Friday, April 6, 2012

Weekend Cooking: DROPPING ACID by Jamie Koufman and Jordan Stern

dropping acid cover

I know this will probably shock y'all, but sometimes my life isn't that glamorous. Like a few years ago, I started to feel this pain in my chest as if I was being stabbed through the heart. I thought I might be having a heart attack and I was only twenty-eight! Fortunately, it wasn't a heart attack--it was acid reflux (I found this out after two visits to my regular doctor, a trip to the ER, and seeing a GI specialist).

Acid reflux is the type of disease that sounds silly, until you actually get it and can't sleep, can't breathe, can barely move, and can't eat. I took Prilosec for about three months straight and that seemed to get it under control. Aside from occasional flare-ups, I didn't have any problems until a few weeks ago when I started to feel that stabby sensation again. Back to the Prilosec, even though it's not that good for your stomach.

Here's the thing about acid reflux: you cannot. eat. ANYTHING. Coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, bacon, cheese (you all know how much I love cheese)... Just imagine every food you enjoy or consider a comfort food, and then cross it off your list of things you can eat. Welcome to rice and boiled chicken for the rest of your life, bitches. I'd almost rather die, except acid reflux doesn't kill you--it just makes you FEEL like you're dying, then the cure makes you feel like there's no reason left to live anyway.

It's such a bummer.

I found out about Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook and Cure after googling "food to fight acid reflux." This is the only diet book I've ever read--but instead of cutting fat from your diet, you're trying to cut PH levels. I've read cookbooks for people with acid reflux before, like Eating for Acid Reflux by Jill Sklar and Annabel Cohen; but those books were incredibly disappointing. Not only did they not tell me anything I didn't already know, the recipes sounded terrible and weren't anything I'd ever want to eat.

Dropping Acid claims to be different, and for the most part it is. For one, I learned a lot about reflux, and realized I'd been suffering from it for a lot longer than I'd thought. According to Koufman and Stern, heartburn is only one of the less common symptoms of acid reflux--the majority of symptoms are things like coughing, hoarseness, feeling like you're choking or you can't swallow, and lots of mucus in your throat. If that's true, my reflux is definitely triggered by stress--I basically lived off frappacinos during finals week while in grad school, because I couldn't manage to swallow anything solid. Symptoms of "silent reflux," as Koufman and Stern call it, are often misdiagnosed as allergies, halitosis, dental disease, or asthma.

The diet part of the cookbook is two-fold: first, you spend 2-4 weeks on a strict diet eating nothing with a PH above 4. In part two, you can relax the diet and eat things with a higher PH, as long as you do so in small doses.

Here's what I really like about Dropping Acid: it's totally reasonable. When I first visited the GI specialist after realizing I had acid reflux, he was like, "No more coffee, tea, alcohol, or chocolate." Seriously? You need to let people down gently when you give them news like that. Koufman and Stern are more realistic: one cup of coffee a day is fine, a cocktail is fine as long as it's not right before bed, etc. They give you a list of really good foods you should try to incorporate into your diet, and generally bad foods you should avoid, and basically give you the building blocks to make smarter decisions about what you eat. They also say that everyone has their own hard limits on what foods they should definitely avoid at all times.

As for the cookbook section, that's a mixed bag. At first I was really exited because the recipes sounded like something I might actually want to eat! There were delicious-sounding smoothies, pancakes, quiches and omelets; salads that didn't sound half bad (I'm not a big fan of salads), entrées like mad mushroom stew, one-pot chicken blanquette, and scallops with penne verde; and even snacks and desserts like ginger cheesecake. A lot of the credit for these awesome-sounding recipes probably goes to Marc Bauer, a chef at the French Culinary Institute.

vegetable frittata with quinoa

Then I tried to actually make a few of the recipes and realized the directions could use some work. For example, in the vegetable frittata with quinoa, there are no times given as to how long to actually cook the frittata or any of the vegetables. You can't assume people know how long it takes to cook to anything "thoroughly," or even that people know what a thoroughly cooked vegetable is. This is a culture that doesn't know fries are made from potatoes, for heaven's sake (The New York Times republished this recipe with cooking times--thank you, NYT). I also tried a few of the salads and they were okay, but a little weird-tasting.

Despite my problems with some of the recipes, overall I'm happy with this book, because it makes me feel like I can eat well and still be relatively healthy. Just knowing basic foods that are good to eat (rather than only the bad stuff) and warning signs other than heartburn is really helpful. I definitely recommend Dropping Acid if you or someone you cook for suffers from acid reflux.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.


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