Healthy Alternatives

Battle Inflammation: Carrot Ginger Soup and Little Bits of Good!

There are many little bits of good out there in the world.

Let’s make sure we keep celebrating them!

Today I’m very lucky to be featured on my friend Kelly’s blog, Little Bits of Good. There she’s counting her blessings with fellow “Celebrationists”, looking for the good things in life to focus on and “lifting up the amazing humans who are making the world a brighter place to play”. I’m honored she considers me to be one of those people, and I spent two lovely hours working on her interview, which focuses on my living with Lyme and the things I do to make life rewarding and so beautiful despite the many hiccups a chronic illness puts in one’s way.

It was both really emotional and really empowering to write, and the best start to a long writing day a gal could ask for. Head on over there for my favorite super-foods, the habits I’ve built that keep me focused on good things, and stories from some really special people who have turned their struggles into superpowers, and whose stories have lifted me up and inspired me weekly!! Continue reading

Battle Inflammation: {gluten free} Honey Flax Granola

Living with Lyme disease = a constant battle against inflammation.

It’s nothing new, or novel, that eating certain foods and imbibing on tasty cocktails causes many to feel gross. But when you have an inflammatory illness, that “feeling gross” can result in horribly painful joints and enraged digestive systems.

Currently, it seems like everything and their brother causes inflammation in my body; my fingers are swollen, I have to roll out the puffiness in my feet and ankles, and my face get a Cabbage Patch Kid-esque pique to it. Lyme Disease + being in my thirties + adrenal stuff making it really hard to get the green light to exercise as often as I’d like = puff.

Does that mean I never indulge? Hell no. It just means that I’m constantly putting inflammation-fighting foods in my body, and making sure that the clean days far outweigh the indulgent ones.

This granola recipe is one of my favorites. It’s insanely easy, and wonderfully adaptable. Continue reading

Black Pepper Shrimp and Zucchini “Fettuccine”

Black Pepper Shrimp and Zucchini Fettuccine

This is probably the ugliest photo of a plate I’ve ever put on this site.

But this zucchini “fettuccine” is one of the most popular vegetables I ever made as a private chef, and one that family members have loved and recreated after I’ve made it for them.

It’s ridiculously simple. With a good vegetable peeler and a flick of the wrist, zucchini gets shredded in ribbons and tossed quickly in hot olive oil until it softens to an al dente-like texture. My former boss didn’t know it wasn’t pasta the first time I served it to him. My father downed his plate in minutes. A client’s guest asked me for details at a repeat dinner visit when he couldn’t quite replicate it after his first go.

So simple, so yummy. Continue reading

Carrot Soup with Tarragon, Ginger and Toasted Pepitas: Private Chef-ing By the Book with Seamus Mullen

Funny story:

Last April I was soaking my arthritic bones in a deep bath full of Epsom salts and essential oils, melting away the wet of Spring, with Seamus Mullen’s soon-to-be-released Hero Food cookbook. I was interviewing Chef Mullen for my column on Serious Eats NY, and the book had been messengered over for my research. As I flipped through the intro, I was flabbergasted: Seamus has rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic immune disease that manifests with symptoms and patterns similar to my own with Lyme. I jumped out of the tub, threw on a robe and, dripping, held the book up to my roommate, with a “you’ll never guess what this cookbook is about!!”

Which was an unfair proclamation.

Because while, indeed, Chef Mullen battles RA, the book isn’t about that. It’s about delicious food that also happens to be good for you.

When I was first diagnosed with Lyme Disease at 12 years old, massive amounts of antibiotics weren’t cutting it. I couldn’t walk for a long period, I couldn’t eat, I attended school sporadically when I could, and in general my brain and body were in Lala land seemingly without end. It wasn’t until my mom found a nutritionist who put me on a strict diet, lots of supplements and IV vitamin drips that my immune system got so strong that my symptoms went away – relatively speaking – even though the Lyme did not.

Growing up with Lyme – including dealing with two serious flairs again in adulthood – taught me a lot about food. There were many I had to avoid – some incredibly strictly during certain periods but in moderation in others – and some that to this day I can’t touch. But there were also some that I needed to load my diet with so that my digestive tract, immune system and joints had a bit of extra help.

Seamus calls them hero foods.

Two decades later, I’m a private chef in a household with no dietary restrictions. Actually, I call myself a “private cook”, because a chef I am not. I am adept at making delicious things and, yes, can cook without guidance. But for inspiration and to widen my skill-set I often take advantage of my job and bring favorite books I want to explore to work with me. And as my blogging time has been diminished by my cooking, interviewing and event-covering time, I figured I should let my professions overlap when possible.

Hence this new series, “Private Chef-ing By the Book”.

It’s fitting that I’m starting with Hero Food because this time of year I’m back in the tub often. My job is physical, and I have to medicate, soak and sleep more often to battle the pain it brings my joints. 

Just reading through Mullen’s Spanish-based recipes brings me comfort; not only do I love the ingredients he focuses on (olive oil, almonds, anchovies, good eggs, good birds, parsley etc.), but reminding myself why they’re healing for me helps me connect more intimately with them, reminding me to give them more attention when I’m frantically cooking in someone’s kitchen.

In Hero Foods this carrot soup is made to celebrate summer, with gorgeous fresh carrots and a splash of citrus. But since it’s chilly and damp in NYC I’ve made a few tiny adjustments. In the original recipe Chef Mullen blanches the carrots: I’ve chosen to roast them. He tops his with yogurt: for my boss-family I stirred some creme fraiche in instead, and for my holiday dinner-party I’ll serve it with tangy goat yogurt so I can enjoy it too. And because it’s autumn now in New York City, I toasted some pepitas and tossed them in cinnamon and a pinch of sugar to sweeten the deal a bit. I adjusted some ingredients a tad and served the soup hot rather than chilled.

This soup is delicious. I’d never thought to add orange juice or zest to a carrot or squash soup, and it brightens and enlivens the rooty vegetables. Streaming in olive oil at the end emulsified it to a smooth cream. And not using chicken stock – which is my go-to for adding flavor and depth – really let the carrots remain the star and the gentle garlic, ginger and tumeric do the flavoring. And while I love tarragon and use it often, serving it on top rather than blending it in as I usually do helps it stand out rather than meld with a pluthera of equally-amazing flavors.

I’ve cooked from Chef Mullen’s book a few times already. And on top of the deep flavors I’ve created, it’s given me mindful time in the kitchen with ingredients that should be constantly in my rotation. Soon I’ll be pickling mushrooms to add to my cheese plate and pan-roasting Brussels sprouts with some (Portuguese… sorry Mullen) chorico for Thanksgiving. At work next week I’m going to make his tender lamb meatballs in a gentle tomato sauce and ricotta. And when the weather warms up again, I’m going to utilize the grill in my boss-family’s summer home to do more smoking, which I can’t do in my tiny NYC apartment.

But, until then…

There’s Hero Soup.

Stay warm and dry, East Coasters,

- Jacqueline

** Note: Chef Mullen is also the owner of Tertulia, in NYC. I took my friend Nikk – the chef whose job I took on – for his going away / birthday dinner. It’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and is one of my favorite restaurants around. If you love flavor-packed food, salty fish, cured meats, incredible cheeses, bright vegetables and potent wine, go there soon. If you don’t… um…

Carrot Soup with Tarragon, Ginger and Toasted Pepitas

Based on Seamus Mullen’s Chilled Carrot Soup with Yogurt and Tarragon from Hero Food.
Serves 4-6 depending on serving sizes

Ingredients:

2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
1/2 cup olive oil (the book specified Arebquina, which happens to be what I had on hand!)
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1/4 tsp whole tumeric
Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
Creme fraiche, if desired, or whatever yogurt you can digest (or omit completely to make vegan)
About 4 tarragon fronds or 2 Tbsp coarsely chopped tarragon

For the Pepitas:

Note: Thanks go to Chef Anthony Ricco at The Spice Market, NYC, for this pepitas idea. He serves it on an incredible sweet butternut squash soup that I’ll be for Thanksgiving. His interview coming up in a few weeks on Serious Eats.

1/4 cup pepitas (small hulled pumpkin seeds)
1 Tbsp olive oil 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sugar, if desired

Directions:

Heat oven to 375°.

Combine carrots and about 2 Tbsp oliver oil on a large baking tray. Sprinkle with salt, cover loosely with foil, and roast for about 30 minutes, until almost steamed and completely soft, and slightly browned on bottom. Remove to cool slightly.

While the carrots are roasting, prepare the pepitas: place pepitas and olive oil in a cold skillet and place over medium/high heat. As the temperature starts to rise stir and then start tossing until they crackle, pop and expand. When they’re equally lightly browned and full in size, remove quickly to a bowl. Toss with a pinch of salt, cinnamon and sugar (if desired – you don’t need to).

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add shallots, and cook to sweat, 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and toss quickly to warm and slightly sweat, about another minute more.

Place cooked carrots, shallots, garlic, vinegar, orange juice and zest, tumeric, and ginger in a blender, food processor or large pot (and use a hand blender). Start running the blender on high and slowly add warm water until you get to the “velvety” consistency you desire, about 2 cups. Reduce the speed of your blender/mixer, and stream in about 1/2-1 cup olive oil until emulsified and gorgeously smooth.

Adjust taste with salt and pepper, and add more acid from vinegar or orange if desired.

Pour into serving bowls and top with a dallop of creme fraiche / yogurt, a few fronds of tarragon, a swirl of olive oil and some toasted pepitas.

String Bean and Arugula Salad with Macadamia Nut Dressing and Marcona Almonds: Summer of Salads (and private chef musings)

I’m in a relationship with a blue beach chair.

That is, I think it’s blue.

I’ve only met it at night, at 9pm at the earliest.

It’s one of many tucked under a long wooden walkway from the street across from the house where I work as a private chef (or private cook, as I prefer to call myself based on my skills compared to the chefs I interview for Serious Eats).

It could be green, for all I know. Or gray or black.

All I know is that it has a comfy headrest, and leans me back to the perfect angle. And, despite the dozens of chairs left by trusting locals and ready to be reached for, it’s the one I always grab, no matter where it’s ended up on the line.

I work for a good family, for which I’m very grateful. They have a beautiful home, and are respectful of who I am and what I do, which includes providing three healthful and impressive meals a day for a variety of diets put forth by themselves and their constantly rotating houseful of guests (they are very generous hosts). There are times I’m overwhelmed by the work – by the very early mornings and long days, by the constant focus that is timing food and constantly producing a creative variety of food. Some days it feels like just too much.

There have been a few moments I’ve sunk to the kitchen floor in exhaustion. And many moments when I’ve calculated the days until I can drive home to NYC and be in my own space, with my dog and my kitchen and my roommate and my desk and my dirty laundry and my neighbors and my bed!

But, no matter the lovely guests, the frantic preparation or the random quiet moments when I drive on crowded summer Hamptons streets…

… the day always ends in that chair.

I fill my Starbucks insulated cup with whatever wine I’ve bought and stashed in the garage fridge and throw on comfy clothes and head across to the beach. I bury my toes in the cold sand and look up at the cloudy/clear sky with the warm/cool breeze blowing on me, nestling into that blue/green/black/gray chair.

That chair has seen me through some medical shit I won’t go into. And through thinking I’m not worthy of this job. And through thinking I’m worth more than my salary. And through thinking that this job and me are actually quite fit for each other. And through thinking about him/her/it/them/there. And through long phone conversations, songs on repeat in my headphones and moments of quite contemplation when I just stare out at the crashing waves and have to trust that I’m where I’m supposed to be in that very moment.

For my birthday I was given a journal with many of the menus and odd stories about my time here – relayed in texts to a friend. Soon I’ll add my own scribbled notes to it. And, at the end of the summer, I’ll reflect back on the skills I’ve learned, on the dishes I’ve made that I look forward to making for my own loved ones, on how awesome my warrior dog who has shuttled between homes in my absence was, and how I made it through the summer.

That time of reflection is still a bit away.

But, until then, at least I know I have my blue/green/black/gray chair to look forward to at the end of the day…

… and more dish discoveries yet to come… like this salad.

String Bean and Arugula Salad with Macadamia Nut Dressing and Marcona Almonds

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (about 5 oz) baby arugula
  • 1/4 lb French string beans
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut into thin half-moons
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped fine
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp Macadamia nut oil (walnut or almond oil would work too!)
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • hefty pinch of kosher salt and a few healthy grinds of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Marcona almonds (pistachios or pine nuts wouldn’t be the end of the world either)
  • 1 tsp herbs de Provence

Directions:

Place 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the string beans and cook until they just soften but before they brown, about 3 minutes. With tongs (one of my top five kitchen utensils), remove to a large bowl.

Add red onion and garlic, and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes. Remove to bowl.

Add almonds (or whichever nut is currently striking your fancy) to skillet, and toss them around a few times until they start getting all nutty and toasty. Add remaining tsp of olive oil and herbs de Provence and keep flippin em until they’re slightly browned and glossy.

In a small bowl, whisk macadamia nut oil, red wine vinegar, kosher salt and pepper until smooth and glossy-like.

Add arugula to bowl with warmed string beans, and toss to slightly wilt. Add dressing and toss to combine.

Pour into serving plate and garnish with almonds.

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