I’m the Pho Girl. I’m married to the Nacho Man, so nicknamed because the only recipe he’s ever invented was made just for me and it’s become a weekly ritual. Not an addiction. A ritual. Pho is my addiction.
We are a multi-ethnic family–Vietnamese, Wisconsin farm girl, Mexican, Polish. There’s some other stuff in there. We love it all. We’re so ethnically diverse that we’re disease-resistant and we’ll never get hip dysplasia. We’re just a modern American family.
I’m a part-time librarian and Nacho Man works in IT for a large, multinational advertising agency. We met and fell in love in Tucson, Arizona. It’s a good story. We have two amazing daughters, Lupe and Rue. We’re grateful to call Seattle, Washington, our home.
What are we up to? How do we juggle careers, kids, and time for each other? Where’s that funny smell coming from? What am I reading that I absolutely adore? And hey, we’re a busy Vietnamese-Mexican-Polish-American family on a gluten-free diet, so if that’s not good for recipes, it should be great for laughs.
Because this is what our oldest daughter’s skin looks like twenty-four hours after eating one slice of wheat bread.
Our eleven-year-old, Lupe, has been plagued by eczema since she was about eleven months old. Looking back, I can’t really remember a time when she wasn’t covered in red, scaly welts that itched like crazy. She went through a complete panel of allergy tests that revealed nothing other than the fact that she wasn’t allergic to anything. She had a dermatologist. We were told the eczema might be worse in certain seasons, but it seemed to us that she suffered year-round. We avoided laundry detergents, soaps, and sunscreens that we thought might cause her to flare up. Lupe seemed to accept the fact that she would have eczema her entire life and got used to keeping a stiff upper lip and making the twice-daily application of topical ointments that basically ate away at her skin a part of her routine.
Then, in January, she came to me and said, “Mom, I have a lump on my left arm.”
How could she possibly find anything under all those scales and fresh scabs? I felt around and sure enough, I found the lump, about the size of a pea, on the inside of her left elbow.
Lumps are a parent’s worst nightmare. And I already tend toward the paranoid; things like this set me off.
We immediately visited our nurse-practitioner. He assured us that the lump was an enlarged lymph node, a sign that Lupe’s immune system was fighting something.
But what? The same thing that was causing her skin to feel like she lived under constant attack by fire ants?
Our nurse-practitioner also tends toward the paranoid, in a good way, and ran a full panel of blood work that eventually ruled out things like celiac disease. In the meantime, he prescribed a supercharged steroid that we had to apply, then wrap Lupe’s arms in plastic wrap for maximum absorption.
After several nights of wrapping my daughter up like our dinner leftovers, the thought slowly dawned on me: what if her diet had something to do with her skin ailments? No doctor had ever suggested there might be a link, or spent a lot of time focused on her diet as a possible culprit, and neither had I. I just knew she wasn’t allergic to scary things that required me to carry an EpiPen in my purse.
I started tracking what we were eating, and before long, I noticed that her suffering seemed worse after a big spaghetti dinner. This might sound crazy, in light of the fact that she often had a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, followed by a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread for lunch. But we could just tell. We’d lay off the extra carbs at dinner for awhile, then I’d serve another big spaghetti dinner.
And see the impact on my daughter’s skin.
So we decided to see what would happen if we eliminated gluten from her diet, and replaced wheat products with other carbs, such as rice and potatoes.
The results have been amazing, for Lupe and for our entire family.
I haven’t had to put my daughter in a Saran wrap casing in months. She isn’t driven to madness by itchy skin. No more scary steroids! And best of all–she feels happier and more confident.
As for the rest of us, we’ve gotten back in touch with food and our roots. That box of one hundred percent semolina pasta was my clutch–cheap, fast, versatile, kid-approved. Saying good bye to it was like breaking an addiction. If you give up drinking, you have to give up your drinking buddies. No matter that I knew it wasn’t good for us, it was scary to let go of my clutch. What was I going to feed us?
Oh, yeah. We’re Vietnamese. And Mexican. Two culinary traditions that aren’t dependent on wheat. And I know she likes things like corn tortillas, beans, rice, and rice noodles. I realized that maybe I could make this work.
But it was going to take work. And it has. It still does.
I’m not a professional chef. Just ask my sister. She loves to chime in about that. I’m not a medical professional. I’m not a dietician. I am a mom who had a hunch and so far, it seems to be the right one. That could change. But in the meantime, we’re going to enjoy getting to know ourselves and our heritages through food.
And messes. Lots and lots of messes.