Low Sodium Spotlight: Jessica Goldman

Weeks ago I got the idea of showcasing friends within the salt-free community through a monthly Low Sodium Spotlight. In August I featured Susan Tweeton, author of the low sodium blog, PLEASE, Don’t Pass the Salt! This month we’re continuing the trend with another low sodium blogger, Jessica Goldman.

Better known as her alter-ego, Sodium Girl, Jess Goldman is the new face of low sodium cooking.  With a contagious sense of enthusiasm and vibrant personality, Jess makes living salt-free seem not just fun and easy, but downright appealing! We ‘met’ online a year ago, and since that time I’ve been wowed by her wit, positivity and boundless energy for her most favorite of subjects: LOW SODIUM FOOD. But not just any food. Heavens, no. Jess takes salt-free cooking to the next level, by embracing exotic ingredients, translating culinary trends and delving deep into the ocean of creativity.  Who needs salt when there are worlds of other flavors to discover?

Jess, why in the world did you give up salt?!

Days after I turned 21 (and had luckily arrived home from studying abroad), I ended up in the hospital with grand mal seizures, skyrocketing blood pressure, and failing kidneys. I had Lupus – an autoimmune disease that was aggressively attacking my body, brain, and kidneys – and I was fighting for my life.

But this story has a happy ending, because with incredible care from my medical team, family, and friends, I began to recuperate. After a 3 month hospital stay, chemo, and a variety of other fun things (like dialysis and learning more than I ever wanted to know about medicine), I moved home to begin life anew. Or better put, a new life.

While I waited for a kidney transplant, I celebrated the fact that I was in my own home. In real clothes. Able to stand – at least for a little bit every day. That I was getting stronger and healthier. And I vowed to do whatever I could – beyond medicine – to keep myself on that track.  That’s the long way of saying, this is why I cut out salt. I thought if I could give my kidneys as little work as possible, then maybe all the medicine and the treatments would have a better chance of working.

Before this life-altering change, what was a typical meal like for you? What’s a typical meal like now? How has your family handled the change?

I grew up with a family that microwaved all their vegetables. The only spices we owned were salt and pepper. And chicken thigh was adventurous. Actually, we never even ate it. So scratch that. It was a foreign ingredient.  I loved LOVED LOVED fast food. I lived for mac and cheese and fried chicken. My parents could get me to do anything for french fries (Jack n’ the Box was solely responsible for me becoming a Bat Mitzvah). And I didn’t even eat things like avocados because they were green. Talk about horrible logic.

So how have things changed? I eat everything (except salt, of course). I am beyond adventurous. I love vegetables — especially those that look like they’re from alien worlds or have names I cannot pronounce. I love to surprise my palate. And my friends’ palates. I love spices, sauces, vinegars, and oils of all kinds. I explore the world of cuisines — from Indian to African to Ireland — where I never dared venture beyond American before.

And my family has lovingly come along for the ride. My parents now have their kitchen outfitted with everything they need to cook low sodium meals. There are drawers filled with spices and now a pot and steaming basket are used for making veggies. They are trying new things constantly and enjoying it. My mom helped me test all the recipes for the book. She now knows what a turnip looks and tastes like.  My in-laws have also taken on this challenge with gusto. They love to experiment. They love to create recipes (for the book and blog). And beyond everything, they love to watch me eat piles of low sodium goodies they have created for me. They have all cut way back on the salt.  And then there’s my wonderful husband who, for our third date, told me he wanted to make me dinner. I thought I was going to die. But instead of a salty meal, I was served steamed rice, bok choy, chicken thigh (see: foreign), and sesame oil. All low sodium. All delicious. All things I had never had before. And we have been on the low sodium cooking journey together ever since. This is one huge part of why I married him. He’s pretty cute too.

When did you start blogging? What’s the story behind the name Sodium Girl? Have you ever been recognized in public as your alter-ego? (“Hey Sodium Girl!”)

I started blogging in March 2009 but didn’t start taking it seriously until January 2010, when I had officially left my desk job.  I got the name Sodium Girl from one of my husband’s friends when we first started dating — that’s the name they used for me when they talked about “Jando’s new girlfriend.” The friend would always say, oh “that sodium girl?” He also happens to be a musician (named 1865) and subsequently wrote a song called Sodium Girl, that doesn’t have anything to do with me except for the name. But I definitely asked permission before using it for the blog. And I can’t imagine having called it anything different. Except maybe “Low So Damn Good.”

As for being recognized, the strangest occurrence has been with my editor at DailyCandy.com. A few weeks after starting to work with each other, I received an email that said, “OH MY GOD! Are you really Sodium Girl?” I thought she was joking, but apparently she and her friend who has lupus had been following the blog since I started it. Small world.

Beyond your blog, you’ve written a soon-to-be-published cookbook. What was the impetus behind the book? Were you approached following one of your articles or speaking engagements? What was the writing process like for you?

To be honest, when I started this blog, my only intention was to start a writing career. With Lupus, it was very difficult to hold a desk job and take care of myself. So I needed a career that allowed me flexibility and one where I was my own boss.  But people always seemed the most interested in the blog and my low sodium/Lupus adventures. And it was over a year of blogging and receiving support from foodies in San Francisco and pushes from other mentors (like the ladies of Food52.com), that I decided to go for it. I connected with a wonderful literary agent and from there, the book was born! And I just finished shooting with the wonderful Matt Armendariz (mattbites.com) and Adam Pearson, which was a dream-come-true experience. They treated the food with extreme respect and if you didn’t know differently, it looks like any other colorful cookbook out there!

The funniest part is that the book was never supposed to be a cookbook. It was a lifestyle guide — a how-to travel, dine out, and live a full life on a low sodium diet. Because here’s the truth: I’m not a formally trained chef. I didn’t even own measuring spoons until I started writing the manuscript. I don’t even follow cookbooks myself. So it was a very steep (and quick) learning curve as I only had 6 months to write the whole shebang. And by shebang, I mean 110 brand new recipes.

But what a blast. And all that lifestyle guide stuff is in there too. The focus of the recipes is all about highly-salty foods and favorites (like Bloody Mary and Buffalo Wings) done without the sodium. And while everything tastes good, REAL GOOD, the lesson is also about being creative, being daring, and being determined that this diet does not have to be limiting in any way. There are some other surprises in there too (like famous chefs sharing their low sodium recipes)…but you’ll just have to wait for those details!

What are your thoughts on the trend/s in low sodium dieting? How have things changed since you began on a low sodium diet? Do you foresee big changes in the future?

Here’s another confession: I was misdiagnosed with celiacs disease a long time before anyone knew what gluten was. So I watched that allergy/dietary need go from non-existent to front and center of the food world.

I think low-sodium diets will follow the same pattern. Most people have no idea how much they consume. But like everything else that involves our food system these days — whether it is salt, carbs, or BPAs — everyone is becoming more aware of what they put into their bodies. And also that good food tastes good. On its own. So I also think that cooking in general is starting to focus on celebrating good produce and proteins in all of their natural glory. Which means good things for low sodium eaters.

What is your next goal or aspiration with regard to salt-free cooking? Any big changes afoot for your personally or professionally?

Well, my ultimate goal is to be sure no one feels lost or limited. So I hope to continue lecturing and providing helpful services through medical institutions. It would be a dream to be involved in some big nutritional campaigns, like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move project — anything to make sure the next generation is helping their health with their own two hands. It would be amazing to see our nation improve our well-being by just eating well.

And on that note, a Nobel Prize or a James Beard award would be pretty stellar. Conquering salt-free bacon would be cool too. (Clearly I believe it’s important to have lofty goals).

Jess, you are too cute.  Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us!  Wishing you huge success with your book & writing career, and loads & loads of delicious salt-free food!

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