Monday, October 13, 2008

Read on.

To continue reading, please check out Chef Reinvented.

We have a winner.

Dana Cree, friend, blogger and pastry chef at Poppy, is the winner of my informal poll to come up with a new blog name. Her name suggestion? Chef Reinvented. I love it. It's perfect. Her prize? A life-time supply of egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free sorghum and millet cupcakes with soy milk and hemp frosting. Congratulations Dana. May you never need a bowl of Colon Blow to get you through your day.

(Please read here for some hilarious suggestions people wrote in...)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chef Comma Interrupted

My bff came up with the name Chef Interrupted and I loved it immediately. It sounded sort of familiar because it reminded me of this novel turned movie I watched years ago called Girl Interrupted. It had this edginess to it that resonated with me. Turns out it was familiar because I had heard it before. There's a popular cookbook called Chef, Interrupted and a colleague of mine has a blog (I just found out) called Cookus Interruptus. They are not the same words exactly. Shoot there's a comma in the book, and the other's in faux Latin but all the same, it sort of sits in my gut like a chunk of raw garlic.

I plan on writing in this blog for a long time, so I'd rather start off on a truly original note. I have put the bug in my friend's ear to come up with some alternatives and I'll throw some of my own out there, but please feel free to weigh in. The name doesn't have to be specifically food allergy related as I plan on writing about all things food, whether or not I can eat it, damn it. Some themes I'm thinking on relate to my skinnyness (Sac of because it seems to be a favorite topic of my students and clients who can't fathom why I don't weigh 400 pounds or to garlic itself, perhaps going with the vampire chef theme. My friend suggested (Syncopated Ideas?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Eat me crunchy

I imagine all manner of snickers and innuendo when reading the title of this entry, but we'll keep this blog g-rated, mmm-kay? I've provided you with a quick visual to clear up any lingering questions about my meaning.

Today's entry is a tribute to the wonders of human invention. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, some background. Like most Americans who grew up in the 70's and 80's, I'm a product of our instant gratification culture. What was started in the late 50's - namely, convenience foods to make the lives of housewives "easier" - was really coming into its own in the 70's, highly advocated by my busy father who raised us along with the help of Louise: our Jamaican nanny/housecleaner/cook/friend and mother-substitute.

Weekends were a time for scrambled eggs and Bisquick pancakes, but weekday mornings we found succor in the pantry. Oh, that tall double-doored cabinet to the left of the refrigerator (I still reach out for it in my dreams). Within, we could almost hear the jingles we learned on t.v. "If you like cookies..." as I reach for the brown box, "you'll love Cookie Crisp!"

My father raised us right. My brothers and I appreciate things, take nothing for granted and work hard for what we have. But when it came to nutrition, my father turned a somewhat blind eye to the contents of our Grand Union shopping cart. In went the Double-Stuff Oreo cookies, the Fritos, some clam dip, and boxes after boxes of sugary, teeth-chatteringly sweet cereal with negligible nutritional value. And how we loved him for it.

I was an extremely picky eater as a child and had (and have) a sweet tooth that is beyond compare. Cereal made me happy and there were hardly any I wouldn't eat, although I was drawn -through clever targeted marketing and shit-tons of high fructose corn syrup- to the sweet ones. The crunchier the better, as my pickiness would rear its ugly head if my cereal were to turn even the slightest bit soggy.

My father had a love for the Frosted Mini-Wheat, the big kind that would bob along in his milk like some abandoned log waiting for rescue. To overcome its powdered snow-like sugar coating, Kellogg's claimed, "Surprise!... they're good for you!" After bowls and bowls of empty calorie, chocolate chip cookie breakfasts it surely would be a surprise if any cereal with that much sugar could actually be good for you.

I wasn't the only one to prefer our cereals sweet and crunchy. I'd say it was around 1978 or 79, a late summer morning and we're all sitting around the breakfast cereal munching away; there were no less than 4 gi-normous boxes on our table at any one time. Behind each box was a member of our family sleepily reading everything and anything printed on the packaging while we ate. We watch for a moment as our father pours his Mini-Wheats into his bowl and tops it with ice-cold whole milk. We tuck our heads and resume our reading just as my father screams and jumps back from the table. Seems as if a family of New Jersey born and raised black ants also had a thing for Kelloggs Frosted Mini-Wheats and chose my father's bowl to make their debut to the family. From that day forward, we examined our boxes and bowls vigilantly for any sign of movement not created by our own spoons.

Captain Crunch was a personal favorite because they seemed to understand how important it was to manufacture a cereal that wouldn't get soggy. Sure, the roof of your mouth was shredded in the process, but you never had to deal with a limp, disgusting Corn Flake plastered like so much Elmer's glue to the side of your bowl.

Today we eat much healthier cereals. Before I had to go temporarily wheat free I was a big fan of Nature's Path Organic Optimum Power Breakfast Flax Soy Blueberry Cereal (a name as verbose as Life Cereal is succinct). These days I'm liking Perky's Nutty Rice (another funny name) with soy milk, dried strawberries and sliced banana. No cereal name, however, past or present ever rivals the fake health cereal of SNL fame - known the world over as "Colon Blow".

I may have grown out of my love of non-nutritive sugary cereals, but I will still gag, retch and complain if my cereal goes limp. One day, I saw this cereal bowl on some random British website that claims it prevents soggy cereal. One deliriously happy customer reported, "eating cereal is no longer a race against time!" I sent the link to the wine goddess saying... "hey check this out - for the prima donna who has everything."

3 weeks later a package arrived in the mail for me, postmarked from England.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Love letter

Pike Place Market at dusk

It was exactly this time of year 13 years ago when I first laid eyes on Seattle. Oh, what a looker she was on that day; a day so remarkable, the cloudless sky and razor sharp edges of two mountain ranges made a girl feel woozy taking in all of the beauty. I had been living in Washington, D.C. at the time and came out West to visit an old friend who was on a one-woman mission to make Seattle my home.

Two experiences led up to my decision to go back to D.C., call U-Haul and get packing. First, I carelessly left my wallet in a cab. When I realized what I had done, I called the cab company and asked them to keep an eye out for it. Three hours later the phone rings. A passenger in the cab turned it in to the driver who insists on personally driving back to return it to me; does he need my friend's address? "Not at all," he tells me, "I remember where I dropped you off. I'll be right there." When he arrived, I gushed with gratitude and tried to slip a $20 into his hand to thank him. He handed the money back, smiled and wished me a lovely stay in Seattle.

Baby artichokes at the Ballard Sunday Farmer's Market

The other experience that sealed the deal was when I was walking with my friend along a quiet street in Madrona. It was early fall and the sun hit our faces at an autumnal angle, close enough to warm but far enough away to feel the crispness in the air. As we walked, my friend casually picked fruit off of the trees that lined the streets. She handed me an Italian plum with dusty white-purple skin that shined up after a few passes on my jeans. "Is this illegal?" I ask her, scanning the streets for security cameras. She tells me there are oodles of overflowing fruit - too much to eat - while she lazily kicks at the rotting plums in the grass to make her point. On the next block she tugs a perfectly ripe pear off a branch and now I know she's just showing off. I move my line of questioning to personal health, "What if it has pesticides all over it?" "I doubt it," she tells me, "people care more about their food here." And by way of explanation she states simply enough, "It's Seattle."

A vision of the "Soviet Safeway" where we shopped in Adam's Morgan, D.C. comes to mind, so named for the perceived scarcity of quality produce in certain inner city neighborhoods. After years of living in dirty urban areas, it's hard to adjust to eating a piece of fruit right off the street. You'd have to be totally out of your mind to contemplate eating anything off the street in most urban areas, unless it's a hot dog or a pretzel or you are supremely hungry. Let's be real - you're not even given the opportunity in most urban areas. Unless you are in Seattle or a similar Urban-Eden, there would be no chance to earn those blackberry scars on your arms, shallow, pencil lead-thin scratchings from joyous forays into the heart of the bushes come August. You wouldn't have to contemplate whether or not to gather up spring nettles in one of the city's numerous public green spaces to make soup. You wouldn't know that figs, heirloom apples and Rainier cherries could be so abundant, falling at your feet as you walk the streets.

Cheese squash (white), Hubbard (green) and unidentified (orange)

Now, after so many years, I know these truths intimately and it's hard to remember a time when the word "city" meant something very different to me. Today, Seattle, I send you a love letter for opening my eyes and teaching me that a city can be rich with beauty and generosity, natural and man-made.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Marbles and flowers

I was finishing up teaching a cooking class the other night when I get a text from my wine goddess. "I'm making you dinner!" it says. This might not seem so strange but to put this into context, in the time we've been together, there has only been one other occasion I can remember when these particular words have ever been strung together and uttered from her lips.

No. Scratch that. It was a lunch she made me that time. I had never heard these words before.

To further contextualize the moment, imagine you were with a chef and you were deciding what to make them for dinner. No one wants to cook for me save for my best friend and, to be fair, the wine goddess and I both work nights, rendering dinner together rare in the first place. When we do have a night off I'm more than happy to whip something up or go out.

I'm actually, surprisingly, easy to please. I love a simple grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup. I love pasta. I swoon over everyday things, like mac and cheese and anything grilled. Just throw a steak on the grill for a minute and I'm perfectly happy. Cheese, bread, tomatoes, steak, pasta.... none of it I can eat right now. However, now is when the wine goddess decides to make me dinner. "You're getting too skinny!" she says, "I need to DO something!" It's such a sweet gesture that I rush home excited to be cooked for, happy to sit down and let her serve me a meal.

On the top step of our landing, I smell the food of my ancestors: chicken in a broth, carrot, celery...a touch of... but wait, what is that? Something Indian? Floral?

I walk in the front door and a moment before I hear her voice I see a wooden spoon standing straight up out of our small pot on the stove. Like a funereal chopstick defying the laws of gravity, it seems to signal something ominous. "I think I screwed up the rice!" she yells down the hall.

My wine goddess is a walking encyclopedia of all things grape, music, and pop culture. She can sing like an angel, charm the pants off anyone and do a mean Cher impersonation.

A cook she is not.

This is not to say she hasn't mastered a few things in her time here on earth: popcorn, fried eggs, bacon, toast and a strong cup of coffee are her culinary calling cards. When she cooks, she cooks by feel. She loathes directions and poo-poos recipes. She moves through life lifting her nose to the wind and sniffing out her next move. I use the word "sniffing" in strictly a metaphorical sense as allergies leave her actual sniffer at times compromised.

Times such as now.

When she noticed that the rice seemed bland and mushy, intuition moved her to my spice wall, where magnets hold little containers of unlabeled spices with see-through windows so that I can identify what it is I'm grabbing for. The bright color of turmeric caught her eye and several tablespoons made their way into the cooked rice, garishly transforming it before her eyes. Not entirely satisfied, she reached for what she thought might be thyme (but she's not entirely sure). "This will teach you to LABEL your spices!" she teasingly scolds me later. As a final flourish, she added a pinch of my truffle salt and hoped for the best. That's when I walked in the door.

We sit down to eat and I'm grinning from ear to ear, touched by her obvious love and effort. On our plates: baked chicken legs with sage, steamed broccoli, carrots and celery. I'm forcing back a smile at the sight of the rice, a yellow beacon of a pile, heaped up high against its chicken fence. It takes all of the love in my heart to swallow my bite of rice down. In that long moment from pulling it off the fork (no easy task) to my hard swallow I realized a few things. First, she doesn't have ANY rice on her plate. Second, it dawns on me what that overwhelming floral scent is. The "thyme" she thought was thyme was lavender. Lots of it.

What does Turmeric and Lavender rice taste like? Imagine eating ground marbles and dirt mixed with soap and flowers. I can't help but think the analogy rivals some of her most esoteric wine descriptions. I offer her a small bite. She forcefully shakes her head, smiles and says, "HELL no!"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Soy sauce is so totally last month

Perhaps I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. I don't believe in heaven but if I did it would look distinctly like a sushi bar. My bar stool would have a gilded hamachi hand roll on the back. The place wouldn't be called "Cheers" - that wouldn't be right. It's in Tokyo, after all. Perhaps "Kampai!" and yes, everyone would know my name.

So when I sat in my naturopath's office waiting impatiently for the "list" while he danced around the food allergy elephant in the room, all I could think about was sushi. I believed in that moment I could go without a lot of things for 3 months: friends, money, shelter, no problem. Could I go without sushi? I didn't think so.

There's this magazine for food allergy folks. It's got this very sad little name. It's called: Living Without. I first learned about this magazine when I was hired as a consultant to a family with many food allergies. They wanted help with recipes and resources. I almost couldn't stand to point them in the direction of a resource called Living Without. That was in the halcyon days when I was naively awash in Living With and thought that it was terribly depressing of the publishers to focus on the Without. Then my doctor tells me I can't have vinegar or soy sauce because they are fermented with yeast. Rice vinegar is what makes sushi rice so yummy. Soy sauce is the ketchup of Asia! Damn my doctor.

No matter! I can devise a work-around and work around I do!

It goes like this: I order a take-out deluxe sashimi dinner from my local sushi bar. Miso soup please, no onions thank you. When I get home my lab and cocker spaniel run to their invisible marks at my side, acutely aware of their roles in this now semi-weekly play. I feed the lab the egg and the cocker the snapper-ish/bass-like fish that I haven't been able to properly identify and my limited Japanese is no help. I throw the pickled ginger and the daikon radish in the compost and try not to sigh when doing this. I pull out a bag of my own nori and cut it into quarters. I take the side of plain steamed rice they give you and make my own sushi rice by adding a few capfuls of apple cider vinegar, some sesame seeds and sea salt and a little bit of agave syrup for sweetness. Next, I grab a small bowl and squeeze half a lemon into it and stir in some sea salt. Now it's show time. I grab the nori and make my own hand rolls. Some rice, some hamachi, a little bit of shiso leaf, a smear of wasabi and I roll it up like a big fish cigarette and dip it into the lemon-salt.

It's fabulous.

It's so fabulous I hardly miss the soy sauce and its inherent wheat and yeast. After all, everyone knows Lemon Salt is the new Soy.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Smells of chestnuts

Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars

T.S. Eliot

I keep reading about people who have lost their sense of smell. My friend Seattle Tall Poppy told me about a chef/writer who was blogging about her fledgling culinary career; out for a run one day she was hit by a car and as a result of a skull fracture lost her sense of smell.

Although she is slowly recovering it, bit by bit, there are many others who never do. A friend of mine (the woman, not the dog, pictured above) has such terrible allergies and asthma that she hasn't smelled anything in years. One day, her smell came back and she ran around sticking her nose into everything. A few days later, it was gone again.

I think about these people when I smell bagels that I can't eat or when I inhale the scent of pizza cooking in a wood-fired oven. I think about them when I remember how - for a second - I wished I couldn't smell the foods I can't eat, to relieve myself of my temptations. I think about them when I realize that I would never wish this upon anyone, and I shouldn't wish it upon myself, even temporarily.

Smell is so intimately connected with memory. Passing by a bakery tempts me on one level, but it also triggers my nostalgia and connects me to places I may have long since forgotten. The scent of bread baking takes me to the Cabbagetown Cafe in Ithaca, New York, near where I went to college. I'm slurping up some vegetarian chili and eating a hunk of fresh baked bread. The smell of one sprig of curly parsley finds me instantly in my grandmother's 50's-era canary yellow kitchen where she hands me a bit after a meal and tells me it is "nature's breath mint". The smell of chestnuts? Vancouver, B.C.: We're walking along the water holding little wax bags of hot chestnuts. It's dusk and my brother is far up ahead of us. We can hear the distorted, surreal sounds of his trumpet as he practices.

There's another chef I heard about: she had a sinus infection and used a nasal gel product that contains zinc. Apparently these types of medications, of which Zicam and Cold-Eeze are examples, have been associated with the onset of anosmia: a condition that can permanently affect one's sense of smell and taste. There have been law suits and the makers of Zicam settled out of court. The woman was a private chef and culinary instructor. She had to quit her jobs.

In a few months I'll begin to know which foods I shouldn't eat anymore (I'm thinking garlic, onions and dairy). I will mourn these foods. I will miss them like you do old friends you love but realize you don't have much in common with anymore. I will miss their presence in my life even though I know the relationship has changed.

All the same, when I feel wistful, I can lean forward and breathe them in and touch a part of my past. For that, I'm lucky.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Never trust a skinny chef

I may have mentioned that my softball team calls me a "sack of antlers". Recently, one of my buddies on the team thought she located a vestigial dorsal fin on my spine, which led to much speculation that I used to be a dolphin or perhaps a snapper. Before long, I started to hear "let's go BONES" when I'd get up to bat.

Alright, so I'm skinny. And quite tall.

A tall drink of water, as they say in the south.

As a chef, this is a liability. Let's all say it together: "Never trust a skinny chef." Here's another saying, newly developed, "Never trust a chef who won't eat her own food." Or this one: "Never trust a chef who develops hives shortly after eating her own food."

Last night at the Redmond PCC, I was teaching a recipe that involved braising short ribs in coffee and spices. It's finished with 70% dark chocolate swirled into the pan juices. A take on mole, it is utterly irresistible. Not wanting to spit out my own food in front of the students I took a micro-taste of it, along with a similar baby-sized teaspoon of the mashed potatoes (finished with butter, cream and sour cream). Before the night was over, I also sampled a tiny bit of a chanterelle soup that had some butter and cream in it.

Fast forward an hour later, I'm home relaxing when my abdomen, back and arms break out in hives. I've only had hives one other time in my life. This is highly unusual for me and I can't help but think my body is now very sensitive to whatever it is I'm allergic/intolerant of. I now believe my doctor is right about one thing. Garlic is not the only problem.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Crazy Purse Lady in Reverse IN ACTION!

I wish I had video of this. If I did, the soundtrack would be the theme song to Benny Hill.

Picture this. Group of 8 out at their favorite Mexican joint in Shoreline. Beers and margaritas are ordered. I get my now signature sipping tequila (Corralejo this time around).

I order the Shrimp Salad. I tell the waiter to hold the tomato, hold the onion, hold the avocado, hold the cheese. Just hold all the f-*&$^* flavor. Thank you.

As soon as my plate of iceburg lettuce and flacid boiled shrimp arrive and the waiter leaves, the Crazy Purse Lady in Reverse tm (with retractable hand and piercing whine!) is put into action. I reach for my bag, grab for my tortilla chips (not fried in canola) crush them up and chuck them on my plate. Ignoring the jeers and laughter of my dining companions, smug with their sour cream and carne asada, I reach in my bag for more. Out comes some green olives (not marinated in vinegar - most types have brewer's yeast in it) BAM! they go on. Then, for the dressing... a bit of sea salt and then out comes a little eye dropper of extra virgin olive oil (not to be found at a mexican restaurant) and a squeeze of lime.

The waiter comes back, looks at my plate, looks away and then does the most classic double-take: "Oh!" he says, "that looks beeery nice!" and silently laughs at the crazy gringa freak and her green olives.

To purchase your very own Crazy Purse Lady in Reverse tm, send me an email. Included in the purchase price:

1. Mini eye-dropper filled with high quality olive oils.
2. Emergency rice bars to stave off the hangries.
3. Wallet-sized list of foods you can't eat.
4. Airplane bottles of Hornitos.
5. Limited edition Freak Flag

Friday, September 5, 2008

Is there cheese in that?

Probably the hardest part of this experiment in food deprivation is realizing one of my age-old fears; namely that I will turn into that person (you know the type) that keeps a server at the table for 15 minutes asking them every last ingredient. The kind of person who makes their food "issues" everyone else's issue. The kind of person who feels the need to blog about their food issues.

You know the type.

I classify these kinds of people into 6 distinct categories:

Type #1: (a classic!)
"The Sometimes-a-tarian"
We used to see these types in the restaurants all the time. They come in, state emphatically that they are a vegetarian, claim the restaurant doesn't have enough vegetarian choices and then we see them eating meat off their spouse's plate. These people give actual vegetarians a bad name. They should be shot and sold as steaks.

Type #2:
"The Prosecuter"
This type tends to hold up lines grilling the teenager taking their coffee order about every ingredient in every food in the case (even though the ingredients are listed on the labels). The Prosecuter is never satisfied with the answers and seeks to fluster the teenager/defendent into admitting they don't really know what's in the food. My favorite example of this type happened just this morning. A woman approached the counter and asked, "is there cheese in that bagel??" pointing to a pizza bagel. "Yes," said the teenager. "What about that one?" pointing to an asiago bagel. "Yes," said the teenager. I began to feel a sort of empathy for the woman, assuming she can't eat dairy. The teenager tells the woman that there are other bagels not in the case that don't have cheese on them. The woman nods and keeps up the inquiry. "Is there cheese in that?" "Is there cheese in that?" Finally, she nods, points her finger and says she'll take the pizza bagel.

Type #3:
"The Reading is Fundamental Poster Child"
My wine goddess loves this type. When she used to wait tables she often dealt with customers who from either sheer laziness or perhaps legitimate illiteracy would point to an entree that says, "Chicken stuffed with goat cheese" and ask, "Is there cheese in that?"

Type #4:
"The Bait and Switch"
This type will often say, "I like everything!" when invited over to your home for dinner. Once there, they dramatically unfurl their figurative parchment scroll of allergies and food sensitivities. Amazingly, they can't eat exactly what you prepared for dinner.

Type #5:
"The Crazy Purse Lady"
This type is very close to my heart as my grandmothers, aged 96 and 99 and still kickin', gave me my first insight into the telltale characteristics. They tend to have fistfuls of peppermint candies in their purses taken in huge amounts from local restaurants. When asked about them they tend to say, "well we PAY for them, now don't we?" Seek treatment for the afflicted if you notice wads of crushed saltine packages in the bottom of the purse, as they are another indicator that the diagnosis is accurate. The discovery of little butter pads is a distinct sign that this type is well beyond reasonable treatment options.

and finally...

Type #6
"The Crazy Purse Lady in Reverse"
That's me. I go to restaurants and my bag coughs out some food I can actually eat.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Full Belly

Last night my wine goddess' restaurant blew a transformer and they had to shut down. An unexpected and rare night off together found us strolling the local co-op shelves looking for dinner. My bff (a fabulous cook, in her own right) inspired me with her suggestion of taking my one alcohol (TEQUILA!) and combining it with roast chicken, black beans and mango.

Last night we ate heartily.

Last night we ate well and wow, not one of those 26 ingredients played a part. Most food elimination diets inevitably end up dairy, wheat/gluten, and egg free as they are common ingredients people might have a problem with. If anyone out there is trying to figure out food allergies/sensitivities and you have a similar list of ingredients you need to avoid, try this for dinner.

Caribbean-style Chicken
with Coconut Black Beans,
Greens and Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 4


1 pound Chicken Thighs, bone-in -- leave the skin on
Extra virgin olive oil -- as needed
½ tsp Coriander, ground
½ tsp Cumin Seed, ground
¼ tsp Cinnamon, Ground
Salt and Pepper to taste -- as needed
¼ cup Tequila -- divided
2 medium Sweet Potatoes -- peeled and cut into long, 1/2" by 1/2" rectangular fries
1 bunch Kale, Lacinato (my favorite) -- strip the leaves away from the stalks, discard stalks
1 can Black Beans -- drained, rinsed
1 ear Corn -- kernals cut off, corn "milk" scraped from cob with a spoon
1 bunch Cilantro -- chopped (cut the stems right along with the leaves)
1 tablespoon Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar -- or more to taste
1 can Coconut Milk
Limes -- as needed


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil. Trim the chicken thighs of excess fat but leave some on the top (I'm trying to keep some meat on my own bones here, people). Mix about 1 tablespoon olive oil with the spices, salt and pepper and half of the tequila. But first, taste the tequila and make sure it is palatable. Taste again. Rub the tequila and spices all over the chicken pieces. In another bowl, mix the mango slices with the other part of the tequila, or pour some more if it's already gone. Add some salt to the mango. Set aside.

Line a second sheet pan with foil. Mix the sweet potato pieces with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Open the oven door and throw in the tray of sweet potato fries and the tray of chicken. Roast the chicken until the skin becomes golden brown and the meat is cooked through (about 30 minutes). Halfway through the cooking time, add the mango pieces to the pan, all around the chicken. The fries should be done at the same time as the chicken; you want them to be golden brown in spots.

In a large pot, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chopped greens and saute for a few minutes until they wilt down. Add some salt and pepper. When wilted, add the black beans, corn and corn milk, cilantro, apple cider vinegar, and coconut milk. Stir and cook while the chicken and fries are in the oven. Season to taste with more vinegar, salt and pepper before serving.

This is best served in wide, shallow bowls to catch the coconut broth from the beans. Scoop the beans and greens into the center of the bowl. Top with a piece of chicken and some mango. Stack a bunch of sweet potato fries to the side of the chicken. Instruct your guests, your loved one or yourself to squeeze some lime wedges over the whole bowl. Eat heartily and note that you don't miss a damn thing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In praise of Coconut Bliss

Since I've been such an annoying whiny baby the last few days, I thought I should post some of the more positive aspects of this lovely, life-enriching food experiment. I want to point you in the direction of Coconut Bliss, a coconut-milk based ice cream that is totally okay for people who are on a dairy-free diet (it's also made with agave syrup, so that means any of you out there who can't eat cane sugar right now -that's you Julie!- should find this to be an awesome treat.) It's as luscious and rich as the sarcasm with which I began this paragraph.

Started by a little company in Eugene, Oregon, Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss is one of the things I jot down on my list of good things to come out of my culinary martydom. I'm a big fan of their straight forward "naked coconut", but their dark chocolate almost brought a tear to my eye the other night. Arguably, the tear could have been from the bright glare of the freezer light in a dark kitchen at 2 in the morning.

The fact that this is a treat I look forward to when so many of my go-to treats are off-limits really can't be underestimated. With coconut milk dripping from my happy lips, I would like to take this moment to pay homage to the good things I've gotten out of this experience so far:

1. An appreciation for the web and the support it lends people - via blogging - for pretty much anything you might be dealing with. It's such a part of our lives that sometimes it's worth stepping back and really taking in how truly incredible the internet is and how it brings people together.

2. I like to think I'm constantly challenging myself to come up with new flavor combinations; however there is nothing like a list of 26 major food staples you can't touch to get you to really think outside the box. How does one develop flavor in food when every last sauce ingredient (pretty much) and almost all condiments known to man are verboten? This experience will make me a better cook.

3. It's trite but true: if all you ever knew was sleeping in and being on vacation, life would be quite dull. It is the contrast between work and play that emphasizes the joy in play. Similarly, sometimes it takes the act of stepping away from something you love to appreciate it even more or, as in the case of Coconut Bliss, discover something new.

4. Mostly I appreciate that they're coming out with a Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge flavor.

Cheaters never prosper.

I was so close to calling the whole thing off this past weekend.

It's like I had a "Come to Jesus" moment but it wasn't really Jesus, it was a bowl of my own homemade pasta.

I was doing a private dinner party for 11. This stock broker from L.A. arranged the dinner for his clients in Seattle. The host, a larger than life Sicilian-American with a name pulled straight from the Sopranos and a long past in Bayonne, New Jersey hired me to create my version of "momma's sunday italian dinners" gone upscale.

The menu:

Grilled eggplant with verde sauce of parsley, lemon and capers
House-marinated olives with herbs, fennel crackers
Slow-roasted fennel with rosemary and roasted red peppers
Charcuterie (Cullatello from the heart of the prosciutto, hot soppressatta and salami) from Salumi of local fame

Homemade Pappardelle with Braised Pork and Beef Short Rib Sauce with Red Wine (cooked at 225 degrees while we slept the night before the party - thanks to C. for sharing the recipe)
Broccoli Rabe (aka rapini) sauteed with garlic (my assistant extraordinaire tasted for me), pine nuts and golden raisins

Heirloom Tomato Caprese with Housemade Mozzarella (total failure, sub store bought at last moment), Basil and Balsamic

Roasted Fresh Figs with Red wine reduction, Homemade Ricotta with honey (salvaged from failed Mozzarella experiment)


Lemon-polenta cake with olive oil ice cream, raspberries and basil-rosemary sugar

I will tell you that I cheated on this particular evening. My doctor told me that - due to my particular professional needs - tasting was possible, spitting better. I tried the spit method until I made the pasta sauce and asked my wine goddess and my friend bg to taste it. I could tell by their expressions that it lacked a lot.

"*$^%% it!" I said. "I can't do my job and not TASTE my own food!" Tasting wine is certainly possible when spitting, but still not ideal. To truly taste food I think you really need to swallow it. There are taste buds for detecting bitterness at the very back of your tongue and those that detect sour start at the front and line the sides of your tongue all the way to the back. Perhaps, though, my difficulty truly tasting was due to my intense regret at having to spew such yumminess; the whole messy affair left my concentration a little lacking.

I cheated that night. I ate little tastes of pasta, little spoons of tomato sauce, and then... how the disciplined fall - little sips of wine - just to make sure the bottle was sound, of course (clears throat nervously).

Oh, how it all tasted so, so good. I felt self-righteous. I felt relief. Screw it, I said. I'm done with this bullshit.

The next morning my stomach felt bad for the first time in the last two weeks. Guilt? Maybe. Probably not. My wine goddess held my shoulders and reminded me that I can do this. That being disciplined is a good thing. The hardest thing. But worth it. Not only for what I'm learning but for the information this experiment will give me. If I give up now, I won't know if it could have worked. I won't know how my body reacts to foods individually.

And for anyone out there who thinks that when my 90 days are up I just start eating everything right away. Not so. After 90 days, I add one new food every 4 days and record how it makes me feel. No reaction? Back in my diet it goes. Reaction? Wait another 3 months and try again.

What will be the first thing I test? Brewer's yeast. That's right, as found in a glass of red wine.

Which leads me to a question:

If you were on this elimination diet, what would be the first food on the list you'd add back in? (Remember, you can't say pizza, because that would have wheat, tomato and cheese in it).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

This sucks!

When my wine goddess quit smoking, I got a first hand account of how hard giving up a physical and emotional addiction is. Some days it was painful for her. To tell you the truth, some days it was painful for me! She did it, finally... leaving me overwhelmed with pride at the discipline and mental toughness it required of her. Quitting a vice like smoking when you work in the restaurant business is extremely difficult. I also developed a bit of an on and off again smoking habit working in restaurants (sometimes it is the only pseudo-legitimate excuse to take a break). I quit alongside of her but was lucky to never become as addicted.

Addiction to food is another matter entirely. I've been eating ever since I was, uh, fetal. I have a feeling so were you. Never before in my life have I had to show any restraint or discipline when it comes to food. The other day I pondered the fact that this is the very first time in my life I've gone nearly two weeks without wheat. Pizza, bagels, english muffins, pancakes, sandwiches? They have been the starch of my life.

Not only am I, as my softball teammates call me, a veritable "sack of antlers" (and therefore guilty of that thing other women hate in a woman in her late 30's - namely, a metabolism that doesn't quit) but I am also a sensualist, drawn through life from one happy moment to another on the heels of pleasurable smells, tastes and textures. Deprivation is not really in my DNA. I may have tried it on for size as a kid, but that was a game and the fun part was the quick turn-around time to gratification.

I'm losing weight and I don't want to be. I'm grumpy, often, for denying my cravings. My bff quipped that she should join the "diet" with me to lose some extra pounds but then decided it would be a hell of a lot more fun to limit herself to only eating the foods on my "can't touch" list for the next 90 days. In my mind she sits at a huge Roman table mile-high with all of the foods I crave, laughing and cavorting, absent-mindedly dragging her finger through pools of butter sauces, sipping wine, sampling cheeses, biting off huge hunks from a prime rib. She stops momentarily to wipe her lips and throw her head back with a delighted laugh before resuming the bacchinalian feast. She belches. She sighs. And I hate her now.

I have another friend. We'll call her Rice, because that's pretty much all she eats. Rice has serious problems with food... most of it makes her feel sick. I asked her once if it is hard for her to watch people eat all these great foods. "It's easier now, " she told me, "because I know how those foods will make me feel. It's not only not worth it, I actually don't crave them anymore."

See, that's the issue here. This kind of food sensitivity testing most definitely has false positives. Hell, my doctor friend (in family practice) doesn't even think there's any real evidence that this testing in fact finds foods that your body has a problem with. Nonetheless, on my quest to eat garlic again, I'm willing to stop eating these things if it will ultimately help me. But, and here's the big BUT... many of these foods have never made me feel sick so I don't have Rice's association with them. Garlic, on the other hand... I don't crave anymore. I love the smell but I don't feel bad turning down food made with it. Rather, I feel like I dodged a bullet. Turning down a sip of wine, a slice of good bread, an heirloom tomato and that donut offered to me this morning feels like I'm shooting myself in the stomach.

See that baby in the photo pondering her little edward scissorhands thumb-sucking substitute? She isn't fooled by the little imitation fingers of rubber. She wants more out of life than being "satisfied without any harmful effects." And oh, yeah... that's a really bad way to teach a kid anatomy - 7 rubber fingers on each hand?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

I know it's still months away but it's on my mind. It's a holiday that I wish I would have invented; a holiday I love for two reasons:

1. If you believe your 3rd grade history teacher Thanksgiving brought people from very different cultures together around the table. (Of course, to think fondly of this moment in time it helps to pretend you don't know about the whole smallpox infestation and land grab thing.)

2. It's a holiday designed for appreciating what you have. It's even built into the name for people who need visual or auditory reminders. Still, people forget this. I sort of think we need to switch the words and call it Givingthanks, change it up a bit and refocus us all on what it originally stood for. This ploy just might confuse the airlines enough to make the late November rates almost affordable.*

It's not quite November and I'm not yet sitting around the table with my family, but I'm feeling particularly thankful today. My partner, aka my wine goddess, has been overly supportive of me while I try to figure out the food allergy/sensitivity thing... ordering things I can eat in restaurants, reading labels and making sure I stick to the plan. My best friend has gone up, over, and beyond what one should ever expect from a friend... helping me start this blog, and cooking me up a fabulous meal the other night - all things I could eat (grilled salmon, corn on the cob, string beans from her garden with toasted walnuts and lemon, arugula salad with cucumbers pickled in apple cider vinegar.) I felt and feel completely un-deprived. A dinner at Tilth last night to celebrate a friend's birthday found the gracious cooks happily crafting me a four course meal I could eat.

Today I also give thanks to my family for teaching me ethics and self control. Were it not for that, I may have actually acted out what was in my mind today, refusing to keep it tucked away in my personal lock box of private thoughts. Lacking such self-control I just may have drop-kicked that guy eating a croissant outside of the coffee shop, shoved the pastry in my mouth while he picked himself off the floor, buttery flakes of sweet wheat dough fluttering from my lips. Lord knows, he wasn't grateful enough for it.

*if you are a Saudi prince.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baby Food

I got together with a bunch of old friends that I used to work with in the restaurant business the other day. In the space of 2 minutes I was offered a beer (no), wine (nope), gin (no...distilled from wheat, typically). I asked for water.

They all stared at me.

Then they pointed out the pork ribs (YES! and YUM!) slathered in barbeque sauce (shit. tomatoes, vinegar...NO). Within these 120 seconds I had basically outed myself as a freak. To deny alcohol among industry friends is highly suspect. To deny food is downright nutters.

I had done both.

I have a long track record of being a gourmand (or is the word glutton?). To deny myself food or drink is fairly painful although I'm trying, dammit, to find the silver lining on my empty plate. For now, I try to make my friends laugh as I put on my mini-martyr hat (all the rage) and kvetch and moan dramatically.

I'm trying to appreciate a whole new way of looking at eating.

For example, I put my new way into practice yesterday when I was walking next to Bob's Red Mill Burgers on Phinney Ridge. The common people were eating such silly foodstuffs as cheeseburgers, milkshakes and fries. I realized then and there that my new way looks remarkably like the view through the bars of a prison. A prison that serves tofu. With no sauce. With a view onto a park that serves pizza, cold beer, ice cream and grilled rib-eyes.

In a moment of optimism, I told my friend, "well... the good news is that my stomach has felt pretty darn good these last few days." He replied, "because it's easy to digest NOTHING." True, true I've been reduced to eating like a baby. Nothing processed, nothing artificial, nothing with a list of ingredients. Except for a PMS-induced bag of Zours (amazingly to all who know me I am not "allergic" to the one ingredient I've overdosed on my entire life: sugar) I've been eating carrots, blueberries, bananas, turkey and rice. My most complicated meal in the last 5 days was a very simple non-chile curry made with coconut milk, fish sauce, lime, pork, string beans and carrots.

In a well-respected article in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollen says a healthy diet might consist of not eating anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Besides the Zours - a "phood" I don't even think my brother recognizes, I'm well on my way.

The silver lining on my plate turns out not to be on my plate, after all. It's in my glass. My doctor actually told me that I can have top-shelf triple-distilled tequilas. And wouldn't you know it, corn chips are a-ok with a dusting of salt and a splash of lime. Life is still good. Very good.

And just a little blurry.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Today my car was "egged". You remember that from your childhood, right? On Hallow's Eve those "rotten kids" as my grandmother might say would run around throwing eggs on people's cars.

I got into some mischief as a kid, but I never egged anyone's car. Why not? Because one time driving home with my dad - I must have been 8 or so - one hit the side of my dad's pride and joy - a 70's era yellow, Porsche 914 convertible - with little rust spots eating holes in the side. What happened next has been emblazoned on my memory forever. He stopped the car on a dime, ran over to the bushes, unearthed one of the kids (I've never before or since seen my father move so fast) held onto his shirt and screamed at him until I was convinced the kid had wet himself. I stayed in the car, parked askew in the middle of the road, doing my very best impersonation of a petrified egg.

Don't get me wrong, my dad's a good man, just rather imposing and intimidating at 6' 2" and prone to a mighty temper. Fast forward 9 years and that same Porsche was one of the first cars I got to test-drive, with him watching me like a hawk from the passenger seat as the sun beat down on us as we pulled away from the softball fields where I was his biggest fan. I can remember his words like it was yesterday, "wanna take it for a spin?" I almost dropped the keys that he threw my way.

I thought about this memory today cleaning the egg off the hood of my car, a ten year old maroon Toyota Rav 4, reliable but not nearly so flashy and fun.

Worth noting, however, is that my second thought when I saw the egg on my car was that I wished I could eat it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Last meal

It's sort of strange to admit to this now but when I was a kid I remember doling out only a very small portion of each item of food onto my plate and pretending I was a starving child in some remote country. It was a bizarre exercise in artificial deprivation and for the 3 minutes I conducted my upper-middle class experiment I fully savored each little bite.

I've always appreciated my food, but rarely make the time to be completely in the moment when I eat wonderful things. There is one exception. A hamachi hand roll from a great sushi restaurant will stop me in my tracks.

Sometimes I even close my eyes. My partner (in life and crime) does this every time she eats a fried egg with bacon on toast. If something is that good, it seems best to close out one sense to heighten another.

Perhaps taste buds prefer total darkness.

I did this unintentionally last night when I ate that avocado. Thank god it wasn't one of those total bummer of an avocados. You know the ones - they look perfect on the outside and then are completely black and nasty on the inside.

My last meal consisted of that perfect avocado dribbled with balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil, a fried egg and some toast. To drink? I had a supremely lucky day yesterday. I almost can't say it again, but I need to give up wine for 90 days. My partner is a sommelier! I'm surrounded by lovely wines often! But I will not whine! I will not!

Except now, I really need to. Apparently.

But back to being lucky. And supremely appreciative. I was with some old friends last night and we all went to the Corson Building picnic. We started talking about favorite wines and I mentioned one of mine: Cayuse Vineyards Syrah. About 30 minutes later we're talking with another group of folks (most everyone at this picnic was involved in the food or wine business) and they are pouring each other glasses of my very favorite wine, a wine I have not been able to afford or get easily in the 5 years since I've coveted it. (It has achieved a somewhat cult status and there is a wait-list to order it). I am offered a glass and I can't think of a more perfect last glass of wine to have on this particular evening.

And yes, I closed my eyes.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A question.

Q: Name an ingredient that would be the worst food for a chef to be allergic to.

Wait for it.

A: That's right contestants. If you said "garlic" you'd be absolutely right.

Now we could begin a rather lengthy and controversial discussion about what constitutes an "allergy" versus a "sensitivity" but when push comes to shove it is pretty darn clear that when my body encounters garlic (especially in its raw form) it revolts. The bigger the amount of the garlic, the longer and more drawn out the revolution. I will spare you all the details but the general pattern goes something like this:

12:32pm - Decide to eat a Caesar salad.
1:00pm - Point out to dining companion how I might look were I five months pregnant.
1:10pm - Excuse myself to the bathroom (use your imagination).
1:20pm - Feverish without having a fever.
1:30pm to sometime the next day - Lay in bed exhausted, sick and miserable.

There's this chef who is allergic to garlic. It's like the opening line of a bad joke - and I haven't yet found the humor in it. Yet.

It hasn't always been like this. There were years and years of using garlic in my cooking, licking my fingers after pulling out tray after tray of lemon juice-doused roasted garlic chicken wings with lemon-thyme. Days of eating garlicky chorizo, mediterranean dips, roasted garlic dressings. Then, about a year ago, I started developing stomach problems. I thought I had food poisoning 7-8 times in one year alone.

I paid attention to what I was eating and how I was feeling. After several months of this I finally came to the truly terrible conclusion that I was the chef in the beginning of that joke.

I avoided eating garlic and raw onions (similar, but less severe reaction) like the plague for 6 months. I explained to my private chef clients that I need to refrain from using it because I can't taste what I can't eat and I can't serve what I can't taste. My partner stopped eating it for the most part so we could continue sharing plates at restaurants. My best friend who loves me only slightly more than garlic, started making me garlic-free food whenever I came over. When asked, I told my cooking students why garlic doesn't appear in my recipes any longer. Then, one day, (cue dramatic, over-wrought, after-school special music) a student in my class sends me an email that intimates that I don't have to avoid garlic for the rest of my life. That I can go see this doctor and take a test and continue to avoid it for a certain amount of time and then add it back to my diet later. It's worked for people she knows with other foods. She, in fact, is trying it herself.

You need to know a little something more about me to put this all in context.

I'm a cynic's cynic.

Perhaps it's my east-coast, scientifically-oriented upbringing where to ask questions is de trust or believe in anything unproven by the double-blind placebo controlled study is foolish. Believe nothing until proven otherwise. So, when my student gave me this information I had a whole lot of doubts, mixed in with a scant little bit of hope that bubbled up to the surface and was immediately squelched. And then, out of nowhere, I decided to try it all anyway. After all, how hard can it be to continue giving up garlic and onions for a few more months and then add it back? I was nervous to add garlic back into my diet in the future because it's sort of like someone putting a dish in front of you and telling you that it is contaminated with Salmonella and you may be sick as a dog for at least 24 hours, but go ahead and eat it anyway. Bon appetit!

So I got that blood test last week and I have the results. They appear to the upper right. Here I thought the test would come back confirming what I already knew... that I'm allergic to garlic and onions and lo and behold, 24 ingredients appeared on the list. Garlic? Onion? came back negative on the test. My inner cynic immediately scoffed. The doctor explained that it could be due to garlic/onion being an IgE mediated response (this test shows Ig-G responses) or that due to the fact that I have avoided it for many months my blood isn't showing any antigen reaction. I don't claim to understand this. I don't even claim to believe it. But until someone tells me differently, it's a path. A path that has been pointed out to me so that I might begin eating one of my favorite foods again and using it in my profession. It might not work. But at least it's something.

Little did I know, or expect, that my 90 day garlic and raw onion avoidance diet would expand to 24 additional ingredients including some major staples of my life. Wheat! Beef! Milk! Cheese! Eggs! Yeast! Brewer's Yeast (that's WINE and BEER and most vinegar)! Avocado (say it ain't so!) Tomatoes!! (and it's August and heirloom tomatoes are spilling from farmer's market tables). For the next 90 days I will avoid all restaurants, cook most of my own food (thank god I'm a chef), and then, one by one, bring back all my old, favorite friends and see which ones my body will embrace and which ones my body will reject.

At first, I thought...hell no, there's no way I'm going to do this. It's only garlic and onion that make me so sick..why give up these other ingredients? The doctor explained that these other ingredients may be weakening my immune system and creating a cascade-effect where more and more foods make me feel ill. I was poised to reject this out-right and so I went and in some form of bizarre rebellion, ate a whole bunch of ice cream and cheese. Which, I must admit, promptly made me feel bad. Not bad, as in I just ate a whole bunch of ice cream and cheese...not bad, like garlic... but bad, like my body is simply not dealing with this food well. I looked down at my developing food-baby (around 3 months pregnant I'd put it) and allowed this thought to come to me (tongue firmly in cheek): did I just love too much? Has my lifelong obsessive love affair with certain ingredients become dysfunctional?

I like playing this game with people. The one where you get to pick 10 foods to take with you to a deserted island. What's on my list? Red wine (nope), baguettes (nope), cheese (nope), greens (still okay), chocolate (strictly dark), ribeye (nope), peaches (thank god yes), olives (as long as they are not in vinegar), tomatoes (nope), avocado (nope).

I, just from experience and training alone, am better poised to deal with the next 3 months than anyone else. As a chef it is part of my job to work around people's food allergies, dislikes and sensitivities. It is one of the first questions I ask clients. I've just never had to answer the question myself. I wore the fact that I could eat EVERYTHING as a badge of honor and while it humbles me to admit to it now, I sometimes secretly doubted other people's food allergies. I even used air-quotes around the word "allergies".

Now, with my humility restored, I sit here watching an avocado approach perfect ripeness so that I can eat it out of hand on Sunday night. Monday morning I say goodbye, hopefully not for long, to 26 of my closest friends.