-no’s”. I am all about the Yes list. And there’s still a lot on there. So that’s what I’m going to focus on. But I’m not an expert yet – far from it. I’m still learning, still experimenting, and very keen to hear from others about how you’ve modified a recipe to “feed your fussy family”.

 

A Bit of Background – Part 1

I’ve always been in love with food.

As a baby I would insist that my mother buy me “Pink stuff” (taramasalata) and juicy Kalamata olives from the Greek and Italian ladies at the Queen Victoria Market, as I pointed from my red and white striped stroller.

I grew up learning to cook from my mother, who was always looking to experiment with new recipes, new ingredients – anything to get away from the meat and three veg that she was brought up with. We would get cheese souffles, arancini, creamy green beans with roasted almonds, stuffed zucchini flowers – lots of food came from our garden, with meals inspired by whatever was in season.

My grandmother – Mary Brown – taught me how to bake, and make jams and chutneys, and bottle fruit. Her pantry was always full of goodies, which I would sometimes be compelled to raid when no-one was looking! I loved picking walnuts and glacé cherries out of her famous sultana cake (I was very naughty).

When I moved out of home, I loved making special food for my friends and flatmates. Food is my language of love. If I love you, I want to cook for you. It’s my best way of showing you how I feel. Cooking for my family is important to me for this reason, and also because I believe a good diet is the foundation of health and vitality. “You are what you eat” as Brillat-Savarin famously said.

As a young mother, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of my time at home, and the main thing I did in those years was grow and create food. LOTS of food! I perfected the art of making pasta, and even started up my own “Peddle Powered Pasta” business in the Adelaide Hills, using a converted exercise bike to help with production (a story for another time).

I worked at the beautiful Heronswood cafe on the Mornington Peninsula, taking produce from the garden and turning it into simple cafe food. I also completed a course in horticulture, and a traineeship on a stone fruit orchard, so my love and knowledge of growing food developed as I continued to bake and bottle and sauté.

At the age of four, my (now teenage) daughter decided she was definitely a vegetarian. We’d been tricking her into eating meat up until then by telling her that sausages were vegetarian, but being the smart girl that she is, we weren’t able to keep this up for long! Occasionally she’ll eat a bit of chicken or fish, but she’s never eaten red meat at all. More for me is how I see it!

My son (10) recently decided he wanted to be vegetarian too (for different reasons to his sister) and I generally try to respect this, but sometimes I still try to tempt him with something delicious. He’s getting better at saying no…

Having a teenage girl in the house means we’ve been through every food fad on the internet over the last few years – from kale smoothies, to ‘fruit water’ (wtf?!), to watermelon-only diets. Body image is a huge deal at this age and with access to more information than is healthy, young people become way too neurotic about food.

I’ve never been a believer in diets. I hate them in fact. They’re a lie.

People I know who diet regularly are constantly going up and down in weight, and are either starving themselves on apples or gorging themselves on soft cheese! It literally is a feast or a famine, and that’s a sure way to confuse your metabolism.

I’ve always maintained that if you eat food that is as close to its natural form as possible (ie fresh vegetables, meat, seeds, grains, dairy, etc…), then you’re getting a healthy ‘diet’ and you don’t need to worry about it. As soon as we start eating too many processed or sugary foods we get into trouble, although these days there are so many ‘processes’ inflicted on our ‘natural’ foods that it’s not as simple as just buying fresh produce.

I plan to talk about genetic modification, organics, and growing your own food in future articles so I won’t go on about it here in great detail, but it’s worth (if you don’t already) reading the label and avoiding GM/GE foods where possible (modified maize, soy, etc…). The True Food Guide that Greenpeace used to put together is a good place to start if you want more information.