By Andrea K. Hammer
Like many families, the kitchen was the most important room in my childhood house. More than five decades ago, six of us framed the oblong table lined with dishes from one end to the other. My mom filled each plate with noodle kugel and sweet potatoes topped with pineapples and mini-marshmallows with her full hand and heart—instilling a lifelong equation of food with comfort.
After stressful workdays, my dad sat at the end of the table, rhythmically slicing and inhaling his favorite chocolate seven-layer cake in one round. Until the last piece disappeared, he joked about his obligation to check if the next hunk was actually still fresh.
When my mom picked me up after school, our favorite pit stop was at the old Howard Johnson’s for a hot-fudge brownie sundae. Dipping into the mounds of whipped cream and warm chocolate, I remembered thinking that life was good.
Shared Food as the Ultimate Expression of Love
When I met the man I’ve lived with for many years, familiar foods bridged our different backgrounds. Despite our diverse heritages, we had both grown up with variations of braided breads, pierogies and borscht. We both fundamentally understood that homemade poppy seed cake and rugelach were the ultimate expressions of love.
Whenever I didn’t feel well, he quickly started chopping carrots and potatoes for my ultimate source of comfort: a noodle-filled soup bowl with gigantic but airy matzo balls. Like my mom, my kind-hearted partner poured every ounce of tender caring into his deliciously prepared meals.
In our first home together, we took great pleasure in planting a beginner vegetable garden—tucking his uncle’s treasured tomato seeds into the soil. Since then, we’ve added basil, soybeans, Swiss chard, peppers, zucchini and more.
Watching our continually expanding backyard “farm” explode with fresh produce—free of pesticides—gives us a profound sense of well-being and increasingly longed-for connections to the earth. We joyfully deliver our surplus bounty to my mom, as a full-circle gesture of gratitude for her life lessons—particularly the ones that she has discovered about food.
Fundamental Diet Change to Control Diabetes
After my mom was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes decades ago, she lost 50 pounds and continued to control the disease through diet (see her sample daily menu below). Through this fundamental lifestyle change, my mom has taught us her new formulas for a re-calculated definition of health.
We have taken mental notes as she instructs us on the numerous products with high sugar and potassium counts. With her encouragement, we have started our own forays into mung beans, dates and figs for much-needed energy. During shopping expeditions together, we have compared counts listed on the back of packages—laughing heartily as she rejects many selections out of hand. Although she still struggles to resist our family’s deeply rooted ice-cream gene and occasionally indulges her craving, our Ice Cream Lady continues to set a realistic but inspiring example.
By limiting quantities and splurges while making healthier daily choices and simply counting calories, we’ve learned to develop a new definition for the ultimate form of authentic nourishment. At the same time, we’ve continued to relish our enduring enjoyment of food–and occasional sweet treats–together.
Mom’s Sample Daily Menu to Control Weight and Diabetes*
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1 piece dry whole-wheat bread
1/2 small banana
1/2 whole-wheat pita pocket
4 oz. tuna salad
8 oz. skim milk
1 package peanut butter crackers
(or 1/4 muffin with milk or 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream for entire snack; substitutes limited to twice a week)
1/4 skinless chicken
1 small baked sweet potato
1/2 cup broccoli (or string beans, carrots, etc.)
1/2 small cantaloupe
(or 1/2 cup applesauce with handful of blueberries)
*Check with your physician for personal guidelines.
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