“I said goodbye like a lover”: Mailing problem foods like a jazz funeral in New Orleans
With increasing age, enjoying the variety of food and drink increasingly resembles playing Russian roulette with low stakes. Take, for example, a recent dinner with my friend Danielle Norris, a Chicago-based sommelier and longtime wine merchant who recently found out she was lactose intolerant.
“You cut the pizza,” said Norris, handing me a pair of kitchen scissors and then pouring some Lactaid with their rum cocktail. I brought the wine that I took predictive antacids for. This was in addition to the half-dozen Pepto I had devoured during the day because of an annoying hormonal diarrhea which I made worse that morning by insisting on coffee.
“Look at this: most blacks are lactose intolerant,” said Norris, who is black, as we dug into pepperoni pizza and blue cheese salad. (Over three quarters of black AmericansIn fact, at some point in their life they lose the ability to break down the sugar in milk.) “I thought I dodged this ball; I thought I was airy.”
As a wine representative and educator, Norris has lived in restaurants for much of her professional life (or did so before the pandemic). In addition to almost daily appearances in restaurants and bars, she takes part in lavish customer dinners every week – where she conducts tastings or drops by for a drink and a snack to show the customers the love.
That suits her because she is contagiously engaged and likes to eat and drink. But for about two years now, the indiscriminate indulgences suddenly came at an acutely unbearable price – much higher than, for example, my general complaints about heartburn here, diarrhea there. She appeared as poop three times within 90 minutes of waking up and did not experience any relief.
“Everyone knows when they’ve finished throwing up and everyone knows when they don’t,” she said. “You want that feeling of ‘I can clean my bum and get on with my day.’ I didn’t have that. That’s lactose intolerance. You don’t have the confidence of ‘I’m done’. You think, ‘How much longer do I have?’ “
She spoke to her doctor and started removing ingredients; It didn’t take long to find out that the culprit was lactose. For a while, Norris queasily rationalized that she preferred the revealing lifestyle, and she changed little other than putting Lactaid in her purse before leaving the house. One day, deep in the isolation battles of COVID-era quarantine, something snapped.
“I stood in the portal between the living and kitchen area of my apartment and let something fall on the floor. I leaned over to pick it up and I broke the wind – like an audible, junior high audio track fart, ”she said. “When you spend more time alone, you realize what kind of roommate you are to yourself. And the fact that I couldn’t even bend down without farting made me think, ‘I’m not a good roommate to myself.’ I didn’t want to live with what my body was spending anymore. “
She appeared, clapped her hands firmly, and said, “Enough!” to her two cats Pinky and Walter, who were generally supportive.
Norris was never really a milk drinker – she has long preferred almond milk in her coffee – but she loves cheese. She will tell you that she is Texan and that quesadillas are her favorite snack in the same breath as if one implies the other. When I asked her how she got rid of her beloved cheese – in anticipation of one Challenging writing on gradual elimination – I was blown away by your answer. (Though I’m pretty sure it won’t surprise you after spending time with her while reading this story so far.)
“I said goodbye like a lover,” she replied.
She decided to devote an entire weekend to this adieu of lovers (also knowing she would physically pay for it) and chose two of the most decadent, cheese-rich recipes in her cooking work. First she made ramp Kimchi grilled cheese with hot and white horseradish cheddar on thick sourdough slices, which she spread generously with mayonnaise and butter. She ate it at the kitchen counter, “and it was the happiest thing I’ve ever had.”
The weekend got better with Alison Romans Baked ziti, a real dairy festival made from fresh ricotta, fibrous mozzarella, cream and salty parmesan, layered with pasta and garlic tomato sauce. To complete the scene, Norris poured a generous glass of Montepulciano and stood in line.Goodfellas. ”
Did she take preventive lactaid this weekend? “Hell no! I’ve been persistent.”
The more we discussed this exaggerated farewell, the more her approach reminded me of another joyful farewell: the jazz funeral in New Orleans. In this profound yet exuberant tradition that originated among black musicians in the Crescent City, mourners greet the passage of a deceased soul with a brass band down the street, beginning at the church or the funeral home and ending in the cemetery. The music starts dark, but quickly becomes solemn. Passers-by are encouraged to join in, and everyone dance together on the street – a tangible catharsis for all the blending of joy and pain.
“When the deceased is buried – or they ‘cut loose’ – the mourners’ cut loose too,” wrote Eileen Southern in her 1971 book.The music of black Americans American. “
Norris literally cut dairy products with its own procession and honored her favorite ingredient in all its extravagant glory.
“That was my way of honoring my romance and saying goodbye at the same time,” she said. “I felt validated and satisfied. Even when I got to work, I felt honored. It was something I put a lot of intention into and I made it my own.”
It was astutely intended from a personal health standpoint as well. By making both dishes the pinnacle of richness, Norris tried to transform her cravings for cheese in the direction of rare dishes for special occasions like Thanksgiving rather than a practical snack like a quesadilla.
Part of a broader obligation to listen to her body dancing to an internal marching band as she eats clean, vegetable-heavy dishes like raw salmon with vegetables over rice. But she refuses to silence or even diminish her inner decadence, which is as much a part of her as her Texan accent. Instead, she chooses her battles.
“If I have some foresight in my work week, I will eat very minimally and very cleanly at home and carry Lactaid in my handbag,” she said. “When I’m with my homies, I eat what I do best.
“But I also know that I’m incredibly forgiving as a person. And if I choose to go out and eat with people, I want to spice it up … Did you want the last slice of pizza?”
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