Words

Updates from a very Dusty Baker!

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Hi there!

You may have noticed a very long absence in the “this is a baking blog” sphere here. In truth, I haven’t had the capability or interest in a long while for several reasons, some better than others.

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The Very Best {gluten-free} Spicy Chocolate Chipotle Brownies

 

These are the best fu*king brownies I’ve ever made.

No joke, no lies. They’re definitely not the easiest brownies in my arsenal: definitely not as easy as the Divine Cocoa Brownies that are literally dubbed “the easiest brownies you will ever make”, nor as easy as using the Kitch+Table mix I adore, nor as easy as the booze-bursting Boyfriend Breakup Beer Brownies. They’re definitely easier than the Peppermint Patty Brownie Bars, though, but those are all Christmasy.  And, while all of those brownie recipes (and I obviously adore brownies) are awesome; while they definitely fix a sweet tooth and are ready while the “I can’t believe he just broke up with me” snot is still running down your sister’s face; they’re not these brownies.

These brownies are the best. They come from Chef Johnny Iuzzini’s new book, Sugar Rush, on stands and digital clouds everywhere. And they’re my new favorites for when I have serious brownie people to impress.

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Careers and Chronic Illness: How Do You Find One That Honors the Other?

This was my general state of being in one job in Cincinnati.

This was my general state of being in one job in Cincinnati.

I caught the end of The Devil Wears Prada the other night and something hit me.

Yes, I admit I’ve seen it more than once. And again I completely sympathized with Anne Hathaway’s character, whose job becomes her life even though she initially scoffed at the world she would soon give up everything to excel in.

For the first time, though, I got why I feel that way.

Only in the past year or so have I accepted that maybe I’m a bit of a workaholic, overachiever. People have started using the “type-A” label on me. The emotionally laid-back, tree-hugging, mantra-chanting side of me would never agree to that. But the work horse in me… yeah. Not that I’ve excelled to the furthest reaches of one career, mind you. But I’ve noticed a theme that I usually give 120% for as long as I can until I a) lose interest or b) my energy completely wanes and I’m left depleted, either with a momentary hiccup in health or a wallop that takes more than a year to bounce back from.

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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?

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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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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:

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.

I Chat With… NYC’s Finest Tastemakers

At the table with Executive Chef April Bloomfield, photo Brent Herrig

At the table with Executive Chef April Bloomfield, photo Brent Herrig

I get all reflective around the holidays.

My birthday, too, when I come to think of it.

As the year comes to a close my current focus is on my health – following your passion into the kitchen and on the city streets as a writer puts a lot of stress on a body with a chronic illness. I love my jobs. Cooking, nourishing, interviewing, covering events, working on building up Easy Eats Magazine… they really fulfill me. But sometimes I let the balance tip too far towards overworking and too far from sustaining my health. As proven by having to take a day completely off of work this week – literally, calling in sick which I never do – because of back pain limiting my capability to cook.

But while my health is wavering, reflecting on the beautiful things I’ve gotten to accomplish this year is so satisfying.

One is the insane amount of talent I’ve gotten to sit from across a table, as I’ve interviewed chefs, restauranteurs, writers and mixologists/sommeliers. I’m blown away by who I’ve gotten to speak with.

The faces below are my most recent – taken before, during and after Hurricane Sandy ravaged my city. I have interviews on the calendar through January and am excited by the endless list of tastemakers to speak with.

For my entire gallery, visit my I Chat With… page. And for links to all the interviews, including the most recent ones pictured here, check out my page on Serious Eats.

Happy Friday,

– Jacqueline

Rise Up, New York. (and Big Apple Cupcakes)

My friend Robbie…

There’s something about when the lights go out in New York City.

When restaurants are closed, Broadway stages are dark, and bridges and tunnels flooded.

I’m incredibly fortunate. Washington Heights is called the Heights for a reason in that we’re elevated, so my neighborhood wasn’t in danger of flooding – though ten blocks away and the highway below me got wiped. We passed a relatively uneventful night, the howling outside and occasional crash of something flying and falling a soundtrack to the news we couldn’t look away from and the movies we eventually distracted ourselves with. Eerily, the streets were empty. But, though it flickered, we never lost our electricity. We woke to quiet.

Everyone I know is safe, though many are still without power and a few have flooded homes.

I am very fortunate.

Anytime something strikes NYC – a madman with a gun, a massive transportation strike, a blackout, a hurricane – I become even more in love with where I live. I truly love New York City. I love the community, the diversity, the possibility. Yes, it takes energy to live here, but it gives me energy as well. It doesn’t feel like a big city at all. It just feels like… home.

So, thank you to those who are working to repair our home. To those who helped evacuated the hospitals without power and on fire. To the emergency responders who helped people out of collapsed homes, evacuated the areas in danger of being crushed by a falling crane, who worked to put out fires through floods and who are still working in teams to bring help to those in need. Thanks to those hauling away debris, washing muddy roads, pumping out the subway tunnels and working to get the millions of us without power back into the light.

My heart is downtown…

…and for all those who have made sure we’re safe and sent loving energy from Toronto, Cape Town, Denver, Tampa, California… please hug someone you love.

Because hugging is awesome. And we should do more of it.

For a NYC-inspired recipe and more blubbering about why I love my city so much, check out my Big Apple Cupcakes with NY Cheesecake Frosting.

– Jacqueline

I Chat With: Chef Floyd Cardoz of North End Grill

“When you do something good for people you don’t do good because you want something good to come out of it: you do it for the goodness of your heart and soul, what your parents teach you to do. I believe that if everybody does their part this would be a better place to live in.”

It’s not often that a chef moves me to tears in an interview, let alone twice.

Yet Chef Cardoz did just that.

Our chat together inspired many such moments, where his balanced belief system gave me confidence that kitchens aren’t always about ego, celebrity doesn’t always mean drama, and good food can be created by happy hands.

I could go on about how special this interview was, and how much I look forward to heading down to North End Grill again for a long lunch. Or how much I hope that Chef Cardoz and I do get to share a Portuguese meal together in Jersey (he’s from Goa, a Portuguese part of India where my Indian godfather is from which is how he met my Portuguese family). Or how the world, this city and my profession do seem friendlier knowing that such chefs are out there.

Head over to Serious Eats NY to read the full interview.

Stay dry and warm,

– Jacqueline

Oh, and if you missed it earlier today, check out my new “Private Chef-ing By the Book” post with Seamus Mullen’s HERO FOOD. I also interviewed Chef Mullen for this Serious Eats series!

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