This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.
Several years ago I gave up cheese for Lent, not that I’m religious. I was born and raised Catholic, but joined non-practicing Catholics decades ago. On dating sites, I click “spiritual, but not religious,” but even that might be a stretch. When a co-worker friend, who is religious (as in left-my-birthday-dinner-celebration-early-on-Good-Friday-to-attend-mass religious), told me what he was sacrificing for Lent, I decided I, too, would give up something in solidarity and as a personal challenge.
Personal challenges are nothing new for me. One year I challenged myself to attend at least one live event a month. Concert, play, musical, comedy show, circus. Whatever, so long as the entertainment was live. I’ve also done exercise challenges, like X amount of sit-ups or squats per day every day for a month. One time I gave up meat. This post is part of an alphabet blogging challenge.
My cousins used to tease me about my love of cheese. Nicknames were “Mouse” and “Micety” after the Michel’le song Nicety. Giving up cheese was a big deal. By no means am I a connoisseur. I don’t seek out cheese specialty shops or buy expensive, smelly cheeses (though to me they’re not smelly). Before I knew better and before I did my own grocery shopping, I was content with American “cheese” individually wrapped in cellophane. I enjoyed it with bologna sandwiches, fried eggs, or straight from the wrapper.
I had a method: break off a small piece from the corner, roll it into a ball, then either bite into the tiny ball or flatten it against the roof of my mouth with my tongue. I was a weird child. Much to the chagrin of a cousin, I recently taught this method to her three year old son.
Grilled cheese sandwiches remain one of my favorite snacks and meals. There’s nothing like having a grilled cheese and soup on a cold or rainy day. I used to balk at the idea of calling a sandwich with anything more than cheese a grilled cheese sandwich. Other ingredients, while good, interfered with the taste of the cheese. Once I learned more about balanced meals and nutrition, I relented to making my grilled cheese sandwiches with tomatoes, ham, spinach or bacon.
Shortly before Lent began, I took inventory of my fridge for all cheese products. There was no way I’d consume them before Lent began, nor did I have any intentions of throwing them out. The plan was to freeze them until the 40 days were over.
Anyone surveying my fridge would know I am not lactose intolerant. Kraft deli-style American, grated Parmesan, Philadelphia cream, Laughing Cow spreadable Swiss, Mini Babybel, Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp cheddar. In the freezer were a few personal pizzas and spinach and Ricotta open-face croissants. I told them all “see you later.”
In the comfort of my home, it was easy to avoid cheese; the outside world, not so much. It seemed like I had more social outings packed into those 40 days than I usually have in a full year. When eating out with co-workers, friends and family, other than wings and chips and guac, the go-to shared appetizers are spinach and artichoke dip, potato skins and mozzarella sticks. At least I could peel the cheese from the skins. Once, I sent back a Caesar salad forgetting it came with shaved chunks of Parmesan cheese. I almost cracked at family get-togethers when I saw huge platters of lasagna, mac & cheese and other baked pastas with melted, gooey cheesy goodness.
Nowadays I snack on granola bars, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds and other nuts, but back then the men who work in my office’s lobby store and corner bodega near my apartment knew on sight that I was there to get nacho cheese Doritos, Smartfood cheddar popcorn or Wise Cheez Doodles (not the puffs) in the green bag. If they were out of Cheez Doodles, I got Cheetos.
Almost every day at some point in the late afternoon, co-workers were subject to hearing the crinkling of my chips bag and the crunching of treats. Minutes later, the tips of my right thumb, pointer and middle fingers were stained orange. The bags cost $1. I didn’t buy the larger $3+ bags to keep at home for fear I would not exercise portion control. One time I disgusted myself by eating a whole 10 oz bag of Doritos while watching a Netflix movie.
The cravings were almost unbearable. I longed for the taste of cheese, any cheese, on my taste buds. I made multiple late night trips to my fridge and just stared, hoping to see a cheese I forgot to move to the freezer. I’m pretty sure my body felt achy for a few days, and I felt more tired.
Foods tasted weird. I usually added cheese to my fried eggs and omelets. I had a burger, not a bacon cheeseburger. I tried to think of an alternative for cheesesteak to no avail. I ate sandwiches and wraps without cheese. It was a whole new world.
My insides started to feel cleaner and I felt lighter. Going to the bathroom was different—in a good way. My stomach and face appeared less puffy and bloated, skin clearer, but my nails continued to peel. I upped my yogurt intake because I don’t drink cow milk and was no longer eating cheese.
At the end of the 40 days, I felt like a new person. A new body and more spare money in my wallet. I eased back into eating cheese not wanting to shock my system. To this day, I don’t consume as much cheese as I used to, mainly because as I got older, I improved my eating habits. Clean eating is expensive and leaves little room in the budget for junk food. I do indulge occasionally, but nothing that warrants unretiring my former nickname “Micety.”