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Dietary restrictions make dining tricky

Once upon a time, my husband and I could have dinner parties and make all sorts of lovely, creative dishes. We would often start with homemade cheese sticks, mushroom roll-ups and a little pate. This was often followed by a thick, creamy vegetable soup. The main course might have consisted of grilled steak, rice-artichoke casserole and roasted, garlicky, buttered asparagus. The salad would have one of our special dressing recipes and a bit of feta or Gorgonzola. This was sometimes followed by a New York-style cheesecake and my "famous" chocolate peppermint brownies.

Slowly but surely, as we and our friends have aged, the menu has had to change radically. The first indication of a problem was when a friend informed us that he cannot eat onions or garlic. He was only in his 50s (not so ancient), so that was an omen of what lay ahead. Of course, that meant that any dishes had to be bland and boring.

Then a friend informed us that she was lactose-intolerant, which precluded any dairy food, including any type of cheese, cream or sauce with any figment of dairy. That, too, became a challenge.

As if that were not enough of a barrier to cooking interesting meals, one of our recent invitees told us that his cardiologist had just informed him he should eat "no fat." The result of that was again no cheese, no beef, no cream in anything and only fruit for dessert.

We began to try some creative menu planning with all of these rigid requests, but by the time we came up with some ideas -- albeit dull menus -- a friend informed us that he was prediabetic, which meant no carbs and no "white" food (no bread, no pasta, no potatoes, no sugar, etc.).

Now we began to scratch our heads and think that plain fish, plain vegetables, undressed salad and berries (other fruits are sugary) were the only way to have company.

Oops, another restriction came along. A friend found out that she can eat only gluten-free food. Try to get your arms around that request! Adding to that, we have a few friends who are kosher, meaning no shellfish, no mixing of meat and/or dairy, plus other kosher food restrictions. Again, we tried to think about ways to make meals that would have some semblance of taste and some aspect of variety.

But, alas, along came another problem eater. He informed us that not a drop of mustard can touch his lips. He is highly allergic to it, and can have a serious medical reaction that could send him right to the emergency room. I'll bet very few people have any idea how many foods contain mustard.

Two friends now have diverticulitis, which means no nuts or seeds. And the often present high blood pressure means no salt.

Of course, there are myriad other allergies, including the frequent peanut one. For beverages, there are also those who say wine gives them a headache, and, of course, coffee has to be caffeine-free. Perhaps the only appropriate drink would be filtered water.

My husband recently came up with some solutions. His first suggestion: no more dinner company, other than our kids and grandkids who do not yet subscribe to healthy eating. But he knows that that is not a happy option, so he came up with the best idea of all. We will invite our guests with this rejoinder: BYOF! Bring Your Own Food. We haven't tried it yet, but we sure will find out who our real friends are. Bon appetit.

Ginger B. Maiman, a retired social worker who lives in Buffalo, is finding it harder to feed her guests.

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