Stories

A Change’ll Do Me Good!

Life can be funny, man!

I recently put a “Hey, I’m moving on!” notice up here, as it’s been well over a month since my last post and even that wasn’t a recipe. Many bloggers I know take pause or stop blogging when they have babies; I’m raising a growing writing career which has shifted in the past few years from writing about fictional people to writing about real ones.

I’ve now profiled around 150 chefs internationally for various avenues (columns on Serious Eats, Tasting Table, and Easy Eats Magazine, stuff on Imagista and in Plate Magazine, and ghostwriting for chefs). I’m currently in the beginning stages of my first book; a collection of first-person essays from some of my favorite chefs in my home city. I jump between projects and editors and ideas, and I love my fiercely independent freelance lifestyle, pulling it all together on WordsFoodArt.com.

There are only so many hours in the day and I’m filling them with work I love, leaving little time to be hyper-aware of the photos of food I’m taking or making sure I jot down each and everything I bake (that typed with love and thanks to those who have read this blog over the years). Lyme symptoms also make balancing work and my body a little tough, so my workable hours are reduced as well

But then there’s this dude up there. The chef in a black coat looking up at me with puppy dog eyes at  the first (and last) pastry competition (for a good cause!) I entered a few years ago. My Holiday in a Hand Pie won two of the four awards; it was gluten and dairy free, so I was shocked. I had no idea who chef Johnny Iuzzini was when I met him, nor the famous restaurant he worked at, the TV show he hosted, or the James Beard award he’d won.

‘Cause I was lame like that. Continue reading

How Do You Dine Out with Your Allergies or Illness?

My favorite t-shirt has “Gluten is not the Devil” blazed on it in Italian. It’s soft, and the curvy cut is quite perfect, and the pig on it looks like there’s nothing that will bring him more happiness than the bowl of gnocchi he’s about to devour. Flavour Gallery sent it to me after a chef-friend saw it on Twitter and alerted them that I had to have one.

I’ve been on a gluten-free diet for twenty years.

Contrary to popular opinion of many gluten-less, I still don’t think it’s the devil.

My story is rooted in Lyme disease, which means that while I don’t have a life-threatening reaction to gluten like someone with Celiac does, any eating of it (and some other things) will make me relapse. Hard. Like, I was in a wheelchair as a kid, in college I blacked out regularly in class and had violent anxiety attacks, and the last flair had me out of work and home bound for a year. Using food as one way to control illness is a serious thing for me and many, many eaters out there. And gluten is one part of my diet.

Yet while more people know what gluten is now (which, trust me, almost no one did ten years ago) and though we can get a multitude of allergy-free, dynamic ingredients much more easily, that doesn’t equate to easy dining for those with food intolerance. Yes, more restaurants understand food allergies and take them seriously. But there are also a lot of people who claim to have allergies and intolerance yet don’t seem to quite understand what they mean, or how ordering habits affect kitchens and others with serious problems. And, yes, there are those who go “gluten free” for a week or five that challenge the patience of many a server or line cook, inspiring others to question the credibility of gluten intolerance in general. Continue reading

Gluten-Free Fresh Corn Cornbread

Gluten-free cornbread with fresh sweet red sweet corn.

Gluten-free cornbread with fresh sweet red sweet corn.

I am badass.

I’m not really supposed to be eating corn right now. But here we are, with this plate o cornbready love.

Bad. Ass.

Fall dessert recipes are starting to abound and my local grocery store has an aisle of Halloween candy at the ready. But I’m not about to call it quits on summer yet, even though the leaves are falling on my city sidewalks and there’s talk of a cold winter to come.

Instead, today I’m going to light up my dad’s grill and char the fresh tiny eggplant that I got at the farmer’s market on Wednesday, even though it’s a nightshade and not good for people with arthritis (me). Then I’m going to take it to my grandparents along with gigantic stems of broccoli rabe and some grilled chicken and a few cookies I made. Because, again, I’m pretty tough.

Oh, and last week I flew a plane with my little brother. Continue reading

Gluten and Dairy-Free Olive Oil Blueberry Muffins

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No fancy camera out here – this is all I got!

In the past week, two chefs in separate interviews have brought up how they note trends and movements in the food world – the ebbing and flowing of ingredients, techniques and ideas – and that those movement have strongly affected the menus they put out at their restaurants today.

I look at the movements of my own life in various ways.

Ten years ago today I signed my first lease in New York, and moved into a 10 x 30 foot apartment on the Upper East Side with three of my closest guy friends from college. Yep, three of us in 300 square feet. Then Brooklyn, then Astoria, then Washington Heights. I have some sharp memories of those places, punctuated by hot summer nights with the boys on the emptied streets of Manhattan, the coffee shops and Italian Ice in Brooklyn, my melting pot of European neighbors and food in Queens, and now the somewhat more subdued, sunlit place I call home.

Ten years ago I was dating Ruark, and we continued dating until four years ago. Now we’re still close friends, and he just moved in with his current girlfriend, which I think is wonderful. In Ohio I dated a man named Adam for a while, and he was sweet and gentle and the kind of man you should date when you’re newly out of a 10-year relationship and need some comfort. He’s now engaged and just bought a house with his fiance, and I couldn’t be happier that he found the kind of love and relationship he deserves. And then there was Aaron, who turned my world upside down by telling me he loved me, and then again when he let me go. I have no idea what he’s doing right now, but hope he’s finding what he needs to feel whole.

Continue reading

Gluten-Free French Lemon Madeleines (and a boost of blogging confidence)

Lemon Madeleines - TheDustyBakerI am a mess of many things.

I bake. I write about famous people who make food. I research articles. I develop recipes. I review events. I take photos in professional people’s kitchens. I blog. I manage my family business’ books. I walk hundreds of miles for breast cancer awareness. I don’t eat gluten. I used to write plays. I grew up with Lyme Disease. Sometimes now that stays hidden. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how that all comes together here.

I used to feel like I had a “voice” on this blog, one that was quirky and fun and so focused around the joy that is throwing flour in the air and making a mess and being all scrappy in NYC and not letting the whole gluten-free thing be the thing that stops someone from baking and being all dusty in the kitchen. And then two things happened; I started getting a lot more writing/cooking work and my Lyme Disease-related symptoms started making me not feel well again.

Bare honesty here: I don’t feel well a lot, nowadays. I do a lot of things through an incredible doc who does intensely focused plant-forward immune supporting regimens. I also take a combo of pain killers regulated through a pain management doctor I’ve trusted for over ten years. I also meditate, and work with a life coach, and keep a positive attitude, and sometimes let myself cry in the bathtub because in certain moments none of that seems to make a difference.

Sometimes I don’t know how to express this person I am in this body, at this point in my life.  I have a good life. I love my work, value my relationships and have a home that I adore. But I have a history, and even as I’ve tried to start sharing the reason why I’ve been on a gluten-free diet for twenty years, I’ve worried about how it will translate on here.

But then I had a conversation I really needed yesterday. Continue reading

Living With Lyme: Staying In My Body, and Advice from a Petite Pilates Princess

A resting place when not feeling ill during a training walk last week.

A resting place when feeling ill during a training walk last week.

Something’s off.

Even after 20 years of living with chronic Lyme disease, I can tell that something’s not right. Symptoms are not lessening like they should have, after I drastically reduced my work load  by leaving my private chef position in February and adopting a much gentler lifestyle. And new ones have returned from dormancy, which Muffin reminds me existed years ago and were signals that I was entering another period of active Lyme that needed serious treatment.

I’m not jumping to the conclusion that I’m on that path now.

But something’s offAnd because of that, my defenses are down.

Last week was particularly rough, and I got to a point where I felt very vulnerable, and scared, and anxious. It was a physical feeling, and for days I was in a cloud, and shaky, and extremely low. And so I kept breathing, kept working through the brain fogs and shakes, and tried some shadier methods to get everything back on track, to no avail.

So I sat to meditate – my unquestionable source of calm amongst any storm.

And as I sat, breathing slowly, calming my mind, things got worse. Instead of feeling more in control, I felt extremely more exposed. Things I had never worried about before flooded my chest. I was petrified. I talked (out loud) through that fear: “I’m going to stop doing this now, and turn on the lights, and read in bed until I fall asleep, okay, whatever’s out there?” And that’s what I did. It was very creepy. I wouldn’t have been the bit surprised if all my electronics turned on automatically and Mitra’s head spun in a 360.

So, what do you do when you can’t separate your mind from the sensations of your body? Continue reading

Living with Lyme: Walking Meditation

Walking barefoot in the quiet of a Spring day.

Walking barefoot in the quiet of a Spring day.

Last night I had to explain to someone close to me how my body works. How, after having had Lyme Disease off and on for almost twenty years, it’s harder to do simple things that I can no longer afford to ignore. I’m not debilitated. Not by any means. But sometimes walking up stairs makes me scream inside. Sometimes holding onto a conversation takes an obscene amount of concentration. Sometimes I realize that no one around me is aware that I’m loaded with small but consistent amounts of pain medication to make it through the job and that I may have blacked out when no one was around only hours before. When I plan any work or social events on back-to-back days, I have to plan precious hours between them or know that it’s going to take a few days to catch up afterwards. I count my blessings – this isn’t about a sob story or a cry for a solution. It’s about the little things that keep it all in check.

Today my dearest friend, whom I will forevermore call Muffin on here, told me I’d made a brave decision in leaving the well-paid cooking job that I loved but that completely depleted my limited stores of energy. Since that time my days have been a weird crucible of covering events, interviewing chefs, working on a book pitch for me and Brent, working on a chef’s book pitch, and keeping my family business in check. I make up for the lost income by cooking at photo shoots or stepping in at my prior job – both which require those small but consistent doses of prescribed pain killers and muscle relaxers. Some days, like yesterday, the consistent amount of work it takes to prevent a flare up feels like too much. I don’t look sick, and for that I am thankful. And the work I do in my private time is enough to ensure that most people don’t see me at a weakened state. Again, I count myself lucky for that.

But it takes work, and being completely aware of a restorative moment.

Continue reading

Australian Food Is About More Than Tim Tams

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“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.

Continue reading

Kitch+Table Brownies with Dairy-Free Creme Anglaise – Gluten and Dairy Free!

Kitch+Table Gluten-Free Brownies, Dairy-free Creme Anglaise and Dairy-Free Fudge Sauce

Kitch+Table Gluten-Free Brownies, Dairy-free Creme Anglaise and Dairy-Free Fudge Sauce

There are moments here in New York City, when I feel like I’m living out a television episode or something. Yesterday, walking from Rockefeller Center to Times Square, I was hit in such a moment.

I’d just come from doing an infomercial at a salon a friend owns, three stories above where the big ol Christmas sits during the holidays. Now and then he treats me to a cut or color or, in this case, a treatment that makes my hair shiny and soft. It’s been just over a year since I’ve been on camera, and though I was put off at first by the much larger production scale than I’d expected (there’s money in beauty product advertising), I quickly fell back into the fun of it. And evidently the 4 years of drama school and 10 years of city living mean I actually can do what I’ve been trained to do, so it sorta kicked ass.

Me getting the treatment down two weeks ago or so.

Me getting the treatment down two weeks ago or so.

I then hoofed it to Times Square to pick up some tickets for my sister (the kitsch factor in that area is laughable now, and most readily avoided), and subway’d it down to Union Square. Being early for brunch with friends (2:30 is totally acceptable time for eggs on a Sunday), I sneaked into a single spot at the bar at Union Square Cafe and treated myself to half a dozen oysters and a killer Bloody Derby*.

Times Square hoofing.

Times Square hoofing.

There was something about the tone of my day – the color, the weather, the bustle of tourists, the quiet subway car, the packed bar, the good food – that reminded me why life in New York is so sweet, and generous, and rather sexy sometimes.

Brunch of Sexiness #1. Totally beat out Brunch #2

Brunch of Sexiness #1. Totally beat out Brunch #2

Now, I feel like this little ramble should connect to this recipe, because if I was a serious food blogger than all things in my daily life would connect to the things I bake and blog about, right? I’d have more of a shtick and more than 3 people who read this would know what a Bloody Derby** is because I’ve referenced it a few times now… I may have even recipe’d it.

Anyway, this recipe connects because my day yesterday and that gorgeous chocolatey thing above are both full of love and kismet… or something like that. The recipe came together because I got some samples in from Kitch+Table, who I’ve worked with for Easy Eats and wanted to try it out on non-gluten-freers my last week of private chef-ing. The adorably talented 13-year old in the family loves brownies, so I figured we might as well have some fun with them.

Photo credit Kathy Schwartz for Kitch+Table

Photo credit Kathy Schwartz for Kitch+Table

First off, the brownies are delicious. I followed the very simply recipe on the bag to a T and was a bit wary when the batter was sticky and thick, but they baked up fudgey yet firm, rich yet not heavy. They have that signature crumb on top that many gluten-free brownie recipes miss. The boss family had no idea they were gluten-free, and the brownie aficionado ate the scraps around our little cut-out hearts with relish, going nuts for them. So stellar product to begin with (and I tried out two bags of this with equally stellar results). Go to Kitch+Table for purchasing or try my boozy Beer Brownies for something totally by scratch.

To spruce them up (this was the week after Valentines day) we used cookie-cutter hearts and layered them with thinly cut strawberries, some dairy-free fudge sauce leftover from my Chocolate Mallow Layer Cake and some dairy-free coconut Creme Anglaise, definitely two staple recipes to have in your pastry book.

Since leaving this job I’ve felt much emotionally calmer and steadier, and I know soon my body will catch up. And until then I’ll be thankful for the little moments, the big ones, the good things people are producing, and a little Creme Anglaise.

Brownie-Layer-Cakes---TheDustyBaker

Dairy-Free Creme Anglaise

This recipe sounds uber fancy but it’s relatively simple. Made with egg whites and just a little bit of sugar, it’s a delicately sweet addition for dressing up desserts.

1/4 cup egg whites
1/4 tsp cornstarch, tapioca starch or arrowroot starch
2 Tbsp white sugar
1 vanilla bean, de-beaned (slice the vanilla bean down lengthwise and use the back of the knife to scrape the beans out)
3/4 cup lite coconut milk

In a medium bowl, whisk egg whites and starch.

In a small pot, whisk together sugar, vanilla and milk. Whisk constantly over medium-ish heat until steaming. Pour over the egg mixture, whisking all the while, until thoroughly combined.

Pour back into pot and return to stove. Whisk constantly for 1-2 minutes, until slightly thick, coating the whisk.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a Pyrex measuring cup or small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until cold.

*If you ever meet a guy in Denver with bright eyes who says he penned the name “Bloody Derby” for a Bloody Mary with bourbon in it, you have full permission to box his ears. I came up with it almost two years ago. This name has been pondered and considered. Do not trust this man. Then again, don’t box his ears, because he was in the army and is very able to kick your ass. Maybe just tickle him instead. I think he’s ticklish. Report back if you find out.

**The 4 of you who read this far down now know too. Between the 8 of us and the Denver guy and the guy I dated for five minutes when I came up with it and the bartender at the Ace hotel where we first ordered it I think we can make this Bloody Derby thing a thing. Just remember who started it. And I drank that Derby hours ago so there’s sadly not even a bourbon-infused reason for this rant.

60 More Miles to Beat Breast Cancer – And Pink Sweets to Come!

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My mother Doris and I in the Twin Cities in 2011.

I say the word “walk” a lot. To my dog, several times a day. To myself when I’m cranky at how slowly some people move on the streets of NYC. As a curse when my joints really hurt (yeah, this Nemo character isn’t helping today). And within my family as we talk about if we should do a “walk” or not this year.

The joy of the word and its meaning is not lost on me, since there was a time as a child Lyme Disease made it not possible for me to walk.

Over the past 20 years, this ability has ebbed and flowed in regards to ease. And in 2004 I first put my capabilities to the test in what was to be the last of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure New York City Breast Cancer 3-days. I walked 60 miles from Bear Mountain through the Bronx and on the Triboro into Queens, then again down into Brooklyn, over the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan, ferried it over to Staten Island, and then finished off the Bayone to Jersey. I made every step, and was so moved that I vowed to walk every city the Komen organization sponsor. I walked every step in 7 cities after that, recruiting family members and friends over the years. My illnesses challenged the “every mile” goal I’d had after I dealt with another bout of illness in 2008, but I still tackled two more cities in 2010 and 2011, first celebrating my father’s 60th birthday by walking with him in Phoenix and then with my mom and sisters in the Twin Cities.

My first walk, in 2004

My first walk, in 2004

This year my mother and I will once again walk, “60 Miles for 60 Years” being our motto as we celebrate her significant 60th birthday.

She’s the reason why I picked this walk. Seeing her support her friends and loved ones as they battled breast cancer over the years made me so thankful – both for my health and for the attention she’s given me as I’ve needed her support maybe more than most kids should. To this day she’s one of my strongest advocates, and walking with her is one of my greatest joys.

So together we’ll walk Seattle this coming September, with my siblings all on various crew teams in celebration. We’ll walk in laughter and tears for those we’ve loved, those we’ve lost, and those we’re walking to save before they need saving. We’ll celebrate her birthday, our friendship, and the thousands of people we’ll walk with. I’ll make as many steps as I can, and be cheering for her as she pounds miles I can’t. We’ll keep working hard to raise more than money – to raise awareness, unity, and solidarity.

I so can’t wait to walk.

If you feel so moved, please donate to help us achieve the $2,300 fundraising minimum we need to meet on top of our own personal travel funds to get to the starting line by clicking HERE or on the widget to the right. And check out our website, Walking for Udders, to see pictures and read stories from our last 9 walks.

And expect lots of pink sweet things to come in the next 7 months.

Happy Friday, stay warm east coasters,

– Jacqueline

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