Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bonus to the Giveaway: A Guest Post by Sandra Beasley

On Tuesday, I gave you a sneak peek at Sandra Beasley's memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. Today, I have something even better: a guest post by Sandra herself, in which she gives us a taste of her poetry, more of her memoir, and a glimpse into her life on the road.


photo credit: Matthew Wordman
I love to eat. And I love to cook. Please trust me on those two things before I tell you the rest: I have severe and lifelong allergies to to milk, goat's milk, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, mango, cucumber, some tree nuts, mustard, some melons, and swordfish. So while yes, I love to eat--and yes, I love to cook--my palate and my recipe book might be a little different from yours.

Since spring 2010, I have been on an endless if exhilarating book tour. Anyone who travels will tell you how merciless it can be on the belly. But when you're traveling with food allergies, the risk goes beyond the realm of gaining five pounds. Whether in New York City (this week), or Madison, Wisconsin (last week), or Miami, Florida (the week before that), I am constantly talking business over lunch or joining hosts for a dinner before a bookstore reading. There is often pressure to try a local specialty or share a plate. In these moments I live in fear of being reduced to a hivey, wheezing, anaphylactic mass. Where will the nearest hospital be? Will my health insurance cover me there?

In "Allergy Girl," a sequence that appeared in my first poetry collection, Theories of Falling, I describe the helplessness my parents felt in trying to feed a newborn while on the road:
My parents agree on one rule: Don't break the baby.
They pour quarters into the arcade game of adulthood,
working the mechanical claw right, left, right, back,
aiming for the stuffed bear, missing. A clutch

of cheesecake. A buttermilk biscuit. Each time
my lips swelling, breath skipping. They pace the E.R.
Did we break the baby? My mother dissects labels:
casein, protein, lactylate. Easier to cook from scratch.
Later, revisiting the incident in Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, I filled in the narrative details:
Take the Biscuit Incident: On a trip through Nashville, after hours of
driving with a squalling, hungry three-year-old, they checked into Opryland
and tried to figure out how to quell my growling stomach. My
father’s plate came with a plain-looking biscuit on the side.

“You barely had a crumb,” my mom said, still defensive after all these
years. “We didn’t know it was buttermilk.” I began wheezing and hiving,
spluttering at the liquid Benadryl they tried to ease down my throat. They
waited, watching closely, unsure what to do. After an hour, I calmed
down—probably as much from exhaustion as recovery—and fell asleep.

The next day my father was tied up in a conference, and my mother
would not drive in an unfamiliar city. “The worst part was going back to
that same hotel restaurant the next morning,” she admitted, “and having to
try again. We didn’t know where else to take you.”
Over the years I've developed my collection of short cuts for eating meal after meal after meal on the road. Make sure the server knows "tree nuts" includes pine nuts and pestos. When in doubt, order the french fries. Don't even step into a pizza joint. I've accepted that my cravings might have to yield to my common sense, and I've gotten used to paying full price for an entree stripped of the chi-chi garnishes that justified the $5 upcharge in the first place.

I've spent the last four days in New York. On one level, my index of the trip's adventures reads...

-Food Allergy Initiative's ball at the Waldorf Astoria;
-Meeting with my editor at Crown;
-Date on Cornelia Street;
-Meeting with my assistant editor at W. W. Norton;
-Meeting with my literary agent;
-Interview for TRIP CITY, an online Brooklyn-curated arts salon.

On another level, my mind indexes...

-safe halibut, fancy dessert fruit plate (picked around the cantaloupe);
-hijiki and salmon maki (success!);
-pasta with mussels (convinced the kitchen to switch out an egg-y pasta for linguine);
-quinoa salad (sent back for de-cucumber-ing);
-fried plantains (the Cuban equivalent of my standby, french fries);
-hummus & carrot sticks (good but for $11, I wish I'd been able to eat the pita).

Soon I'll be home, this time for a month. That is an eternity in the vagabond's world. I can't wait to fill my refrigerator with arugula, peppers, avocados, roasted chicken, wild rice. Breakfast? Almonds, bananas, orange juice. Every day: the simple and the Sandra-friendly.

My favorite meal of the last month on the road was not in New York at all. It was actually a bowl of potato-leek soup at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse in Madison, Wisconsin. Not because it was exotic or rich; it was rustic and, if anything, it could have used a little salt. But before ordering I got to look at the hand-lettered index card where the vegan chef had written down the handful of ingredients. I felt taken care of with each hearty, safe spoonful.

Sometimes, your appetite is not for what's exotic or rich. Sometimes, it's the comfort food you need--the comfort that, wherever else the day takes you, it won't be to the emergency room.


Don't Kill the Birthday Girl was a finalist in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Food & Cooking, and Publisher's Weekly calls it an "intelligent and witty memoir." Sandra Beasley is an award-winning poet and the 2011 Writer-In-Residence Howard County's Poetry and Literature Society. Check out her website here, follow her on Twitter, or like her page on Facebook

And, for you Readers...We're still giving away a copy of this excellent book, but you don't have to go clicking around town to enter. To make it easy, leave a comment here if you haven't already dropped your name in the comment section on Tuesday's post. We'll draw for the winner on Monday, December 12th.

How's that for hospitality?

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