Even when it’s specialty foods delivered frozen in giant boxes stuffed with ice packs and Styrofoam noodles, a girl’s gotta eat. Even when some of the food items are as appetizing as the Styrofoam noodles, you know what a girl’s gotta do.
Abby gets these foods shipped to her as supplements to her diet, which is severely limited in protein due to her metabolic condition, tyrosinemia. The companies that concoct these food substitutes – faux pasta, faux rice, faux hot dogs, faux ever young – they do the best they can, given that the kids with this condition can’t even eat tofu. Imagine a child unable to eat tofu! See? Every cloud has a soy-free lining.
But sometimes these foods do lack, shall we say, authenticity.
Take that hot dog, for example. I’m not certain what it’s made from because we long ago ditched the package we ordered, never to be sampled again. It was as though someone had been instructed to devise a non-meat, non-soy hot dog based solely on a description of what a hot dog ought to taste like. This imagined hot dog was then assembled in a refurbished smelting plant in Belarus. And finally, a project supervisor, offering input for input’s sake, said, “Needs more aftertaste.” That’s what a tyrosinemia hot dog tastes like.
They’re not so much foods as approximations of foods. However, having never tried real meat in her life, or a real bagel for that matter, or real cheese or real scrambled eggs, Abby is usually content with these substitutes, despite their wonky taste. Except that hot dog. Blech!
At the same time, she enjoys cooking and the exotic flavours that can transform potato and cauliflower, for example, into aloo gobi, a delicious vegetable curry.
So when the genetic clinic organized a one-day cooking course in Montreal featuring some of these specialty products – how to goose up the grossness, if you will – we signed Abby up. It was also a chance for her to meet a few other kids her age with the same condition.
I joined her for the class and learned a number of tips myself, including this: if you put a bulb of garlic in a solid container and shake it violently, not only will all the cloves come apart but also the cloves will lose their skins. I don’t know what you’re going to do with all that naked garlic now, but MIND BLOWN!
I was one of several dads at the event, which was good to see at a cooking class, I thought. Very forward-thinking, very involved, a reminder that nothing enhances the pleasures of learning quite like the feeling of self-righteousness.
Our chef-instructor was lively and engaging as he showed us how to make guacamole, risotto, custard and a breakfast wrap, all using low-protein specialty products. The wrap included, you guessed it, the hot dog.
Another dad and I got to talking about the products, including that hot dog, which we both agreed was very much not at all good. But we said these things in hushed tones so as not to influence our children, to whom some day we may have to say, “Hey, how about a ‘hot dog!’ Yum!”
“Have you tried the hamburger?” he asked me, grimacing.
“I don’t find the hamburger too bad,” I said. It’s a portobello mushroom burger bound together with wheat starch and industrial-strength aftertaste. “Abby doesn’t like them at all, but my wife eats them.” (She’s been eating them, I found out later, because she hates the idea of throwing them away.)
“Remind me to never come to your house for a barbecue,” said the dad.
When our chef and his kid helpers finished assembling the wraps, they divvied the portions among the participants. Abby and I took one each. I smelled it. Eek. I took a bite…
“It’s good!” said Abby, who’s used to this stuff.
“Not bad,” I said. It was a lie. But the wrap had been so enthusiastically prepared and was such a great example of how Abby and her fellow tyrosinemia patients can be creative with their limited foods, I didn’t dare put it down.
Instead, I shoved the remainder of the sample in my mouth and chewed with the determination of someone eating eyeballs for cash on a reality show – fake hot dog, fake cheese, fake egg, fake tortilla, real nausea.
I looked up. The other dad was chewing too. We made eye contact. We didn’t say a word. We just kept chewing.