Category Archives: lupus

Standing up

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken

It’s not that I believe there’s one way to roast a chicken; I believe there are thousands, and each has its merits. I love Marcella Hazan’s lemon-stuffed roasted chicken, a) because it’s fun to voodoo all those holes into the lemons, and b) because if it works, and the steam from the lemon juice puffs the chicken’s skin up from the inside, it’s quite a sight to behold. I love spatchcocking because you get to say “spatchcock” for the next 48 hours. But when I roast a chicken at home, I do it one particular way, because it’s quick and easy and because I’m hopelessly in love with the imagery of the chicken world’s version of a total floozy settling in for a snooze in the sun, which is exactly what I think of when I prepare my bird. It’s quirky. It’s silly. It’s a foolproof way to teach newbies which side goes up. And the wing tips never, ever burn.

Here’s how it works: first, you’ll need to imagine your chicken is settling in for a nice long nap at the beach. Never mind that your chicken is well past dead, and that you don’t want sand in your dinner. She’s tanning, okay? Everyone looks better with a tan. Give her a good lather, with olive oil, perhaps, or melted butter, and maybe some spices. Next, make her comfortable. Tuck her wings behind her back. Cross her legs. Take the extra material around her neck off, because no one likes weird tan lines. Now she’s ready to roast.

It might be the easiest way, or it might just be the way I’ve roasted a chicken most often, so it seems the easiest to me. But the real reason I roast chicken like this—the important reason—is because if I had to pick, crisp, salty chicken skin might be my favorite food on the planet. And in my 425-degree oven, this little trick tans the chick.

I’d eat a crunchy chicken skin—almost all of it, if you want the truth—everywhere Sam would eat green eggs and ham, and then some. Only poor Sam, in his seemingly infinite quest, never ate his gourmet treasure standing at the kitchen counter, which is a shame. Any food worth calling a favorite is worth eating standing up. Or, perhaps more accurately, said food should be capable of making one forget to sit down.

But aye, there’s a rub—I’ve always massaged my chickens with at least a half teaspoon of salt. At least. It’s an effective way to get the job done, but for people like me, it may not be the healthiest–1/2 teaspoon is about 1500mg of sodium, which is the upper limit for people who should theoretically be watching their sodium intake. So this week, for Sodium Girl’s 3rd annual Love Your Heart Recipe Rally (my participations in the first two years are here and here), I decided to give my roasted chicken a little makeover.

Recipe Rally Icon

Every year, Jessica Goldman Fuong asks folks to take a normally salty recipe they love—a recipe they can’t imagine changing—and reduce its sodium. It’s certainly a challenge; for most of us, taking salt out of a recipe is akin to taking away our favorite pair of jeans. (How do you get dressed in the morning when you don’t have any pants to put on?) The chicken was a natural choice for me, since the salinity of the skin seemed to be what I relied on for flavor. Oh, and because I’m apparently pickling my kidneys; looking at Jessica’s numbers, I add as much salt to my food daily  as most people are supposed to consume in a day, never mind the sodium even the healthiest foods contain naturally.

I started with Jessica’s recipe for “Beer Butt Chicken” in Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook—a gutsy recipe name, for one thing (be with what is, right?), but the recipe itself is also clever, because Jessica offers a few different spice combinations to round out the classic beer-chicken combo, where you roast the chicken standing up over a can of your favorite brew. I’d planned to use cider instead of beer (hard cider is also naturally low-sodium), but the cider was accidentally, um, consumed too soon. So I did what I’d never have done, say, a month ago: I went about my normal chicken-roasting routine, adding a bit of smokiness in the form of pimenton de la vera and a flavorful depth with cumin, smearing and tucking and tying per usual. But I skipped the salt entirely.

And you know what? That gal came out pretty as ever, puffed and crisp in all the right places. I shared her with friends, and later, when they were long gone, I stood at the counter, chipping the shattery, smoke-infused skin shards off the chicken’s legs, and I didn’t even think of sitting down.

Sure, she’s had work done. And in some ways, I guess it makes her no longer the chicken I always roasted before. But she’s still got her merits, and she’s healthier for me than the last bird I made. And–most importantly–she’s still worth standing up for.

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken (PDF)
For a low-sodium dish, the numbers on this flavorful roasted chicken are a little high—if you split it between four people, it has about 162mg of sodium per serving, a hair higher than the recommended 140mg per serving for those following a strict low-sodium diet. For the rest of us, it’s just delicious—crisp in all the right places, and flavored with a good smear of ground cumin, smoked Spanish paprika, and dried oregano.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Equipment: Kitchen string, for tying legs

1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, patted dry with paper towels
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Remove all chicken innards, trim any excess fat from around the chicken’s neck, and dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels inside and out. Rub all parts of the chicken with the oil. Place the chicken in a roasting pan or in a cast iron pan. Blend the pimentón, cumin, and oregano together in a small bowl, then sprinkle the entire chicken with the spice mixture. Fold the wings behind the chicken’s back, tie the legs together, and sprinkle any remaining spice on any bare spots.

Roast the chicken for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the breast meat measures 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. If the skin is dark golden brown before the meat is done, slide a baking sheet onto an oven rack above the chicken.

When the chicken is done, let rest 10 minutes, then carve and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, lupus, recipe

You’re invited

It feels a little outrageous to post a photo of myself here, but if I haven’t seen you in a while, you should probably know that I chopped my hair off. I did it because the new lupus treatment I’m on, Benlysta, is making me lose a little more hair than usual. It’s not quite a pixie cut, because it had to be long enough to cover the thinnest patches in the back, but I love it. In a way, it’s liberating. It means my body’s changing.

This summer, I’ve been able to open jars with the best of ‘em. I’m caning, because I can chop without pain. I’m riding my bike. (I went 36 miles with a group of super-supportive girls last weekend.) I’m running. I’m doing yoga, getting back into physical form the way any human has to. (Energy, it turns out, does not equal fitness. Pity.)

As far as I can tell, the Benlysta is responsible for these changes. Last fall, I felt relatively good, but the winter was one of the roughest, health-wise. I was hoping that eating gluten-free and getting regular acupuncture would help, but that’s not how it worked out. It was the new dope that did the trick.

But Benlysta isn’t a cure for lupus, as much as having an afternoon of IV infusions every month might feel like a good curing. It’s a medication. Benlysta will hopefully enable me to decrease doses of steroids and the other chemotherapy-type drug I’m taking, but deep down, I know that the part of lupus I hate—the fatigue, the weird body aches, the joint pain—is still there. I’m enjoying its respite, but it will be back. It will be my albatross, like it is for so many other lupus patients. Until there’s a cure, it will simply always be there.

Since 2004, almost yearly, I’ve done fundraisers to help support arthritis or lupus foundations of some sort. This year will mark my 5th Walk for Lupus in Seattle. It’s phenomenally rewarding to think that in some small way, the money we’ve raised over the years may have helped develop and approve Benlysta. But more than anything, it makes me that much more motivated to continue giving. Phase 3 Benlysta trials are focusing on lupus nephritis—the particular kind of lupus I have, which affects the kidneys—and will hopefully refine the treatments further.

art by hannah viano

I call my team Lupus Minimus, because once, when I went to sign up, I saw a team called Lupus Sucks, and I almost cried. Lupus is something I live with, in the background, like an eerie nightlight that occasionally shines a bit too bright. But the goal here isn’t to justify any sort of negativity. The goal of this walk isn’t to say this is why I suffer. The goal is to say this is why I live.

Thus far, I’ve done the walk with friends and family. Those that can’t be in Seattle donate to the Lupus Foundation, often in small bits and pieces. Each year, a similar gang has come to support me, and to support lupus research. I love those people. But as a whole, we’re a little limited.

So this year, I’m inviting you, whoever you are. Come. Walk or run, I don’t care. You don’t have to be a Benlysta Systa. It’s only 5k, and if you take a shortcut, I promise no one will notice. Just be there on October 6th, if you’re in town, because helping a stranger neither you or I know might do your karma a little good. Because you like wearing purple, even if it means itchy legwarmers. Because you like doughnuts. Or just because on a possibly rainy Saturday in October, you’d like nothing better than to take a walk to support something important to me.

Sign up to walk or run on October 6th (or donate) here.

And thank you.

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Filed under lupus

Energy

Seed & Nut Energy Bar cut

Look closely at this here energy bar. You’ll see Washington hazelnuts – that nifty, almond-shaped DuChilly variety that doesn’t need skinning after a good roast. There are pistachios, and pepitas, and sunflower seeds. Glance again, and you’ll see sweetness in the form of dried apricots and cranberries.

There are things you won’t see, also. You won’t really notice the crispy rice cereal and date puree that binds the bars together. You won’t see the bar I squashed in the bottom of my computer bag this morning, or the way I turned the bag inside-out around my fist so I could eat said squished bar without spilling the stray bits into my keyboard at my favorite coffee shop. And you won’t see the first or second version of these bars – both of which got eaten, but neither of which held together the way I wanted.

What I wanted, and what I wanted to give you, was a crunchy, crackly, naturally sweetened, portable energy bar. I wanted a rice krispy treat for grown-ups – something with the process and allure of that old childhood treat, but much more lasting oomph. These are them. I love the secrets they reveal when I cut them open with a big, heavy knife, and I love that I can pack one discretely into my gym bag and eat it before zumba class. (Don’t knock it, people.) But what I love most is that I had the energy to make these bars over and over until I got them just right.

I’m the kind of person who finds it easier to complain most profusely in hindsight. It’s a talent I’ve cultivated over the years, perhaps because in my house growing up, whingeing never really got me anywhere. But if a certain something has already happened? I can bitch about the past with the best of ‘em. I had the worst blisters. That man next to me on the airplane had the most terrible stench. It was the driest sandwich bread I’ve ever tasted.

So now I can say how effing annoying it was that it’s hurt to chew for months, and that although it’s a decent party trick, I really don’t like it when my fingers turn white and blue at random all day long. And though there are many inconveniences in life that I’m happy to deal with, being constantly exhausted is not one of them. These past few months, lupus has not been fun. More than anything, I hated feeling that I was always searching for energy.

But here’s my good news: the new lupus drug I’m on is starting to erase all that. Slowly. Surely. Most mornings these days, I wake up more quickly than usual, because I’m so surprised to meet a body in a little less pain. I’m shocked that my ankles can creak and pop freely, because the connective tissue in my feet has started loosening. I’m startled, because these days, I have energy. I’m exercising. I’m gardening. (Nothing boosts an ego like having full-grown peas before the rest of the block.) And people, I’m cooking. I’m cooking a lot.

This past weekend, BlogHer Food, a conference that gathers bloggers and food writers from all over, was in Seattle. I spoke, and I listened, and after meeting and greeting and laughing and eating, I bussed myself home with lists and lists of ideas—new blogs to read, new recipes to write, new people to love. And every night, the second my child’s head hits the pillow, I start cooking. There’s been strawberry-vanilla jam from Food in Jars, and those fabulously smokey nut-dusted green beans from Ripe (AKA The Cookbooks Of My Summer), and these bars.

This. This feels good.

Seed & Nut Energy Bars 2

Nut and Seed Energy Bars (PDF)
I know, I know, it’s a boring title for a recipe. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter which nuts and seeds you pack into these portable little snacks, as long as the total is about 5 cups. I didn’t want to get all didactic on you. Go wild. Also, use peanut butter instead of almond butter, if you’d like, or chopped dried cherries or raisins in place of the apricots or cranberries. Just do me a favor: when you’re mixing the whole thing together in a big bowl, when no one’s looking, stick a hand into the mixture and squeeze. Just for a second. It’s sticky and messy, but it’s also fun—and isn’t that what snacks should be?

If you can’t find DuChilly hazelnuts, which don’t require skinning, toast and skin regular hazelnuts separately.

Makes about 2 dozen squares
Active time: 15 minutes

1 cup raw pepitas
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw hazelnuts
1 cup raw (shelled) pistachios
10 dates, pitted
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1/4 cup unsalted almond butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
2 cups crispy rice cereal

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add the pepitas, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios, stir to blend, and toast for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, or until the seeds and nuts are lightly browned. Set aside.

Meanwhile, whirl the dates in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment until pureed. (The mixture will be thick and pasty.)

Add the brown rice and maple syrups to a large soup pot. Bring the syrups to a boil over medium heat. Add the arrowroot powder, almond butter, sea salt, and date puree, and whisk until smooth. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the toasted nuts and seeds, cranberries, and apricots, then gently fold in the cereal.

Line a 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment or waxed paper, so the paper comes all the way up the sides of the pan. Dump the seed and nut mixture into the pan, spreading it out in a roughly even layer. Press another sheet of parchment or waxed paper on top, and use a drinking glass or a spice jar to press and roll the mixture into a flat, even layer. Let the bars cool completely.

Peel the top layer of paper off, invert the bars onto a large cutting board, and peel off the other layer of paper. Using a really big knife, cut the bars into 2- by 2-inch squares. (Be decisive when you cut; meek cutting will result in bars with jagged edges.)

Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days, or wrap and freeze individually. Grab and go in the morning!

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Filed under egg-free, gluten-free, Great Food Blogs, lupus, recipe, Seattle Food Blogs, snack

Sting

Best Nettle PEsto

It stings a little, deep down, when I have to admit that it hurts to dry my hair. It’s not a yelping pain or a whimpering pain, just a constant, low-level annoyance. At first, when I’m giving the ‘do the initial all-over heat blast, there’s just general arm fatigue. Then, when I get down to the nitty gritty, with the brush twirling, my hands start to cramp–first my wrists, then my fingers. Despite all the formal medical indications of lupus, having trouble with the hairdryer is, for me, the single most dependable symptom.

But yes, here it is: March. This is the time of year when lupus gets to me. It’s as predictable as the camellia bush by our front door, only nowhere near as pretty. The days lengthen, and the wind whips, and my body sags. Life starts to sting. When people ask how I’m feeling, like they often do, it feels strange to want to say, “I’m good, except for the hair-drying part.” (Thank goodness I have a good haircut.)

It does make me feel a bit better to hit the farmers’ market around the Ides of March, where you can’t walk two stalls without tripping over some poor sprout of a vegetable who’s clearly had a rough week also. Take stinging nettles, which are sold in half-pound plastic bags all spring at Seattle-area markets. They were just napping on a wet hillside somewhere, so innocently, when someone came and snipped them out of the ground, probably cursing at them. Nettles aren’t like tomatoes or apples; no one ever wants to touch them. People just stare and point, and then, in most cases, walk right by.

I like nettles for three reasons:

1.They’re really easy to cook.
With a lot of other dark leafy greens, there’s washing and chopping and futzing involved. Not nettles. Sure, they sting if you touch them. That always works to my advantage. It gives me an excuse to upend that big bag of greens and dump them directly into boiling water, instead of spending any time worrying about sticks or bugs. (P.S. Boiling water kills things.)

2. They taste great.
I like to think of the taste of nettles as somewhere between mint and spinach. They have a fabulous affinity for pestos, so every year, usually when I start getting cranky about the weather, I make a pesto with whatever nut and herb combination happens to inspire me at the moment. This week, I went for tradition, with a hint of lemon.

3.Nettles don’t last.
They’re weeds. They’re wild. They sting. But like anything worth eating, they have a definite season. And since my complaints generally line up pretty well with their growing season, it’s often quite nice to focus equal attention on their appearance and disappearance.

I have an anti-lupus music compilation on my computer called “A Mix for Sunnier Times.” It’s a cacophonous mismatch of tunes, everything from Scooter Lee to Bill Withers to ZZ Top. Every song has to do with the sun. (This is a little ironic, because lupus is exacerbated by sun exposure.) I forget about it every year, only to rediscover it in March. And every time I sit down, feeling blah, and hear the synthesizer notes alternating between earphones as I Wear My Sunglasses at Night starts blasting, I feel a little brighter.

After all, nothing lasts forever.

Nettle Pesto Close

Spaghetti with Fresh Peas and Lemony Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Stinging nettles are delicious edible weeds with a layer of prickly hairs on the sunny side of each leaf. They will sting if you touch them raw—but cooking them denatures the sting, rendering them perfect fodder for a springtime pesto. Add chopped grilled chicken, if you’re looking for a bit more heft.

Active time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

1/2 pound fresh nettles
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 pound spaghetti
1 cup fresh peas

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the nettles. Dump them into the water (don’t touch them!) and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Drain in a colander, then squeeze as dry as possible, using a kitchen towel to wring out extra water, if necessary. (You should have about a cup of nettles.)

Whirl the nettles, garlic, pine nuts, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. With the machine on, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whirling until combined. Pulse in the cheese, then season to taste. Set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions, adding the peas to the cooking water about 3 minutes before the pasta is done. Reserve a cupful of the cooking water.

Strain the peas and pasta, then return them to the pot, along with 1/2 cup of the pesto and about 1/4 cup of the cooking water (you may need more or less, depending on how loose you like your pasta sauce).

Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional cheese.

3 Comments

Filed under lupus, Pasta, recipe

Love your heart (and your kids)

Onion Dip 3

Every year about this time, just before spring, I think about my kidneys. It happens when the days snap back and forth from cold to warm and back to cold again in that spastic Seattle way. I used to make fun of this city for working up a lather about a “cold front” coming, as if it was a hurricane, but now I do it too. Two years ago, I had what I called my own cold front. Out of nowhere, I lost my appetite. After months of doctors, I discovered that my kidneys were failing—all part of having lupus, it seems.

Now, with an eccentric blend of induction therapy (chemo for wimps), steroids, a lovely bouquet of other drugs, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and a New! Improved! Diet! I’m admittedly still not totally on board with, my kidneys are happy. But every year, when Sodium Girl’s Love Your Heart Recipe Rally rolls around, I remember—with a twang of fear—that those two little organs are fragile, hiding there behind my back.

For someone with stage 4 glomerulonephritis, I had a wicked fast recovery. You’d never know much about the whole shebang, unless you were the one who watched my child and cooked me dinner and took me home from the hospital, drug-woozy, in those first weeks. And now, you can’t tell. The problem is, neither can I.

It’s easy for me to do my kids some general kindness. (Yes, of course they have a nickname.) I don’t drink all that much. I don’t use Advil. I avoid boxing. But when it comes to eating the one thing that has a huge effect on kidney and heart health—sodium—I can’t exactly say I pay attention.

Jess Goldman-Fuong is the exact opposite of me. Well, in some ways. Her name is Jess, and she’s a food writer, and she has lupus, all like me. She lives perpetually in the sun, no matter what the weather is, preferring a persistent upbeat attitude to any of the negativity having a chronic condition sometimes brings. I like to think I aspire to that, also. But she lives in San Francisco, not Seattle. And her kidneys can’t take sodium at all. So rather than glue herself to the 1,500 mg/day sodium intake level the USDA recommends, she skimps, going for about 500 mg/day, when she can. Skipping the salt means she can live a full, healthy life.

Over the years, Jess has garnered a following among sodium-free cooks. At Sodium Girl, she takes the normally salt-laden food she loves—things like crab salad, and bacon-wrapped scallops, and movie popcorn—and reengineers them to fit her diet. The thing is, her food doesn’t taste saltless. It tastes creative. It tastes delicious. So each February, when she issues the call for low-sodium recipes across the web–her Love Your Heart Recipe Rally–I get into the kitchen. For my own sake.

It’s never difficult to find something to desalinate. This year, I was on my neighbor’s couch, devouring French onion dip with potato chips while I pretended to watch the Super Bowl, when I realized I’d consumed four days’ worth of sodium in a single sitting. I’m not joking. Four days.

Back to the stove I went. I caramelized onions over low heat until they were deep golden brown, threatening to burn but really just improbably sweet. I pureed them, then whirled them with crème fraiche, which (contrary to what you might think) has far less salt than sour cream or mayonnaise. The result? A simple, low-sodium dip with every bit as much addictive power as my favorite homemade version. Don’t worry, this dip isn’t actually slimming. It still has the creamy punch you need at the end of your crunch.

So the next time you’re heading for the tube, mix it up. If you’re sitting on your ass in front of the television, at least you’ll be doing your heart and kidneys a little favor.

Onion Dip 4

Chunky Low Sodium Onion Dip
I love a good packaged onion soup dip mix as much as the next person. Maybe it’s the MSG? This version depends on crème fraiche, which is naturally low-sodium, instead of mayonnaise or sour cream, for its creaminess—and because it’s made with deeply caramelized onions, there’s plenty of flavor. Take the time to get the onions good and brown.

Makes: 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions (about 2 1/2 pounds)
Freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) crème fraiche

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half through the root and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic (if using), and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring frequently, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary.)

Transfer the caramelized onions to the work bowl of a food processor. Whirl for the count of 10, so the onions are still a bit chunky, then cool for about 15 minutes (or overnight) in the refrigerator. Transfer the onions to a bowl, stir in the crème fraiche, season with pepper, and serve.

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Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, lupus, recipe, snack

No screaming. Just ice cream.

Honey-Cinnamon Cream Cheese Ice Cream and Caramel 4

I didn’t scream when she told me. I didn’t even cry. I just put my fingers on the paper next to hers, and repeated what she’d just said: “Gluten, eggs, and soy.” Compared to the previous six weeks, those three foods seemed easy enough to avoid. After all, I’d be able to eat cheese, and fruit, and rice, and ohgoodlord, I might once again drink coffee. Slowly, I’ll be able to reintroduce things like beef, pork, chocolate, and corn . . . people, things are looking up.

It’s been two weeks now since my ayurvedic practitioner told me about my new allergies. Are they real allergies? I can’t be certain. I’ve spoken with a rheumatologist, a nephrologist, an acupuncturist, and numerous doctor pals about the results, and no one agrees what method of allergy testing is most reliable. But I do know one thing: avoiding them is worth a try. So for the past two weeks, I’ve been hitching up my britches and eating differently.

I’m not sure I’d have been quite so accepting if someone told me I was allergic to dairy. That might have killed me. But the day I came home from that appointment, when someone told me I’d need to change the way I eat not just for a few weeks, but for a lifetime, I plunked myself down on one of our tall wicker stools and started attacking a two-pound block of cheddar cheese. I didn’t care that the cutting board was a little dirty, or that the paring knife I’d grabbed haphazardly was so small that its hilt smeared through the cheese, leaving waxy streaks on my index finger’s middle knuckle. I took three jagged slices onto the porch, turned my face to the sun, and ate.

And since then, despite a trip that solidified my fear that in the future, it will be markedly less delicious to travel if I can’t be in charge of my own eating decisions (let’s just say luxury doesn’t always equal gustatory indulgence), I’ve been excited. I’ve been excited because there’s a possibility that I’ve hit on something that could make me healthier in the long term, and because I’ve tried new-to-me (and suddenly favorite) foods like socca, and because although I never knew it before, I’ve learned that ice cream can taste really, really good without eggs.

Last week, on my way to The Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers, in West Virginia, I made a pit stop in Columbus, Ohio. No lies, now; I wasn’t any more thrilled to land at CMH than you might be. But people, I’m telling you, there is an ice cream revolution there that I’d somehow missed. I knew folks had been swooning over Jeni Britton Bauer’s ice cream cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home but a) I didn’t know she was from Columbus and b) I didn’t know she skips the eggs, relying instead on a joint process involving reducing cream and adding a bit of cream cheese to produce sensationally silky, rich ice cream.

But Faith told me all this. (Thank goodness for Faith.) And the moment she was done feeding me Vij’s mustard seed-spiked cabbage and tender grilled chicken thighs and socca (there it is again!) smeared with goat cheese, she whisked me to her favorite Jeni’s location, where I melted under the pleasure of my first dessert in six weeks.

I ordered the book, of course. It hasn’t come yet, and I’m not a terribly patient person. So yesterday, I swirled up my own version—a cinnamon- and honey-spiked combination of Greek yogurt, reduced heavy cream, and cream cheese. It tastes like a batch of cream cheese frosting might taste if it tripped over the cinnamon and felt into a churning batch of rich frozen yogurt. It also tastes to me, in the dying evening light, like this new lifestyle-o-mine could be extremely delicious.

Honey-Cinnamon Cream Cheese Ice Cream 1

Honey-Cinnamon Cream Cheese Ice Cream (PDF)
This sweet treat was inspired by a stop at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio, where owner (and author of the cookbook Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home) Jeni Britton Bauer uses cream cheese to make her ice cream smooth and scoopable. Although hers only have the slightest hint of tang, this version, which is egg-free (like many of hers), puts the cream cheese flavor front and center. Dollop some on top of carrot cake, in place of cream cheese frosting, or on a simple fruit tart, or drizzle it with salted caramel—but know that it’s rich, so a little goes a long way.

Note: The ice cream base must be refrigerated before freezing, so it’s best to make it the night before you plan to serve it.

Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 1 scant quart

1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon good-quality honey
1 cup (8 ounces) plain (whole-fat) Greek-style yogurt
1 cup (8 ounces) regular cream cheese
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Cook at a strong simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the cream has reduced by half, to 1 cup. (Watch it closely and adjust the heat to prevent it from bubbling over.) Stir in the honey and set aside.

Whirl together the yogurt, cream cheese, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla in a food processor until smooth. Add the warm honeyed cream, and blend again to combine. Taste for seasoning; add more honey or cinnamon, if desired.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight, or until thoroughly chilled.

The next day, freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-proof container and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours, before serving.

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Filed under dessert, egg-free, gluten-free, lupus, recipe, soy-free

Why we eat

Joe rolling out dough

The night my new eating regimen was supposed to start, I mostly ignored it. Friends had us for dinner, and there was pizza, stretched thin and slathered with homemade sauce and juicy olives, and cheese to beat the band. We sat around a table outdoors, passing slices over wineglasses and olives and little tot heads until everything was gone. I couldn’t really do anything else; when the choice is eating and sharing and laughing and righting the day or not eating at all, I’ll always choose the former.

But suddenly, with this diet thing, having dinner with friends doesn’t seem like an option. And it’s killing me.

Let me just clarify something for you here: if you meet me, say, for the first time, you will not know I have lupus. In fact, yesterday, I ran the loop around Seattle’s Discovery Park, and when I slowed down on one of the hills (to a walk, if you must know), a giant furry grey owl buzzed my head, interrupting my ponytail’s swing at the base of my neck. I craned to see it roosting on a high branch, where it simply hooted at me until I started running again. Not even owls sense it, and owls are very knowledgeable.

Lupus comes and goes. But the medicines that help keep lupus at bay in my body—things like cellcept, prednisone, plaquenil, and maybe someday benlysta—leave me susceptible to things like shingles, and food poisoning, and goodness knows what else. The goal of this crazy elimination diet is to put lupus into remission, instead of repeatedly falling into these weird tailspins. I know there is a goal.

The thing is, I don’t know for sure that I need the diet to feel better, and so far I don’t feel anything but deprived. I keep waiting to feel somehow different. It’s like waiting to fall in love with someone you don’t even know. (Thank goodness mine was not an arranged marriage.)

In general, what I’m eating now feels more like hospital food than hospital food did, when I was there for days and days and days surrounding Graham’s birth. Perhaps that’s telling of the state of culinary affairs at Swedish Hospital, where the short entrée menu at the time boasted nachos, fettuccine alfredo, and a Philly cheesesteak—all very healing foods, if you’ve been admitted for a hangover. Or maybe it’s just the difference between eating for enjoyment—which Swedish fully endorses, if the milkshakes are any indication—and eating for nutrition, which is the assignment I’m currently complaining about.

Beet green chips

But I’ve been doing it. With the exception of caffeine—I’m still desperately holding on to half a cup of coffee each morning (with coconut milk creamer, naturally)—and a piece of Kate’s pie, and a snatch of potato chips that snuck up on me at Uli’s without warning, I’m doing it. I’ve made a kale version of saag paneer, minus the cheese, which turned out silky-smooth, rich with coconut milk, and the perfect consistency for napping over curried yellow split peas with leeks and garlic. There have been gorgeous salads with avocado and sunflower seeds, drizzled with new-to-me oils that give enough flavor to only require the tiniest amount of vinegar (which I should now avoid). And last night, I actually tested recipes for Dishing Up Washington—a beet and arugula salad (I avoided the goat cheese); seared, roasted king salmon steaks; and cauliflower with cumin and pine nuts. I’ve made chips out of beet greens, roasting them in a hot oven after slicking with olive oil and sprinkling them with sea salt. These are not foods associated with suffering. But I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been hard.

I’ve ordered mint tea at one of Seattle’s best cocktail bars. I’ve spent two hours watching other people eat oysters. The worst part, though, is with Graham. The diet means that when we sit down for dinner as a family, we rarely all eat the same thing. Take Neanderthal Night, which means whole-wheat spaghetti and Bolognese for G. Dependably, a naked 2-year-old who still refuses to eat spaghetti with a fork inadvertently smears sauce over his entire torso, then offers me some—and I have to say no. Or I pretend to eat it and toss it over my shoulder. This morning I fed raspberries to the dog under the table while he wasn’t looking. Raspberries. If you’ll permit me the moment of pure crankiness, nothing sucks more than refusing your child when he offers to share his food with you.

Unless, maybe, it’s eating anywhere outside the house. On day two, we agreed to meet some friends for dinner at Whole Foods. I’m a food writer in a city of culinary wonders, and I’m eating at Whole Foods? They’ll have something, we decided. But the thing is, they didn’t. There was literally nothing in their mammoth prepared foods arena I could buy, except Vietnamese salad rolls I ate with the rice paper, until I remembered I can’t have rice. (This was day two, remember.) I ate carrots (technically too high in sugar for me, but people, it’s a fucking carrot) and hummus and weird $7 kale chips that I’d pay $7 for someone to now take out of my kitchen. And I drank coconut water. (It’s good, by the way. Coconut is my new BFF.)

But beyond that, going out to eat has been a disaster. Today, I’m supposed to meet another writer for lunch. We’d planned to meet at Dot’s Delicatessen, a new Seattle joint that may soon be famous for charcuterie and sausages. No worries, I thought. I’ll just go, and eat whatever there is that I can eat. Like the salad, which is the only green thing on a menu I’d otherwise champion. Only I’ll ask them to hold the vinegar, tomatoes, and carrots. So really, I’ll be ordering oiled lettuce, in an establishment bred to honor all things meaty. And water, please, but hold the lemon, because I can’t have that either. Goodness knows where and what we’ll end up eating.

The point of all this meandering is that I’ve been taken, this last week, with the concept of why we eat. We eat for taste, of course, and perhaps for nutrition as well. But a huge part of why I eat is about sharing, and about feeding others. When I eat, I want to eat the same things everyone at the table is eating. When I shop at the farmers’ market, I want to taste the things the vendors hand me. I’ve missed fruit immensely, but on that run yesterday, I started pulling fat, ripe blackberries from the vines lining the paths and feeding them to my dog. Somehow, that connection—watching my dog look at me anxiously, waiting for another berry, hoping I’d share—filled part of the space that’s been empty, these last days. And she’s a dog.

An empty dining room table

I knew, when I started hogwash, that there would be months like this. That’s why I subtitled it “on food and life;” for me, sometimes life is more important than food. But when lupus makes my body hurt, I usually don’t talk about it much, because there are always things that override it—food, friends, family, etc.

But this. This. This is not fun. And the things that normally help me through tough times—passing a cheese knife between two hands, or breaking a chocolate bar in two to share—just aren’t there. In a couple weeks, I’ll have a birthday, and I still haven’t figured out how there can possibly be cake.

The good news is, I think I now understand why the table feels so empty, even with all the foods I can still eat. That’s huge. As a editor of mine recently said, once you understand why you’re stuck, you have a place from which to get unstuck. Or at least start.

So I’m stuck. So what? Stuck happens. Soon–as I’m able to add foods in, one by one–I’ll be back at the party.

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread 1

For now, an old favorite. It’s a sweet rosemary cornbread from last summer-something I’d love to have right this moment, so I could slice and butter it, then serve it grilled, with grilled nectarines fat with the kind of juice they only have in mid-August. Make it for me, will you? And enjoy it, with someone else.

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread (PDF)

If you’re giving the bread as a gift, or just want it to look extra adorable, pop a sprig of fresh rosemary onto the batter before the bread goes into the oven. Then hurry it to the lucky recipient while it’s still warm, with good butter and a jar of creamed honey.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 2 (8” by 4”) loaves

Vegetable oil spray or butter, for greasing pans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two (8” by 4”) loaf pans, and set aside.

Whisk the dry ingredients to blend in a large bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients together in a different bowl, then add to the dry ingredients, and stir until no dry spots remain.

Divide the batter between the prepared loaf pans, smooth with a spatula, and bake until brown at the edges and just cracking in the center, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, lupus