Food writer doesn’t let illness ruin her appetite
November 22, 2013 1:58PM
Barb Felt-Miller | Photo provided
Updated: December 25, 2013 6:13AM
“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook — try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
— Julia Child
Barb Felt-Miller has worked as a chemist and a pharmaceutical sales representative, but had to give those professions up because of Crohn’s disease.
Today, Felt-Miller, 43, lives in LaPorte with her husband Earl Miller and writes a blog called Felt Like A Foodie.
“I’m a Chicago girl,” Felt-Miller began. “I started out in Blue Island, then my parents moved to Park Forest and eventually Olympia Fields. I graduated from Rich Central High School.”
“I have a degree in chemistry from Purdue Calumet in Hammond.”
You’ve had health issues.
“Yes, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 7. To this day, every bite of food gives me a stomach ache. By the time I was 14, they had to feed me with those tubes. That’s about when all the surgeries started.”
That had to be hard on a young girl.
“All of my large intestine has been gone since 1984. Parts of my small intestine also have been taken out. When taking anatomy classes in school, a professor asked where the large intestine is located. I told him: ‘Mine’s in Minnesota.’ I had three surgeries at the Mayo Clinic. I also had a bunch at the University of Chicago, Lutheran General and (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis).
“In ‘88, I went off to college like everybody else does, but I always was sick. It got to the point where I was eating maybe half of a baked potato a day. I can’t even tell you how many times a day I was going to the bathroom.”
My aunt suffers from Crohn’s disease, but I don’t think it’s as severe as your case.
“Very few people are afflicted with Crohn’s as bad as me. All my doctors have told me that. Back then, we didn’t think I’d see 20. They used IVs to feed me. My mom’s a saint. Between her and my grandma it wasn’t a thing where you felt sorry for yourself. You just kinda kept yourself busy.”
You didn’t know any other way of life.
“I don’t remember playing outside with my sisters. I remember sitting inside reading a book or cross-stitching. Heck, I would play Monopoly with my stuffed animals.”
What causes Crohn’s disease?
“Nobody really knows. I believe it’s genetic because there are so many members of my family who have some sort of irritable bowel disease.”
What amazes me is your love of food and cooking.
“Yeah, I get that from the Italian side of the family. I learned a lot from watching my grandma in the kitchen. I actually made my own pasta this week. I take a lot of classes at The Chopping Block in Chicago.
“My mom hated to cook. Her deal with me was: ‘You can have whatever you want for dinner as long as you cook it — I’ll clean up.’ What teenager is not going to like that? So, I started reading cookbooks and getting more interested in it. I learned how to cook.”
You had control of what went into your body.
“Exactly. There’s this weird thing with Crohn’s where your body craves things that don’t make you sick. I was eating a lot of plain pasta and chicken.”
Your food blog is nearing a million readers.
“Earl got me started on that about three years ago because a lot of people were asking advice about food. He set up a website for me. I have a quirky sense of humor, so I made it funny. I don’t take myself too seriously.”
“I thought about doing pumpkin seeds in the middle of the night while wondering if pumpkins had brains, what would they be thinking? I mean, what do little pie pumpkins think about the big pumpkins getting stabbed to death every Halloween?”
I like quirky.
“I probably know a lot more about food than the average Joe, but I don’t talk down to anyone who has questions.”
One of your latest creations?
“I’m obsessed with squid ink right now.”
“That’s what turns the pasta black.”
You’ve been invited to some upscale restaurants in Chicago.
“Yeah, the restaurant part of the blog came about in 2011, when I won a contest put on by CBS for Most Valuable Bloggers. For the food division, I won popular vote. Since winning that award, I’ve been getting invitations from restaurants asking me to come taste their food. I don’t go in as a critic. I’m not a critic. I’m there as the everyday small town girl.
“I’ve been to some great restaurants in Chicago. Being as every meal is going to give me a stomach ache, it better be some tasty food that’s going to make me sick.”
Ever think of becoming a chef?
“Oh, no. With Crohn’s disease, it’s too much. I know a lot of chefs; they work their butts off. I just don’t have the energy and strength.”
Name a couple of your favorite foods.
“I love bacon. My grandmother’s manicotti recipe would be at the top of the list. I’m a big fan of gravies and sauces; they’re some of my specialties.”
Talk about being handed lemons in life and making lemonade out of it. Barb Felt-Miller amazes me. She’s a person who has become ill from every meal she’s eaten for more than 35 years, but loves to cook, dine out, and write about food.