New Year is an Opportunity to Reflect on Lessons of Food, Life

We should face 2012 with perspective and intention, rather than self-defeating resolutions, advises Cooking for Special Diets columnist Alissa Malerman.

My dad once told me how he became successful at making resolutions.

"I resolved years ago to stop making resolutions," he said. "And I've stuck to it ever since."

As we all think back on the year that has passed, and look to the one ahead with great expectations, it's easy for the resolution wheels to start churning. If a resolution is (and it usually is) an unrealistic goal that will just self-explode in a month or so, it may not be the best way to approach the next 360 days.

We should be facing the new year with perspective and intention and use that knowledge to drive us farther along the path we've already created for ourselves and not into a brick wall because we couldn't spend six days a week at the gym, eliminate carbs or run a marathon.

I have, upon looking back at a year of ups and downs, gained some perspective on what I can achieve and have merged back onto the road that made me the happiest in the past year: Eating healthful foods and carving out time to take care of myself.

These lessons are universal, and ones special dieters know well. But they reverberated as I gathered information and researched local establishments throughout 2011.

Here's a look back at some of the more poignant lessons of the year:

  • : I started off by making the confession that baking was not my forte, and set out to learn the basics of gluten-free flours. I attended a presentation at the on choosing gluten-free grains. Chef, teacher and writer Lisa Howard of Berkley inspired me with practical substitutions and easy fixes for baking. Howard, who also teaches cooking classes at the and offers food coaching services, inspired me to put on the oven mitts. I even baked a chocolate tart with homemade crust and zucchini bread with great success (recipes at bottom)!

Lesson learned? Keep learning. All in all, both recipes turned out amazing, and no one at my house complained. In fact, what I did hear were a lot of “mmmmmms” between bites of moist zucchini bread and decadent chocolate tart – music to this born-again baker’s ears.

  • : and the Tri-County Celiac Support Group's Farmington Hills food fair were teaching — and learning — opportunities. I learned about some great, local products, such as the cilantro-free salsa, Zalza. Chef Thomas Polec told me it's not an ingredient everyone likes, and when an allergy to the herb was discovered in his family, he created his own salsa without the common ingredient. Zalza is “fresh vegetables in a jar” he said, and can be found at in Berkley, , and , among other Metro Detroit grocers. Check out the Zalza website for locations and some Just Add Zalza recipes. I also reflected on a common saying, dahyenu, recited in the Passover Haggadah, which means "it would have been enough."

Lesson learned? Be satisfied with what you have. If we live each day to be healthy and benefit from the fact that we are free to eat well in our communities, even if it means we must live without some things, well, dahyenu.

  • Lynne Dieterle, a physician assistant at 's gastroenterology division, is also a busy working mom and founder of a handmade candy, biscotti and snack mix business. She said she relishes the little moments she can spend sitting down with her girlfriends over a cup of coffee and plate of special treats. And after treating the many patients who may not otherwise enjoy that small pleasure, she decided to create gluten-free varieties for all to enjoy. Dieterle bakes her concoctions at Celiac Specialities in Rochester Hills, a gluten- and nut-free kitchen facility. She sells them at the shop, Vince and Joe's and the Novi Celiac Specialties store. Check out Lynne's Candy Jar here.

Lesson learned? Don't overdo it. In my opinion, little moments are treasured most when you haven't run yourself ragged trying to impress everyone, baking and cleaning and spending hours in the kitchen. Sometimes, it's better to find those special treats, even for special diets, elsewhere.

  • : Chef Nicole Seals, owner of in Clawson, told me the restaurant specializing in Northern Italian cuisine is no stranger to special diets. It was a good thing because busy special dieters want to go out to eat, too! So, whether it's in Clawson, or at these nearby restaurants I discovered in , feel free to be served good food at delicious restaurants.

Lesson learned: You deserve a night off. “As a chef and person who likes to dine on a day off, I know it can be lonesome and the options are limited,” Seals said. “We put a lot of care in what we do so they can relax and enjoy dining out again.”

  • October: Longtime Ferndale restaurant , also adding a few new twists to its well-loved macrobiotic menu, which also caters to special diets. Chef Jeff Johnson didn't mince words when it came to the importance of food. Quoting Hippocrates, he said a mantra of Om is: “Let thy food be the medicine and the medicine be thy food.” If we just stop and take note of the foods we eat, he said, we can all lead healthier lives.

Lesson learned: . Americans are often characterized as self-absorbed, fast-food guzzlers who consume everything and give nothing of ourselves. In actuality, we are giving so much of ourselves that we have little to give others. So we eat badly, spend little time exercising and rarely take time to reflect. As a mother, it's just a lot easier to do. And as a mother of a special dieter, that's doubly true.


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