Monthly Archives: March 2013

My Life with Lyme: Gluten, Blogging, and Fresh Starts

Found at asliceoflyme.blogspot.com
Found at asliceoflyme.blogspot.com

Hi, my name is Jacqueline, and I have been battling Lyme Disease since I was 12. I am now 31, and still have to consider my body daily in ways many people don’t. And I’m okay with that.

I read up a lot about what’s going on in the gluten-free world, and as of late have been taking my place as someone who does not have Celiac disease in it more seriously.

See, I’ve been off of gluten since my first diagnosis of Lyme disease, when nothing was really working to make me better. In a rather progressive move (remember, this was the early nineties), my mother brought me to a “different kind of doctor”. In some ways I hated him – he took me off wheat, milk, eggs, beef, soy, sugar, corn, tomatoes, green peppers, citrus… I would sit in his office for hours while vitamins were injected intravenously. It was a really boring way to spend time as a kid.

But… within a few months… I could walk again.

Because that’s how badly Lyme hit me. For a while I could walk with crutches. Then I was wheelchair-bound. Then crutches again. I would go to school for a few hours a day, swim at the YMCA to get my joints moving, and spent most of my time in bed. I remember during one summer trip to see my sister at camp, my mom would hang my IV bag from a hook in the car to give me my doses of antibiotics. It was a mess, and as a kid it was hard to process.

Which is why I haven’t eaten gluten or milk since, and watch those other buggers in moderation. Oh, except for a bout in college my freshmen year, which kicked my ass into another flare my sophomore year which brought a whole new slew of lingering symptoms and set me on a 6-month cycle of driving the 90 minutes from class to weekly bicillin injects and picking up lots more vitamins again.

So, yeah, Lyme has stuck with me.

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My Gluten-Free Easter: Pastel Tea Eggs, Portuguese Masa and Angel Food Cake

eggs6-thedustybaker

I’m not gonna lie: Easter is not my favorite holiday.

I don’t mind it at all, but as a lapsed Catholic it always brings up conflict within me. Not that I feel a need to be talked or worked through it, mind you, because I’m very content with my personal beliefs and practices. But my family is very Catholic and our shared holidays are still about, primarily, faith.

I’m all cool with Jesus and Mary.
But here’s where the conflict comes in: homosexuality, abortion, gender inequality. There’s no need to even explain what the conflicts with those are.

I can’t take the good and leave the bad.

So, Easter conflicts me.

How’s that for a horrible introduction to some recipes?

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On Food Writing and Interviews with Chefs Masaharu Morimoto, Amanda Cohen and Will Horowitz

copyright Brent Herrig

Chatting with Chef Morimoto at his new Tribeca Canvas, copyright Brent Herrig

I’ve been having a crisis of faith, recently.

Not about this week, with Passover and Easter coming – though there is some angst there that is in tomorrow’s post (lucky you!)

But about the value in what I do.

I write, mostly about food. I interview people and build recipes and am a part of the pop culture world that partly gives me the willies. I was never the one to know what restaurant was hot and worth going to. I’m still not, really, other than that I now know about 50 chefs who are creating amazing food. I don’t like going out to eat to be seen. And did you know that chef groupies are a thing now? Quelle horreur!

I want the work I do to have value. I want to be a part of something because it contributes, because it helps give our world shape, and because it connects people on a visceral level. And while food does that in intimate and beautiful ways, it’s also become such an eye-rolling point of focus in New York that I want to yawn and pour a whiskey and watch Frasier or something.

That is, until I actually sit down and work.

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Why are Women the Gluten-Free Gladiators?

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 2.18.49 PM

Why are Women the Gluten-Free Gladiators?

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times while researching or calling in products, or scanning a list of ingredients at my grocer’s.

I interview high-profile chefs weekly for my Serious Eats column, and there I have to conscientiously focus on bringing more women into the mix; there are plenty of incredible female chefs out there, but the majority of the chefs owning and running high-end kitchens in New York are still men.

Yet when I scan my mental list of bloggers, writers, editors, developers, PR representatives and producers in the gluten-free field, the steep majority of them are women: editors Silvana Nardone and Alice Woodward at Easy Eats and Living Without; writers/bloggers/developers Amy Green, Nicole Hunn, Shauna James Ahern, and Karina Allrich; producers Pamela’s Products, Jules Gluten-Free, Better Batter… I could show you my address book and guarantee that at least 85% of those in the gluten-free world are women.

Alex Thomopoulos has an incredible blog and a web show on Hungry - Gluten-Free With Alex T - that I'm addicted to

Alex Thomopoulos has a beautiful blog and an insanely amusing web show on Hungry – Gluten-Free With Alex T – that I’m addicted to.

As someone who hasn’t eaten gluten-containing products in almost 20 years (minus an incredibly unhealthy and disastrous period in college), I’m mesmerized by how grandly the food world has changed, and the gluten-free food world has developed from a few ingredients and progressive health food stores to the insane trend – yes, trend – that it is now. This community basically made me a food writer, as other ambitions melted away when people around me wanted to know more about how to eat on an adapted diet.

I, personally, am probably not the best advocate for this way of eating.

When someone mentions to me that they’re cutting out out gluten and expects me to be excited and supportive, my response is always, “why?” I have a very specific illness that makes gluten dangerous to my health when eaten with any sort of regularity. It doesn’t stop with gluten, and two-thirds of my life I’ve spent having the same conversation with waiters, relatives and new friends about what I can’t and why I can’t eat certain things. Those with Celiac Disease have it even worse than I, and in support of them (and for many other reasons) I think those who can digest gluten should digest gluten. Yes, eating less simple carbohydrates and more healthy vegetables and proteins in general is better for everyone, and even more so for those with health conditions. But if I could enjoy the crackle of a crusty piece of bread or a slice of pizza, you can be damned sure I would.

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Australian Food Is About More Than Tim Tams

TheDustyBaker-Aussie Foodie Lunch-3

“When do u think they will send us to do a real-life review of the food scene?”

Lauren from Keep It Sweet Desserts tweeted this to Audra (The Baker Chick), Joanne (Eats Well With Others) and myself after we’d rolled our way out of a luncheon hosted by Tourism Australia.

Our collective knowledge about the food and wine scene in Australia had been quite abysmal; Audra admitted to Bloomin Onions, some guy at the next table threw out the “shrimp on the barbie” line, and all I could come up with (other than the little lamb chops I love to rub in olive oil and sear to a quick crisp) was the Tim Tam Slam, which I have never personally experienced but remembered having been introduced to by an Australian acquaintance years ago, and which I mentally bookmarked so I could one day get my hands on some and replicate the little cookies for gluten- and dairy-free eaters (more on that later).

We’d been pulled together at the Sunburnt Calf on the Upper West Side at noon on a Tuesday to be treated to some tasty plates and an education on Australian food and wine. Yes, food bloggers and writers really do have rough lives. And as I sipped away my exhaustion with some pretty stellar Chardonnay and put faces and voices to avatars and URLs, we became enamored by the island that is so far, far away.

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I’m In the Kitchen with Alex Stupak

Empellon Push Project

My editor at Serious Eats warned me that Alex Stupak, the chef/owner of Empellon in NYC, could be a bit brusque in interviews. Instead, I found him to be incredibly articulate, respectful and humble. Since then I’ve interviewed Alex and his awesome wife/partner chef Lauren Resler on various other projects, and am continually delighted by how thoughtful, considerate people they are.

Oh, and their food is pretty incredible too. I’ve been to both of their restaurants several times and am consistently satiated by the time I leave.

I recently covered Alex’s second Push Project dinner, where be brings another chef into his kitchen for a 9-course joint tasting menu. For this incarnation he brought in Jordan Kahn from Red Medicine in L.A.

Alex let me hang in the kitchen. This is what I got to see happen:

Blueberry Lemon Biscotti (gluten free)

Light n' crispy lemon biscotti with silvered almonds and dried blueberries

Light n’ crispy lemon biscotti with silvered almonds and dried blueberries

And then, out of no where, there are moments of unadulterated joy.

I had told Tony mere minutes before walking in here that he had to keep hope. Hope that there was much honest and true love coming to him. Hope that he would be happy not only for a minute or a month, but for an extended length in his life. I heard his broken heart through the phone as I crouched in a corner on Madison Avenue, huddled from the wet cold of New York City in March. As he spilled out his anguish, his pride and confusion and shock resonating in his choked sobs, I recognized myself not two years ago, when everything I knew to be true about love was destroyed in one phone call, and I ran to Great Jones Spa and French wine bars by the dozen to drown out my … yes… despair.

I promised him that there was joy to come. Even though my own heart is still crackled, and I accept that in a way I may never be as consistently happy as I was in my younger years when Tony and I drank until dawn and took another bow and fought like on the side of the road… there are moments of joy.

And, now, here I am.

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Saved by Pamela’s Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookie Mix

Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookies: Cranberry Walnut, Chocolate Chunk and Chocolate Walnut

Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookies: Cranberry Walnut, Chocolate Chunk and Chocolate Walnut

Some days I can counter major crankiness with a bit of hippie love: playing fetch with Mitra (check out this little Vimeo from yesterday), reminding myself of my “just enough” theory, going to a yoga class, hugging a tree (I warned you this is hippie love) or simply remembering that there is only one life we get and so we should just enjoy the silly crap of it all.

Other days I just need a cookie. Yesterday was such a day.

Now I’ve been a poo-pooher of gluten-free baking mixes because I do not believe that an all-purpose gluten-free baking flour exists. Take four of these so called “cup-for-cup” blends and make the same recipe with them and you’ll get four very different outcomes. But I’m often sent mixes for Easy Eats and in my ever-evolving study of them have grown an appreciation for what they offer: something sweet and warm from your oven, very quickly. This is obviously huge if you’re not inherently a baker or if you’re new to gluten-free baking. And for those of us who have our own go-to blends and bins of flours, starches and gums, they offer a quick fix. when you need a cookie!!

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of just any baking mixes. But the list of ones I admire is growing. And soon I’ll start reporting on them more regularly, hopefully one day culminating in my feature in Easy Eats on battling… well, you’ll have to wait for that.

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Look at that stellar cookie texture!

One line that I truly love and respect is Pamela’s Products. I’d used Pamela’s flour in my Taste Test spread and then featured her in an interview on the Easy Eats blog. They then sent me a sampler of her new baking mixes before the holidays and I was honestly shocked when the biscuit mix turned out really great biscuits. I used some of her flour blend in a cake I made, and again was surprised that it was exactly as I’d expected it to be for that recipe, meaning indiscernible from wheat flour.

I’m in Connecticut today, working in my family office, which in itself is a buggery; I’m not a fan of numbers and taxes and credit statements and all, and so when a really frustrating phone call with a credit card company made me miss my yoga class, it sent me into a downward spiral. I’d had a rough night sleep. My knees and back were really cranky. I’m still catching up after a really hard couple of weeks (months) and some days keeping it together takes more energy than others. So when my calculator just stopped working I walked away. Just walked away.

Ok, just from my desk.

I needed that darned cookie.

My twitter feed with said "I NEED A COOKIE!". And James Taylor. I often need James Taylor.

My twitter feed with said “I NEED A COOKIE!”. And James Taylor. I often need James Taylor. And this proves that the craving and the cookies were only 57 minutes apart. Around. My calculator’s broken so I can’t quite do the math.

Luckily I’ve been toting Pamela’s Oatmeal Cookie mix around so that when I’m here I have a quick solution for something sweet or when an unexpected visitor drops by. And after a quick trip to the market for butter (what house does not have real butter, I ask ya?!?!) and some dairy-free chocolate chunks (Enjoy Life is often on sale here, and that makes me happy) I had these babies in the oven in, like, ten minutes. Seriously.

I was, again, skeptical that they would work; the batter seemed a tad dry and it took a lot of beating to soften the butter up enough. I divided the batter into thirds and added chocolate chunks, then chocolate chunks and toasted walnuts, then cranberries and walnuts. 14 minutes in the oven and…

TADA!

TADA!

They’re delicious. I added tons of cranberries, chocolate chunks and walnuts that I toasted up fast. I wanted to see if they could hold up. And I purposely sprayed the sheets instead of using parchment, because I didn’t want to buy a whole roll of parchment for 12 cookies and the bag gave both options. They held up. Totally.

I highly recommend this cookie mix. I literally eye-balled ingredients and they were darned tasty.

Head to Pamela’s Products for this and her entire line of mixes. And to banter back with me on days such as this head over to Twitter, where I’m often venting / retracting / reventing.

Ooh, and these images are obviously not prettily altered and watermarked and all that… but just writing a blog post feels awesome today, too. So, thank you, bloggerreaders.

I Chat With Chef Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Cafe

Chef Carmen at Union Square Cafe

Chef Carmen at Union Square Cafe, photo Brent Herrig Photography

Chef Carmen Quagliata is practically the quintessential Italian grandma. I experienced this first-hand when I showed up for a small private dinner and he’d made me an alternate menu sensitive to my allergies, one that was course-for-course on par with the other guests’ dishes. It wasn’t expected and hardly requested; he responded to my effusive thanks with a humble, “I just didn’t want you to feel left out.”

So begins my interview with Chef Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Cafe. I had gone there a few weeks before for a press dinner at the new chef’s table, where Chef Carmen does family-style dishes including whole fish and entire porchettas. To my surprise he had made me an entire five-course meal on par with the diners around me, from three kinds of gluten-free bread to nosh on in the beginning through to a goat-cheese cheesecake for dessert.

“I just didn’t want you to feel left out”, he said during our interview for Serious Eats. I almost cried.

Italian chefs quickly hit my heartstrings, and Chef Carmen had them dancing. Please check out the full interview on Serious Eats, drop him some love in the comments, and head to a stellar meal at Union Square Cafe very soon.

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