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.

9 Comments

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.

10 Comments

Filed under bread, Breakfast, lupus

Lost, suddenly.

I have a dependable, possibly annoying habit of picking up other peoples’ isms. I’ve started saying “oh, gosh,” the way my friend Tami does, and “I do not,” instead of “I don’t,” because that’s what my (now very) two-year-old says when he disagrees with me. These days, I’m saying “craaaazy” like Hannah does, and “not so much,” which came from someone . . . I have a favorite ism, of course. When offered coffee, my friend Dan says “always,” instead of “yes, please,” or maybe “I’d love some.” It’s just a little word, that “always,” but having the opportunity to copy him makes my day. It tells people my stomach is always open. They always smile.

But today, someone told me I’d have to stop with the always thing. I went to see an ayurvedic doctor, about lupus and shingles and balancing life’s little pleasures with life’s big problems, and she said what I’d know she’d say–that for 8 weeks, I should try an elimination diet, a sort of spring cleaning for the body, albeit in midsummer. She said I should eat for nutrition, not for pleasure. (What???) She was good at phrasing it as a positive, exploratory time. She talked about kale chips and nut and seed butters and about cooking with coconut oil, which I’ve never done. She tried to convince me, right then and there, that I need to be working on a cookbook for autoimmune disorders.

I told her, quite bluntly, that altering the way I eat every day is completely at odds with what I do—it clashes with my career, with my mindset, with my lifestyle. By nature, I am not an eliminator. I am an overindulger. I tend to add nutrition to my diet, but I rarely take things out. (Evidence here.) But now this: a list of NOs, when I’m so used to saying YES. No eggs, beef, pork, dairy, sugar, nightshade vegetables, corn, gluten, spices, alcohol, caffeine, soy, chocolate, fruit, or high glycemic index veggies. That’s a list. (I’ve always said I never met a list I didn’t like, but this one is the exception to the rule.)

I nodded seriously at the doctor. Then I explained to her that there are just certain things I need to eat, because I’m testing recipes. She recommended I have other people taste for me. Perhaps my husband could be my taster? Like hell, I thought. Tito is an excellent eater, but he himself claims to have the palate of a rock. And how could I possibly create a recipe for a broad audience without tasting it myself? Nonsense. It can’t happen. But this doctor also said I could get many of the benefits of the diet by following it as much as I can—i.e. if I eat per the guidelines 75% of the time, I’ll see 75% of the benefit. At the end of our hour together, she congratulated me on not crying. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me to cry, but hearing it made me realize what a big jump she was asking me to make.

After the appointment, I went to a Whole Foods to explore the rice and almond milk aisle, and to digest the concept of “dieting,” and to purchase a weird herbal tea she said tastes remarkably like coffee, for the mornings, when I will supposedly be going off the bean. I’m sure I looked like a newly rescued disaster victim, wandering the aisles with an empty stare and a basketful of esoteric ingredients. I felt sort of homeless, frankly. No fruit? In August? I got into my car, opened a can of coconut water and a bag of salted pumpkin seeds, and tried to feel healthier.

But I don’t know if I can do this, people. I want more than anything to find a way off the lupus roller coaster—it’s no accident I got shingles at 32, it’s a product of my crazy immune system—but the purification process is so deeply conflicted with what I do for a living that I’m not sure how the two can possibly coexist. I’m not afraid of the 8 weeks. I’m afraid of the 8 weeks’ being successful.

Yesterday, working on my next cookbook, Dishing Up Washington, I made a gorgeous summer pasta with cauliflower and capers and lemon and goat cheese. I planned to eat it for lunch today, and to tell you about it-about how the poor cauliflower, so sweet and tender and lovely when browned, is completely overshadowed at farmers’ markets by flashier summer vegetables, by tomatoes and corn and peppers and eggplant and goodness, have you seen the carrots these days? Now I’m supposed to avoid all of them, and the pasta, too—for a while, at least. The leftovers are sitting in the fridge, begging for escape, and I can’t help them.

So for 8 weeks, I’m supposed to test just the recipes that comply with the diet’s restrictions. It’s very doable, on the recipe front, based on the list I have for Dishing Up Washington. I can do it. There are so many foods I can eat. But I’m not sure I want it to be doable.

What I want to do is lie on the ground and pound my fists into the floor. My two-year-old has recently been schooling us on the best methods of throwing tantrums, and I think I could do him proud.

Have you done this-not the tantrums, but an elimination diet? Did it make a difference? How did you get through?

26 Comments

Filed under Et cetera, lupus

Phoenixed

Vinegar-Braised Onions 3

Madame Jacqueau, the woman I lived with in Paris my junior year in college, used to say that things always come in threes. She used it when talking about almost anything—short waits for the metro, major avalanches, well-roasted chickens. Literally, in French, she was saying that there’s never a second without a third. Today, I do hope she’s wrong.

I have agreed to write two cookbooks.

Wait, let me try that again: In the last six weeks, I have agreed to write and have written one cookbook. I have agreed to write another book, which is completely unrelated, by May.

The first, which I literally just submitted, is a book I’ve been working on in conjunction with Mark and Michael Klebeck, the owners of Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts. It will be published by Chronicle Books next fall. It’s a doughnut cookbook, with fifty recipes and loads of great tips. Suffice it to say that over the past six weeks, I have tricked neighbors and friends into believing I started a doughnut factory in my house. I have worn pajamas more than anyone should. I have purchased more powdered sugar (for glazes and icings) than any human should see in one lifetime. Finally, for at least a week or two (until the edits come back), I can turn off the deep fryer. In fact, I’m feeling like I might be on the precipice of a health kick. (Okay, starting soon. We made wings and onion rings last weekend.)

It was hard, writing a book in six weeks. But it’s done. And it was actually a little thrilling.

I’m most thrilled, though, about the next one: I’ll be writing a cookbook with a big handful of essays about Seattle’s Pike Place Market, to be published by Sasquatch Books in the spring of 2012.

More than anything, it just seems fitting. The week my husband and I flew to Seattle for the first time, in March of 2006—me for a conference, him for a job interview—I decided Seattle was right for us in front of that iconic market sign. Then I walked into the market with a friend, and my husband called, telling me he’d been offered a job. I wandered around aimlessly, probably looking a little bewildered. This will be my home, I thought.

When I moved here, and started Hogwash, I picked Rachel, the market’s pig, for my masthead, because she’d been there that day, the day I became a Seattleite. Just sketching out the chapters and brainstorming recipes ideas, I feel like it’s suddenly 100% true: Seattle is my home.

I’m admittedly just as excited about the essays as I am about the recipes. (More so, maybe.) I think it could be difficult, without getting too mundane and repetitive, to communicate the magic of any place people habitually give up describing, instead saying “it’s really amazing,” or “you just have to go,” with a big, body-slumping huff. These will not be wedding toast essays. They’ll be wicked fun.

You could say it’s been a busy few weeks.

But there’s more.

Last week, my piece on preparing to live gluten-free (which, as you know, it turns out I didn’t have to do), from Leite’s Culinaria, came out in Best Food Writing 2010, a yearly collection of fantastic food writing by people I admire and ache to emulate. I was thrilled, and seriously humbled, to be in the same pages. My mailbox also brought a copy of the November issue of Cooking Light, where my recipes appear for the first time. (Side note: Make the posole. It should appear online soon.)

Basically, I’m being blasted with good things from all directions, and it feels fabulous.

I’d have to say, though, that despite all of this writing stuff, the highlight of the last few weeks has to be last Saturday morning. I participated in a fundraiser for lupus—the goal was to raise awareness and money, and to get the word out that there hasn’t been a new drug developed specifically for lupus released to the market for more than 50 years—and instead of doing the fun walk, I did the fun run. I ran a 5K.

I’ve never been a great runner, or even a good one. But in college, I used to do it, just for exercise, and as a way to spend time with friends. Since being diagnosed with lupus, I’d sort of lost the running thing. It made my joints ache, and it took the kind of mental stamina I didn’t have, when I had to think positively so often when it hurt to walk, or open a jar, or hold the hairdryer. But since starting a new drug after my kidney scare last spring, I’ve been feeling remarkably buoyant. So somewhere along the line, I decided to run.

Of course, they kind of tricked me into the 5K. The website advertised a 2.5-miler, which, if you’re mathematically inclined, you’ll realize is almost three quarters of a mile shorter than a 5K. I “trained,” if that’s what you want to call it, by running a total of about ten times in the two months preceding last Saturday, culminating the previous Sunday with a nonstop two-miler. The morning of the run, I happened to check the website, and balked at the increased length. But it was too late to back out.

People came from all the corners of my life: My parents flew in from Boise. My grandmother took the train up from Portland. My sister (the one who ran a half marathon two weeks ago) showed up with matching purple-and-white headbands she’d crocheted the night before. There were writer friends and editor friends and my husband’s work friends and college friends and mommy friends and just plain friend friends. And they all came for me. When I said “I think I can,” they came to tell me that I could. And I did. Their presence felt, in a word, warming. And being able to run that far (with a weensy bit of walking, I’ll admit) was extremely heartening. I think it feels better to run again than it ever felt to run when I’d always been able to do it.

My sister, incidentally, also introduced me to a new verb this weekend: to be phoenixed. According to her sources, that eyeball-searing burst of roasted air you get when you open a hot oven with your face too close to it—you know how it burns almost unbearably for just a second or two, and makes your necklace hot around your collarbones?—is called a phoenix. So, grammatically, one turns one’s head to avoid being phoenixed.

It’s fantastic, isn’t it? And completely new to me. It’s the hot version of the way your nose hairs freeze when you step out in to the snow on a -20 degree day. (Why didn’t you tell me about this word?)

I think it’s the perfect way to describe the run. There was so much warmth coming my direction that I almost had to look away.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

Here’s a recipe perfect for when there’s just too much going on. They started with inspiration from Gluten Free Girl‘s recipe for Balsamic Onions, from her new book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. But the original recipe required stirring, and let’s face it, there are days when stirring seems like an awfully energetic and time-consuming activity. (Really, it’s the simplest recipe. But I needed a nap.)

My version is just onions, braised slowly in the oven with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and water—but after hours on low heat, they’re blasted in a hot oven, so all the excess liquid evaporates and they morph into sweet, tart caramelized onions that you never really had to stir or watch in any way. (I did indeed get a nap.)

Be careful, though: For that last little bit, they’re in a very hot oven. Turn your head when you open it, or you’ll get phoenixed.

IMG_3927

Vinegar-Braised Onions (PDF)

My first instinct was to call these Candied Onions, because when they emerge from the oven, they’re sticky and sweet, but the idea of putting candy on a sandwich deterred me. However, they do go with just about anything. Thus far, I’ve eaten these slow-roasted beauties with chicken, in an omelet with goat cheese, on toast, in a sandwich, and with a spoon. I can’t imagine there are many things they won’t improve.

If you have a casserole dish that looks too new, this is what you need to make in it.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 large servings, if eaten as a side dish

1 giant yellow onion, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/2” slices
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Arrange the onions in a heavy baking dish. (I found it worked well to keep the onion slices together as I cut them, then shingled the slices in the pan, keeping the individual sections of each slice together.) Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and pour the vinegar and water over the top.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, then bake for 2 hours. Remove the foil, stir the onions, and bake another hour or so. Increase the heat to 450 degrees and roast another 10 or 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are dark and sticky. Serve warm.

18 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, lupus, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

The Thoughtsorter

IMG_3552

Imagine, if you will, a large, round lampshade with tons of tiny holes in it. Now imagine that there’s a picture in each one of those holes, with a light behind it that projects the image onto a screen, like the little microfiche films you used to look at in public libraries for junior high research papers. With me? Now put the lampshade on your head, and let each one of your thoughts shine out a little hole, so that together, the snapshots narrate all the different things happening in your brain.

The thing on your head is called a thoughtsorter. (I invented it myself.) I use mine when my (good) multitasking skills can’t quite keep up with what I intend to do in a day, or with the things I want to think about. It’s not so fashion-forward, but it’s quite helpful as an organizational tool.

I haven’t needed my thoughtsorter in about three weeks. (Have you noticed? I’ve been gone about that long.) See, I’m working on two Big Projects—things I hope to tell you more about very soon—and it’s pretty much been me, my kitchen, a lot of dishes, and an increasingly dirty computer. I’ve had my proverbial head in the sand, which eliminates the need for said hat. It feels really good not to need all the little holes.

Today, I’ve come up for air, and I’m thinking about my hands. They’ve been white all day. They get this way sometimes (medically, it’s called Raynaud’s Syndrome, and for me it’s part of having lupus), mostly in the fall, when the weather turns. My body’s watching the calendar, it seems, and this year, Seattle’s snapping into late September with alarming punctuality. When they turn white, my fingers remind me of those strange whitish carrots, all wrinkly and not quite as pretty as they might otherwise look.

No one has ever been able to tell me why I have lupus, or how long I’ve actually been affected by it, but it’s clear to me that the side effects became serious when I lived in La Jolla, California, during the fall of 2003. I suppose we all want something to blame for the less desirable things in our lives, and for lupus, part of me always accused this unrealistically sunny, plastic-peopled paradise of making me “sick.” Shortly after I moved away and was diagnosed, La Jolla became the source of all evil.

I’d been married just a few months (in sickness or in health indeed) and had moved there to be the cook for a team of research scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution—one of whom happened to be my husband—who were working in conjunction with oceanographers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

About a month into our time there, I started noticing funny things. First my back ached, my fingers blanched every time I walked into air-conditioning, and my feet and hands hurt. I attributed it to spending hours cooking every day, and plenty of time grocery shopping, in addition to my normal active lifestyle. Then it was hard to tie my shoes, and hard to open doors. I remember sitting in a Whole Foods parking lot in my rented Ford Focus, deciding whether the fact that I physically couldn’t get the trunk open without using both hands was a good reason to cry.

One day, I went to pick up my coffee cup, and my hand sort of crumpled sideways, like it had lost all the bones. I went to the ER the next day.

The rest, as they say, is history. I have lupus. It’s relatively well managed, if you don’t count random bouts with possible kidney failure. (My kidneys are much happier now, thank you.)

But for whatever reason, I could never really put that time in La Jolla behind me. I was literally afraid of the place. I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what I was afraid of—that things would get worse if I stuck a pinkie toe into southern California? Hardly realistic. That all the emotions and fears surrounding finding oneself being consumed by an autoimmune disease would come flooding out uncontrollably? Maybe that. No one likes public displays of hysteria.

I’ve always known I’d have to go back. You know, back to the wolf’s den.

I planned a trip for last May, just after two of my closest friends moved to the area. Three days before departing, I was told I needed a quick round of heavy IV drugs for that kidney thing, and that I wouldn’t be leaving Seattle. Figures, I thought. I rescheduled my trip for Labor Day. But this time, instead of going with my family, I’d go alone.

Looking back, I think I did expect something of a turbulent, rollercoastery reentry, but it was nothing of the sort. I went down to La Jolla Shores with my friend Michaela, who’d arranged for us to go snorkeling with leopard sharks for my birthday. (Nothing eases the nerves like swimming with sharks, right? “Really, they’re harmless bottom-feeders,” she’d said. She was right.)

So much came back. I remembered driving the Focus, and the weirdness that is SoCal. I retraced my driving route to and from the Scripps research pier. I visited the little sandwich shop I’d loved. (I’d forgotten how ludicrously large they make their sandwiches.) I remembered the women, those falsely curvy, Juicy-clad glitterati that prowl downtown La Jolla, trying to look important, but (I always thought) actually just looking like they need something better to do.

We shopped. We people-watched. We ate cupcakes.

But at no point was I overwhelmed, or even touched, by emotion. It sort of surprised me, to be honest. I thought I’d be a wreck. My time there changed my life, and not necessarily for the better.

I flew back to Seattle that night feeling stunned. For years, I’d put off going back to La Jolla the way people avoid exes, for no reason. There was just no part of me that needed to do any forgiving (or forgetting, for that matter). Quelle bonne surprise.

It did make me wonder, though, how I was able to separate La Jolla from all that happened when I was there, and whether other people in similar situations can do the same thing. Maybe—just maybe—that’s when I invented the thoughtsorter. Maybe I was somehow able to separate all the little things that bothered me about being diagnosed from all the fun stuff in my life, so that my friendships, my relationships, and some of my everyday habits could avoid the inevitable cloud that medical issues can often cast over one’s life. It’s just a theory, but if it’s true, I’d bet there’s a good market for thoughtsorters in the medical devices industry. (Hey, you research types—give me a call, and I’ll send you the specs, for a small fee.)

I don’t actually expect researchers—even the best ones—to find a cure for lupus anytime soon. But finding anything new, even the slightest improvement on previous knowledge, might give hope to someone just being diagnosed, and to me, hope is the goal. I function just fine with lupus because I know, in my heart, that there will be ups and downs, but that overall things will be just fine. One of my lights has always been hope. It kills me to think of people going through those first uncertain stages of diagnosis without it – not knowing whether they’ll ever feel normal again, or go for a run again, or have children, or whether they’ll be okay if in fact it turns out that they can’t do any of those things.

That’s why about month from now, I’m participating in a lupus research fundraiser, called the Mad Hatter Walk and Roll. It’s one of those little walk-a-thon things. (Believe it or not, I’m planning to run it, with the highfalutin’ goal of finishing before the walkers.) Everyone wears funny hats, and eats lots of doughnuts, and for one day, everyone who has lupus struts around feeling like their medical status makes them a bit of a rock star. I can’t wait.

And you know what? I think I have just the hat.

(If you’re in Seattle, come join me! Or donate to my team, lupus minimus, if you’re so inspired. The info is here.)

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Hot Honeyed Carrots

Made with fresh garden carrots, this is more of a concept than an actual recipe. Top and scrub the carrots and place them in a pan large enough to hold them in one layer. Add water to cover, along with a good pinch of red pepper flakes, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the water has evaporated, partially covering the pan once the water reaches only halfway up the sides of the carrots. When the water is gone, drizzle with honey, sesame oil, and soy sauce, and cook and stir until the sauce has reduced to a glaze, just a minute or two. Serve immediately.

7 Comments

Filed under garden, gluten-free, lupus, recipe, side dish, vegetables, vegetarian

Circle of friends

Fresh Mint Mud 1

I have fabulous news: I do not have celiac disease. I feel I can say this with about 95% certainty. I haven’t had an intestinal biopsy, but I tried eating gluten-free for long enough that I feel I should have seen results if it had been the right thing for my body. I can eat any baguette. I can gorge on Bolognese. I can shove embarrassing handfuls of Cheddar Bunnies into my mouth as I run out the door. I can be my very own Marie Antoinette, anytime I want: Let me eat cake!

This isn’t neenerneener to those who aren’t so fortunate. It’s a reminder. These last couple of weeks, I’ve needed it.

If you’ve been following my medical saga – which I hope to leave behind here, very soon, but for now, it’s a huge part of my life, so you get it – you’ll remember that I’ve had a problem with appetite. It’s been down, and when I don’t eat well, I’m not happy. When eating gluten-free didn’t change things, I went to more doctors.

Here’s the short version: My lupus has moved to my kidneys. I have Class IV and Class V lupus nephritis, which, if you aren’t interested in a deeper medical explanation, basically means my kidneys have a Prius problem: they’re goinggoinggoing, working themselves into a frenzy for no real reason, overworking to the point of danger. I spent part of last week in the hospital for a kidney biopsy, which revealed I needed immediate treatment. I spent four days shuffling back and forth from the hospital, getting intravenous medications. And on Sunday, I started (among many others) a drug called CellCept, a type of what they call “induction therapy.” You could call it chemo lite, I guess, but thus far it has not been all that. Thank goodness.

I spent a few days last week hosting a very private pity party. Then we needed help. Our nanny was out of town, and friends unfurled big, strong hands from every direction. Our son went to a friend’s house during the biopsy, and for a few doctor’s appointments. My sister essentially lived at my house for the week. My mother came into town. Friends brought my favorite neighborhood soup, and a few meals for our kid. And at the same time that the reality of a stressful health situation set in, we were blanketed with the calm that comes with knowing we’d be able to get through it.

Earlier this week, I met with another food writer and blogger named Jessica, who also has lupus nephritis. (I know. There are two of us. It’s weird.) You might already know her as SodiumGirl. On her blog, she chronicles her life cooking sodium-free, and teaches people how to function in normal society without salt in their diet – and treats her kidneys more gently along the way. She also happens to be unfailingly positive, charming, hilarious, silly, and completely energizing to be around. We’d never met, but when I thought I spotted her across a hotel lobby, I galloped over the way I greet my college friends, all squealing and loopy. Only now does it occur to me that the Four Seasons probably doesn’t get a lot of gallopers in its lobby.

We sat down for coffee, and I wondered if the waitstaff wanted to eavesdrop. Our conversation ricocheted from her wedding registry to chemotherapy to astrobiology, and back to plasmapheresis. We giggled about IV line bruises and vowed not to let steroids deprive us of our favorite jeans. She taught me how she teaches restaurant chefs how to prepare her meals without salt, since sodium is strictly off-limits for her diet (and may someday be for mine). We bitched a little, the way people bitch about their shoes getting scuffed or their purse getting caught on their jacket, but agreed that any real negativity is boring and useless and a total waste of time. She made me feel like a completely normal person.

At the end of the meal, I asked her about a necklace she was wearing. It showed three small rings, slightly different sizes, welded together at the center, and somehow, I knew it symbolized something.

“It stands for my circle of friends,” she explained simply. She didn’t have to say more. She survives, like I do, because there are always good people around to help. Sitting there with Jessica, with the sun glinting off Puget Sound, I wondered how many people – as in what actual percentage of the human population – are able to say that they know they’ll have back-up when life’s road hits a hairpin. Maybe ten percent? Fifteen?

But I know just what she means, because I have a circle, too. And as I bounce from appointment to appointment, from needle to needle, I’m thankful for it.

Circle of Friends necklace

The medications will have side effects as I begin taking them in stronger doses. Already, I’m really sore in weird places. There’s been some nausea. For the next few months, I’ll have to be really careful not to get sick, because my immune system will be completely obliterated.

And, probably because of the steroids, I’ve been eating again. Eating and eating and eating. And I love it. Wardrobe willing, I have a feeling this will be a very delicious period in my life. Clearly, I’ll have to watch it at some point, but for now, I’m bathing, again, finally, in the enjoyment of food.

Mint mud in espresso cup

Mostly, I’ve had an insatiable sweet tooth. I’ve been making nutella tartines, big slabs of toasted baguette slathered with creaminess and spotted with banana slices. I’ve been chowing fruit. I’ve been eating ice cream before bed again, which I haven’t done in months. I’m tasting faint flavors in food in a way I couldn’t for a while, teasing out spices and herbs with whatever sense this lack of appetite thing stripped off my tongue. And every single day, I want to cook or bake.

This recipe started with eight orphaned egg yolks. I wanted a dessert so sinful it hurts—one that makes you think twice about eating it the moment your lips hit the spoon, and not a second after.

It worked. It was supposed to be a mint-infused mousse, only somewhere along the line, I decided to skip the mousse part, because mousse sounded too light. The result? A spoonable dark mint chocolate bar, cute as can be in tiny little cups.

It’s also salt-free and gluten-free. In case you’re sensitive about those sorts of things.

Spoonful of mint mud

Fresh Mint Mud (PDF)
Like a deep chocolate mousse with a weight problem, these little pots o’ bliss are not for the weak. Infused with real mint leaves, they’re little mint-chocolate bombs, best eaten with the tiniest spoon.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 serving

8 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream, lukewarm
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (70% cacao), finely chopped

Whisk the yolks and sugar vigorously together in a large, stainless steel saucepan until the yolks become thick and pale. Add the cream and mint, whisk to combine, and cook the mixture over very low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture measures 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, but not over. (It should be steaming, but you don’t want the eggs to curdle.) Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a mixing bowl, and stir until the mixture cools to 150 degrees. Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture into very small cups (such as espresso cups), and refrigerate overnight, until firm. For the best mint flavor, let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

Fresh Mint Mud 2

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Filed under dessert, gluten-free, lupus, recipe

A good purge

Tomato/Chickpea Curry

That weekend of break-up sex? It was mostly fabulous. (I’ll tell you more about it later, here.) The upshot is this: I got the second round of celiac disease tests back, and they were normal. Which is great, except for the fact that the first gliadin antibody test was still screamingly positive. The doctor suggested I try a gluten-free diet for a couple months, to see if I’m one of those (and apparently there are many of us) who don’t test normally.

So that’s it. That’s what I’m doing. My hope is that on Hogwash, you really won’t notice all that much. Not eating gluten means eating a lot of other things, you see—things I’ve always loved, like fresh produce and great meats and cool new grains. I don’t think it’ll be that hard. Right? Right?

But packing up all the gluten in the house—that was hard. I decimated our pantry, rejecting anything made with wheat, rye, or barley. While my neighbor’s and nanny’s baking drawers grew, I celebrated what might possibly be the first time in history that the contents of my kitchen will fit comfortably within its boundaries. The more I stacked on the counter to give away, though, the more I started to panic: No wheat flour. No bucatini. No saltines!

Newly organized cupboard

So I did what I do best in times of change: I organized. I put all the alternative grains into one bin, all the rices into another. I gathered gluten-free pastas (thank goodness for that assignment) in one place, and stacked gluten-free flours together on the same shelf. It all seemed more promising that way. More controlled.

(For the record, if I were a superhero, I think I’d be the one in charge of reconstructing hopelessly disorganized spaces. I’d swoop in, shooting thunderbolts made of paperclips, and tie offenders up with rubber bands. I’d have secret headquarters inside Storables. I haven’t started marketing myself yet because I just haven’t found the right tagline. Or name, for that matter. The leading candidate, Super Stapler, is too Office Space and just not feminine enough. Please let me know if you’re in the business of building superhero brands.)

Anyway. In my purge, I found two giant bags of unsweetened medium-flake coconut. I have no idea why I bought that specific size, or why I bought two bags, but there they were. I couldn’t stop the normal gears from turning. Coconut cake, I thought. But wait, I . . . can’t. I’m sure I’ll be able to make a gluten-free coconut cake someday. I’m positive it’s not difficult, and that it could taste really, really good. But right now? I feel like a moron. Like none of the organs I normally use to cook and eat food will ever function the same way again. Like I have to somehow learn everything from scratch: Coconut. What is coconut? (This might be the closest I ever come to knowing what it’s like to change one’s sexual orientation.)

I scrapped the cake idea. Macaroons, I thought. Macaroons are a scoop-and-dump operation, and even in their most Americanized form, they’re almost never bad. And they’re often gluten-free. The recipe on the back of the package beckoned. I stirred, and scooped, added a bit more coconut, and some tangerine zest, and dumped, imagining them dipped in chocolate. They puddled on the baking pans, flat and sticky and unappealing.

Was I being mocked? Did I just flunk macaroons? I think I did.

I backed up and started again. Think simple, Jess. I thought of my mom, who’s getting a knee replacement tomorrow. She’ll have to learn how to walk all over again, with more or less the same body—it’ll just be rearranged a bit, that’s all. I’m lucky this little habit shake-up doesn’t require three days in the hospital, right? I have (almost) all the same ingredients, on the grand scale of food. I just have to learn new ways to put them together.

I finished my little pep talk. Then I launched into an Indian-inspired meal, pouring an easy tomato and chickpea curry over quinoa, simmering spinach in coconut milk and ginger, coating chicken in a spicy yogurt mixture. (I do eat more than chickpeas. I swear.)

Then something else happened: I fell miserably, violently ill. I never even tasted my food. My husband took the baby so I could writhe in peace for the first terrible 12 hours, then I spent the next 3 days in various stages of one very bad mood, hardly eating, perfecting my best amoeba impersonation. I couldn’t touch the Indian food. In fact, I still can’t, which is why there’s no recipe here today. (But if you’re looking for a quick no-fail diet, have I got the flu for you!)

Battling sickness without saltines was a new challenge, for sure. I’ve worked up to eating Rice Chex (with milk now), quesadillas on corn tortillas, and rice cakes with peanut butter. (Hello, high school.) Meat and vegetables are still in the no-fly zone. But, on the plus side, my first few days of eating gluten-free have been relatively easy, because I really didn’t have to eat at all.

So there you have it: My new sort-of plan. I hope to be gluten-free through the end of April, and reassess then.

Thanks, by the way, for all your support. You guys have been awesome.

10 Comments

Filed under commentary, gluten-free, lupus

The List

Oh. God. Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod.

When I wrote about the cold front, and my sudden lack of appetite, my friend Shauna (who you might know better as Gluten-Free Girl) called me instantly.

“Jess,” she said. “You have to get tested.” Shauna said a lot of people have pregnancy-induced celiac disease, and that it often starts without major gastrointestinal symptoms.

I promised. I put it off until my next rheumatology appointment, a month later, but I did it. That was last week.

Today, the nurse practitioner that had sworn lupus and celiac disease are almost always mutually exclusive called with the test results.

“Your gliadin antibody is high, which would indicate you may have celiac disease,” she said. “Your IGA is normal, though, which is strange – normally people with celiac show positive results to both tests.” She was speaking a language I’d never heard.

So, wait . . . I got tested, but the results are inconclusive?

She ordered more detailed bloodwork. She said it could be a wheat allergy (as opposed to an actual inability to digest gluten), or simply that my body, in its general autoimmune frenzy, just really likes making antibodies. I’ll get the results Monday or Tuesday.

I spent a year in college not eating wheat. I wasn’t religious about it, but I payed enough attention to know it’s a major life change. Back then, the attempt was sort of inconclusive. (Okay, the truth: I moved to Paris. The experiment stopped.)

I plan to spend the weekend having break-up sex with gluten. Just in case. I just took two sticks of butter out, to make my favorite chocolate chunk cookies, and started a list, called Things To Eat.

Suggestions welcome.

17 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, lupus

Cold front

Olympics from Space Needle

Deep breath.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: I have a damp spleen. I didn’t know that about me either, although I suppose if I’d thought about it, I’d have come to the same conclusion. It’s inside my body, after all, and I hear it’s damp in there.

The recent diagnosis comes from my new acupuncturist. To be fair, he’s my first acupuncturist. I’m seeing him because I have lupus, and a back injury that still hasn’t quite healed, but mostly—and most importantly, perhaps—because I’ve lost my appetite.

No Western doctor I’ve come across seems to think this is a giant problem—apparently many women have appetite failures after having children. Physically, it’s a convenient natural counterpoint to a recent pregnancy, and to too many years of steroid treatments, sure. But with all due respect to people who are actually missing limbs, I have to say losing my hunger feels a little like an amputation.

I’ve never had an appetite problem before. Or, if you look at it another way, I’ve always had an appetite problem. I’ve always been the one who gets hungry two hours after a meal, no matter how big. I can test recipes all day and gorge on every single one. My workday often consists of eating breakfast, snacking at a coffee shop, having two lunches, testing a recipe, grocery shopping, then launching into dinner. I grew up with a mother who examines what everyone eats extremely carefully—“would you like to eat that, or glue it to your thighs?”—so my idea of teenaged rebellion was baking a batch of cookies and eating the whole thing. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you can relate.

But in the last few months—and if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to say it’s been a bit longer, even—I’ve learned that approaching the world stomach-first has its drawbacks. For one, I’ve built my career around said organ. Walking into a restaurant when I think I’m ravenous, finding only one or two things that sound even mildly appealing on the menu, then picking at my food does not feel normal (or productive, for that matter). I have phantom hunger; it disappears the moment something good hits the table. I’m eating out of habit, but it feels like I’m no longer tasting. It’s become so disappointing (and at times, embarrassing) to sit down over and over, expecting to love what someone has put in front of me, only to discover that I feel like eating about four bites—especially when the person cooking is me.

Once in a while, things taste good. Pasta’s been okay. I do seem to have an appetite for soups—hence the recent streak of hot and sour, and the fact that I went out for pho three times last week—but overall, it feels like something inside me has simply died. And it does not feel good.

So a few weeks ago, I started seeing this acupuncturist. He looks like your average software engineer: white as Wonder Bread, with a gentle, kind demeanor. I trusted him the moment we met. When I see him, he does the whole acupuncture thing—you know, hair-thin needles in strategic places—and he also suggested I start tinkering with my diet.

I hate the word diet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it has the word “die” in it, because in my mind, controlling what you eat, in the strictest sense, kills the part of eating that’s most enjoyable—the impulsiveness of trying something new, the serendipity of combining flavors that work well together. But Chinese medicine isn’t the only medical culture to claim certain people benefit from eating certain things. Remember when it was popular to eat for your blood type? And oh, yeah, thousands of years of ayurveda?

To start, since I’m apparently what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) defines as a “cold” person (keep those jokes to yourself!), I should be eating “warm” foods—both physically warm foods and energetically warm foods. I’ve started with the former, trying to avoid putting anything in my mouth that’s actually cold (which is harder than you might think, even in January), and I’m hoping to branch out into the latter, which is, as they say, a whole other can of worms.

After a few weeks, I’ve noticed significant improvements with both the joints affected by lupus and my back pain. I’m peeling apples again. I’m checking my car’s blind spot without wincing. It’s awesome. (To be fair, I’m also tinkering with my traditional medications, and doing regular old physical therapy for my back, both of which may be helping, too.)

But this appetite thing? Still pretty much MIA. And if the acupuncturist is correct, we may actually be dealing with two separate problems—one of appetite, which in TCM is often spleen-related, and one of actual taste, which is more often heart-related.

So, now you know what I’m working on in the kitchen these days.

(Phew. That feels better. I was so nervous to tell you.)

Has this happened to you?

22 Comments

Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, lupus

Many thanks

Bourbon Sweet Potato Crisp 1

Six years ago, Thanksgiving meant lying on a hotel room couch in Park City, Utah, wondering what was wrong. I couldn’t see how and why my body had morphed from strongstrongstrong to something I simply couldn’t recognize. Six years ago, I admitted to myself that I was sick. It took me months to admit the same thing to the people close to me.

Thanksgiving means a lot of things, in my heart: It means food, and family, and the eggnog we age in the garage for three weeks. It means balancing cooking and relaxing and drinking and eating – have to do them all in the right amounts, in the right order, you know. And increasingly, it means a small, soft moment or two, when I sit back and remember that there was a time when I didn’t have lupus, and didn’t wake up on the easy mornings – the ones with good, greasy joints – and feel thankful, just to be walking comfortably. Despite all the physical and emotional hubbub that surrounds an autoimmune disease, sometimes I feel almost a little lucky to have lupus. It’s made me much, much better at giving thanks.

This week, I’m mostly thankful for the people who make it easier to live with lupus: For Kelly, who carried my groceries – not because I can’t, but because some days, it’s easier if I don’t. For our nanny, who came on her day off and schlepped all the heavy, awkward stuff out of the car for me. For a guy like Joe, who carried my skis on Sunday without making me feel like a sissy. For my neighbor, who walked my dog last week without knowing she’d picked the day when it hurt just to hold the leash. For my doctors, who tell me that my recent flare (honestly, the worst it’s ever been) can probably be abated by stronger medications and a lot less breastfeeding. For my friends, who told me it was okay to be devastated, and encouraged me to embrace what amounts to a huge departure from how I planned to feed my child. For my husband, who never knew “in sickness and in health” (or our own equivalent) would be a phrase he’d have to visit so often. And for all the people who help and support me, every day, without making me feel in any way handicapped. (That is a very impressive thing, indeed.)

You’ll also be thankful for Sarah, who came over for a gabbing and pie crust-making session and ended up staying to peel the sweet potatoes for this little crisp. (The real one’s bigger, but I’m saving it for the holiday, so you just get a snapshot of the baby version.) It seemed like such a nothing thing to both of us, I’m sure, but I’d broken my most hand-friendly peeler, and getting the job done with the normal metal peeler was somehow overwhelming. She just sat down and got to work.

I meant to come here days ago, for advice on what became my Thanksgiving conundrum of the year. I’d hit upon the idea of a sweet potato crisp – something done before, surely, but nothing my own taste buds had run across – and couldn’t decide whether to serve it as part of the meal or as a dessert.

Then Thanksgiving came cartwheeling in, before I could get my game face on. (There are eight here already, with eight more coming soon.) That crisp? It’ll slide in right next to the turkey, I’ve decided, as a substitute for the gooey-topped version found on so many tables. We’ll pile it onto our plates, along with Erica’s biscuits and a cornbread stuffing I’ve yet to invent all the way.

And when the meal’s over, and my husband’s salty, well-worked hands dig into the pile of dishes, I know I’ll be thankful for the way my family’s worked together to put everything on the table. When the pies come out, I’ll find a spot on the floor, because goodness knows where the couch will be by then, and wonder if it’s possible to teach a child to be thankful, just to be alive.

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving.

Bourbon Sweet Potato Crisp 3

Bourbon Sweet Potato Crisp (PDF)

The recipe below makes enough topping to cover the crisp if the sweet potatoes are snuggled into a 9” square baking pan. You can also put it in a taller dish (like a soufflé dish) and use less topping, decreasing the crunch-to-potato ratio, or spread the sweet potato mixture out in a 9” by 13” dish, so each bite has more topping.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus baking
MAKES: About 12 servings

For the potatoes:
5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2” cubes
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt (to taste)

For the crisp topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

First, start the sweet potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large pot, and add cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to the pot, and mash with the remaining potato ingredients. Puree in batches in a food processor until very smooth, and transfer to a 9” square (or similar) baking pan.

While the potatoes cook, mix the topping ingredients in a medium bowl until well blended. Scatter the topping over the potatoes and bake for about 30 minutes, until the topping has browned. Serve warm.

Note: Both the sweet potatoes and the crisp topping can be made ahead and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. To serve, bake the sweet potatoes for 20 minutes, add the topping, and bake another 40 minutes.

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Filed under lupus, recipe, side dish, vegetables

A cake to crush on

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake 2

I saw you at the farmers’ market this weekend. You picked up a kabocha squash – that big, tough-looking green one, with the woody stump – and fairly considered it. You turned it around and around, right side-up and upside-down. It wasn’t without effort, of course – the weight of the thing made your market bag trip over your shoulder blade and careen down your upper arm, at which point you wondered how you’d get the beast home. Then your buddy said, “So, how do you think you get it open?” And I watched you put that poor squash down.

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but you made the wrong decision, sister. A kabocha squash can be a big thug of a thing, but it is not (despite those witchy warts and scars) actually scary or difficult to use.

And I don’t mean to be smug, but I should know. These days, with sore joints, a can opener is my nemesis; I do not cut hard things. The thought of hacking into anything tougher than a bagel (much less quartering a big ol’ squash) brings tears to my eyes. But I love kabocha. So my choices are threefold: 1) stop buying squash and be sad, 2) let my husband finally buy the Samurai sword he’s always wanted, and pray he doesn’t hurt the counters or himself, or 3) skip the farmers’ market and buy pre-cut squash at the grocery store.

tired tanned kabocha squash

But oh, wait. WAIT. There’s a fourth. See, you don’t actually have to cut into a kabocha before you cook it, if you want soft squash. You can just put it in the oven, stem and all, and roast away at 400 degrees. It comes out like I do after a too-long day at the beach—tanned and tired, a bit stinky and maybe a little slumpy. But it’s as easy to cut into as a stick of room-temperature butter. I almost snatched your sleeve to tell you, right there at the market booth, but that would have been so awkward and stalkerish.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

See, if I’d grabbed you, I would have had to tell you about my kabocha-maple bundt cake, too. As if you needed someone yakking to you about a cake that went out of style five decades ago. As if you need more kitchen equipment. I mean really, who owns a bundt cake pan anymore? I certainly didn’t. But last week, after testing a donut recipe for my friend Lara’s upcoming book (it’s tentatively called The Doughnut Cookbook, now who could argue with that?), one with an addictive maple glaze, I had maple glaze on my mind. It tangoed around in my brain with all sorts of ingredients, until settling on—well, drizzling down, really—the sides of a bundt cake hued with the rich, sweet flesh of a kabocha squash.

Bundt pan

I broke into my neighbor’s house to borrow a bundt cake pan. (Okay, maybe there was a key involved, but rifling through her cupboards with no one in the house, it felt like a break-in.) I stirred and whipped and mashed, until I had a butternut-orange batter tinged with maple syrup and spunked with sour cream. Up it baked, in a meticulously buttered and floured pan – in 40 minutes, which was less time than I expected – then out it came, gorgeous and spongy and smooth in all the right places and, I daresay, almost sexy. Aside from the oft-abused line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I’ve never given the bundt cake a second thought, but goodness, yes, they’re sexy, with all those curves. Add a quick maple-vanilla glaze and a sprinkling of nuts, and you’ve got a head-turner.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake TOP

But enough about the way she looks. I have to tell you this: She might be my best-tasting cake. Ever.

I’ve told you before that I’m not much of a cake person. I don’t like the way dry edges call out for frosting—in my opinion, a cake shouldn’t need frosting, and frosting shouldn’t need cake. Each should be delicious on its own, but they should complement each other when they’re put together. Like people, I guess. But like people, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. This cake is different. The glaze is diamonds on a woman too beautiful for jewelry: certainly not needed, but once they’re there, how could you take them off?

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake top

I love this cake because it’s equally appropriate for the plate at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., or 8 p.m. (and, I suspect, at 4 a.m., although I didn’t get the opportunity to try). I like it because I let it sit for two days before serving it to a crowd, and it was still perfectly moist. I like it because unlike a regular dessert cake, it’s hard for others to tell how big a piece you’re really cutting for yourself, so you can have ten little slivers, if that suits you, or one giant hunk, without looking like a princess or a pig. I like that it has a rich, dense crumb, all the way to the edges. I love that it’s easy to cut. And most of all, I love that nothing about making it hurts me right now.

The problem with kabocha, in my house, is that we never seem to have enough. Roasting up a soccer ball-sized specimen left me with about a quart of mashed squash, and I’m already panicking about how to use the last of it. Do I make another cake and freeze it for my mom’s visit next week? Or do I whirl it up in the blender with a bit of coconut milk and a dab of curry paste, for a quick lunch soup? Or do I sacrifice an ice cube tray, and freeze the rest into little cubes, for Graham to eat, once he gets past the initial shock of putting something besides milk in his mouth?

Oh, dear me. I might just have to roast another. I’ve actually just purchased my own bundt pan, so you can guess where the kabocha will most likely go. I want to try the cake with cardamom.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake CUT

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Maple-Vanilla Glaze (PDF)

Kabocha squash has a rich, yellowy flesh that mashes up soft and smooth (like canned pumpkin) when it’s cooked. To roast it, slice a kabocha roughly in half and remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop. Roast cut side-down on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet (no need to oil it) at 400 degrees until the skin is easy to poke with a fork, about an hour. (Timing will depend on the size and age of the squash.) Let the squash cool, peel away the skin and any other tough pieces, and mash the squash like you would potatoes, until smooth.

If you’re afraid of cutting the squash, you can also put the entire thing – stem and all – into the oven, and bake it a bit longer. Just be sure to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff before you mash the flesh.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 16 servings

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (at room temperature), plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (8 ounce container)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 packed cups mashed kabocha squash

For the glaze:
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons water (plus more, if necessary)
2 tablespoons chopped toasted nuts, such as hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously (and carefully) flour and butter a bundt cake pan, and set aside.

Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing between additions. Stir the sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla together in a bowl. With the machine on low, alternate adding the dry and wet mixtures – first some of the flour, then some of the cream, then flour, cream again, and finally flour. When just mixed, add the squash, and mix on low until uniform in color.

Transfer the batter to the prepared bundt cake pan, smooth the top, and bake (I find it easier to transfer if it’s on a baking sheet) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs, and the top springs back when touched lightly, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake DRIPPING

Let the cake cool 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully invert onto a serving platter. When cool to the touch (after about an hour), make the glaze: Whisk the sugar, syrup, vanilla, and water together until smooth, adding additional water if necessary to make a thick, barely pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze (or pour it right out of the bowl) along the crown of the cake, allowing it to ooze down the inside and outside of the cake. Sprinkle immediately with nuts, if using.

Once the glaze has dried, the cake keeps well, wrapped in plastic, at room temperature, up to 3 days.

MAKE AHEAD: Cake can also be made ahead, wrapped in foil and plastic, and frozen up to 1 month. Glaze after defrosting at room temperature.

Dirty bundt pan

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, lupus, recipe, vegetables

Spain, in 5 ingredients

Chickpea Chorizo Stew 1

Once, then I’m done: Some days, lupus bites. Not in a lovely, peppery vinaigrette sort of way. In a rocks-in-my-soup sort of way. I felt so good all summer, then boom. I turned away for just a moment, and the wolf walked in the door.

It’s no wonder, really. We spent a week in Spain for a wedding, plus a long weekend in Rhode Island for another wedding. It all adds up to Too Much Fun. It was lovely, of course – the jamon iberico, watching the Vuelta a Espana’s last time trial, seeing cousins I hadn’t seen in (literally) decades, participating in weddings I wouldn’t have missed for the world . . . But coming home, we had sort of a crash landing. Graham didn’t adjust back to our time zone as well as he had going the other direction, and between his schedule, our own jetlag, and three good cases of the sniffles, we’ve been a mess. And my body has not been happy.

Thankfully, the one taste I had to bring back from our trip – the flavor of Spain that lingered on my tongue, through all the ham, through the weird Oktoberfest meal on Lufthansa, through the Willow Tree chicken salad reunion (me and the chicken salad) in Newport – was the simplest of stews. We had it at a roadside restaurant, driving from La Rioja back to Madrid in a rented 6-speed diesel minivan. (As a side note, I do not recommend driving a large vehicle through the heart of Madrid if there’s even a small chance your iPhone, with all its hoo-ha navigational capabilities, will lose power.)

Considering our lack of Spanish, you could say we ordered the soup on accident. It was hardly a looker – just chickpeas, soaking in a simple broth with little beads of paprika-spiked oil bobbing around on the surface. Studded with slices of mild chorizo, it went down easy, rich but not overwhelming, unmistakably Spanish but after 8 days of ham, appreciably different. It had the kind of broth you want to drink for days on end, like a tonic.

When I sat down to think about how to make it, I felt like my brain wasn’t working. If I sautéed chorizo and then simmered it, along with dried chickpeas, in a paprika-rich homemade stock, the legumes would soak up some of that meaty flavor. But wasn’t there more? Five ingredients didn’t seem like enough.

But they were plenty. And an hour later, there it was: Spain. I’d purchased bulk chorizo, instead of the regular kind in casings, which made it a bit different from the version I fell in love with. (If you must know, I don’t like the way sausage slices look cooked with the casings on. The way the exterior shrinks up and strangles the meat reminds me of putting nylons on – you know, when they’re only partway up your thighs? Uncomfortable, and a little gross.)

Of course, the one thing missing from the roadside stew – the same thing, frankly, that was missing from so many of my meals in Spain – was the color green. I served ours over sautéed kale.

This could very well be The Fall I Didn’t Make Pie. Peeling apples just doesn’t seem to be an option right now. My hands are too sore.

But soup. Soup can be easy.

Thank goodness.

Chickpea Chorizo Stew 2
Quick Chorizo and Chickpea Stew (PDF)

Brimming with more flavor than a stew that takes 10 minutes of attention really deserves, this hearty concoction was my favorite meal from our recent trip to Spain. I used bulk chorizo, but sliced (sausage-style) chorizo would work well also (and was what we ate in Spain). Homemade chicken stock is important here—use yours, if you have some.

Serve the stew as is, or try ladling it over sautéed greens, such as kale or chard, or over leftover rice.

TIME: 10 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 1/4 cup dried chickpeas
6 cups good chicken stock
3/4 pound chorizo (bulk or in casings, thinly sliced)
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring the chickpeas and 4 cups of the stock to a boil in a soup pot. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 1 hour.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble the chorizo into the pan (or add the sliced chorizo) and cook, stirring and breaking into bite-sized pieces after the first 5 minutes, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to the pan with the chickpeas, stir in the paprika and the remaining 2 cups stock, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour, until the beans are soft.

Season to taste, and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, lupus, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

Halvsies

Onion Leek Shallot Soup 1

Being pregnant is a lot like having an imaginary friend: No one really understands the relationship except you. At least, that’s what it feels like.

I guess I wouldn’t know for sure. My friends have always had visible legs and arms, and heartbeats. But seeing people nod and smile, then change the subject when I talk baby, it seems like a rational comparison. Baby kicks, and I think it’s the most fascinating thing in the world, even if I’ve announced the same thing 200 times already that day. Apparently, though, baby’s newfound ability to use my bladder as a trampoline—“Ohmigoddidyou…? Wait, of course you didn’t!”—just isn’t that interesting.

Conveniently enough, nature plans for women’s waistlines to explode at right about this stage in the relationship. Which means no matter how much crazy talk comes burbling out of my mouth, there’s a nice bump sitting about a foot below, a permanent basketball-sized excuse for anything I could possibly say or do. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t come up with more outrageous things to say, just to use it while I got it.

So, yes. I haven’t talked about it much, but I’m getting quite pregnant. My shirts are getting pilly on my belly, where I’ve been rubbing them. And truth be told, I’m starting to slow down. You know how much I must like that.

About a week ago, I stopped some of the medicine I’ve been using for 3 or 4 years to control lupus-related joint inflammation. Wednesday, I had trouble using my right hand. It got all frozen up, there between the two big wrist joints, and plum refused to cooperate. (It’s really hard to pull maternity pants on with only one hand.)

Thursday, it was a little better, and my friend Bree taught me how to soak my wrists in hot water in the morning to loosen them up. By Friday, I seemed to be adjusting to the change.

But there, in that timeframe—three days of symptoms so similar to what they were when I was first diagnosed—my body reminded me that the wolf, she’s been so so quiet these last six months, but she’s still there. And now, more than ever, I need to listen. We need to listen.

Apparently, during pregnancy, one’s kidneys take quite a beating. You know, increased blood volume, etc. Mine, which are naturally a bit weeny because of lupus, are no exception. They’ve been working very hard, and they’re getting very cranky.

To be clear, there’s nothing really wrong yet. But the doctors are making me feel like a ticking time bomb. They’re using words like preeclampsia, and bed rest, and suffice it to say that these words aren’t the prettiest ones, coming out of my mouth or anyone else’s. I want to gather them up like spilled dried beans, and stuff them back into their plastic sack. Bind the twist tie good and tight. But words, unfortunately, don’t come in a resealable bag.

Monday, I started a new program. It’s called halvsies. I take whatever I’d normally do in a day, and cut it in half. And at 2 o’clock, my timer rings. From 2 to 6, I’m down. Sleeping. Reading. Staring at the ceiling. Anything that doesn’t require my feet to move one after the other on solid ground. Anything that keeps me resting. Anything that keeps me home for as many weeks as possible, doing things slowly but still doing things, instead of on bed rest in a hospital somewhere.

This bed rest thing is by no means a foregone conclusion. I don’t mean to be dramatic. But when I think about the mere possibility of lying in a bed and ordering breakfast off a menu that rotates weekly, I almost panic. I can deal with doctors; I have lots of practice. But if I have to eat overdone scrambled eggs, I might cry.

(For the record, this halvsies program does not apply to food. On that front, I’m doing doublies.)

Oh, wait. There’s a small correction. I said I started today, but really, I tried to start on Friday.

See, the problem with a week of painful wrist joints is that the refrigerator suffers. Some lettuce went bad. I didn’t feel like hacking into the rack of lamb I’d planned one night, so it’s still sitting there. I’d brought home great big yellow onions, six golden-skinned beauties, from the farmers’ market the weekend before, purchased for a whopping 75 cents each. I’d wanted to make something like French onion soup, but for a couple days, I just wasn’t using a knife.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup cheese

Friday, though. Friday, my wrists felt fine. The top of one of the onions was threatening to get a little grey and soggy, succumbing to the weather outside despite its cool, comfy home. I’d had a few nights out. I missed the kitchen. My parents were coming for the weekend, and I loved the idea of letting the soup sit in the fridge for a few days, so on Sunday night, we could just heat it up, scoop big ladlefuls of rich brown onion-laden broth into bowls, top them with croutons and copious quantities of gruyere, and broil them just until the cheese started to toast.

I thought I’d make a bit of a bargain with myself. I’d chop, after lunch, and get the soup started. (It’s a lot of chopping, if you’re not used to it, but nothing pleases me quite as much as filling an entire stockpot with feathery strips of onion. Give yourself 40 minutes, if you’re a slow chopper.) Then I’d plop myself on the couch and doze, waking up to stir or leaf through a New Yorker.

I chopped. I stirred. I fell asleep with onions caramelizing, two rooms away, which I never would have done a few months ago. They never burned, or even came close. I got to cook and take the most horrible-tasting medicine: rest.

Friday night, I had the sense not to double down. We went out to dinner, at a lovely casual French place on Capitol Hill that doesn’t take reservations and has a terrible waiting area. I called, announced I was six months pregnant, and asked what the wait was like. They saved us a table.

We did have a busy weekend. But each day, I slept, undisturbed, and each day, my body thanked me for it.

When we finally took the soup out, it seemed to say the same thing: Thank you for letting me rest. I needed that. It tasted greener than typical French onion soup, with all those leeks, but it had the same gooey meltability, the same chewiness on top, the same deep warmth. This breed of soup calms the heart.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup side

Afterward, we picked crusty cheese bits off the outer edges of our bowls, and made fun of each other, and I had the energy to play games and stay up past 9 p.m. (but not much).

It’s going to be bittersweet, this last trimester, I can tell. But me? I’ll do my best to prove this pregnancy normal. I won’t be cooking every night. We’ll probably invite people over for dinner a lot less frequently. I won’t be here on Hogwash quite as often, because halvsies for me means halvsies for you, too.

But Jim will cook. (I love it when Jim cooks. It’s the next best thing to holding the spoon myself.) He’ll reheat soups, and we’ll eat them at the kitchen counter, right off my favorite pot holders, like we did last night. I’ll make lists of how to help myself, instead of lists of more things to do. We’ll get even more excited about baby coming, together.

And with a little luck and a lot more rest, that will still mean May.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup close

Onion, Leek & Shallot Soup (PDF)

You can use all boxed beef stock, of course, but if you can find good homemade veal and beef stocks, the soup’s broth will take on a deeper flavor and more velvety texture. When I feel like splurging, I buy good stock at Seattle farmers’ markets or at Picnic.

To make it a full meal, all this soup needs is a simple green salad.

TIME: 5 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
6 large yellow onions (about 6 pounds), peeled
2 large shallots
4 small leeks (about 1/2 pound), halved, cleaned, and cut into thin half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef stock or broth
4 cups veal stock (or more beef broth)
6 slices good, crusty bread, toasted and broken into pieces
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half with the grain, and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. Slice the shallots the same way, and add them, too, along with the leeks. 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, and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions and shallots for another 3 to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so, 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. You’ll need to stir more frequently toward the end.)

When the onions are good and brown, add the wine and broth, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight, if possible.

Before serving, preheat the broiler. Fill ovenproof bowls with (reheated) soup and top with the toast pieces. Divide the cheese into six parts and pile on top of the toasts. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, and broil about 3” from the heating unit for just a minute or two, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot (and be careful with those bowls).

Onion Leek Shallot Soup assembling

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Filed under appetizers, Beef, French, lupus, recipe, soup

My New Noodle Soup

soba noodles

New Noodle Soup. Say it.

(Out loud, I mean.)

New Noodle Soup. Fun, isn’t it?

I know why. It’s because somewhere in there, you get to say “noo-noos,” like a two-year-old. Who can resist the sound of a food whose pronunciation requires the same mouth shape as its eating?

But clearly, noo-noos are not what one orders in mixed public adult company. Even I couldn’t do that. How unfortunate, especially this time of year, when traveling sniffles have most of us fighting hard to pretend we don’t have fall colds, and noonoos are just what we need.

But I do. I have a cold. And I’m going to be on the radio today, so last night I started hitting the liquids hard, trying anything to bring my bedraggled voice back. For dinner, it had to be my own version of the terrific chicken noonoo soup I had last weekend.

When I sat down at ART, the restaurant at Seattle’s new Four Seasons Hotel, I was a little shocked to find chicken noodle soup on the menu. It reads like such a pedestrian choice for an appetizer. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to order in a room where the bar counter is backlit by ever-changing shades of fluorescence. But the soup – fine filaments of spiced vegetables, twisted up with soba noodles and black silkie chicken in a deeply flavorful broth, and topped with a poached egg – was anything but plain.

I didn’t have any desire to recreate the exact same soup. The carrots, cabbage, and squash were sliced micro-thin, for starters, and the presentation was far fancier than anything that happens in my house—the gorgeous ceramic bowl, the fanfare of a waiter pouring the broth over the noodles, yadda yadda. And I didn’t have time to hunt down a chicken that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book. But I couldn’t ignore the way the egg yolk glided into the broth, infusing it with a richness that makes chicken soup feel even more healing than usual.

I thought I tasted a hint of miso in the broth at ART – but when I asked, I was assured that I was just tasting the richness of a stock made with silkie black chicken, whose meat is known for its deep, almost gamey flavor. Once I got the miso in my head, though, I couldn’t get it out – so I spiked our soup with a dollop of miso paste.

Course, the plan was to eat half of it, then take it out of the fridge this morning, pop a newly poached egg on top, and take a few slightly more attractive photographs for you, in the daylight. But when I went to take it out of the fridge, I discovered my husband had taken the entire container for lunch.

Guess I’ll have to make more noo-noos.

new noodle soup

Chicken Soba Noodle Soup with Miso and Poached Egg (PDF)

At ART, Chef Kerry Sear poaches the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes wrapped up in a layer of plastic wrap. He lines a ramekin with the wrap, cracks an egg in, twists the ends to seal, and puts it right into a pot of boiling water. His method worked perfectly for me, but poach using whatever method you like best.

I found the timing worked well if I put the chicken stock, water for the pasta, and water for the eggs on the stove at the same time.

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

8 cups rich homemade chicken stock
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 pound)
2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 bundle soba noodles (about 1/3 pound, or the diameter of a quarter)
1 tablespoon yellow miso paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs, poached
Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice mix, optional)

Bring the stock to a bare simmer in a large saucepan. Add the chicken breast, celery, and carrots, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Shred the chicken and return it to the pot with the vegetables.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil for the noodles. Cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and set aside.

Add the miso to the soup, and stir the noodles into the soup to warm. Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary. Using tongs, divide the noodles between four soup bowls, then add vegetables, chicken, and broth to each. Top each bowl with a poached egg, and serve with a few sprinkles of shichimi, for a bit of spice, if desired.

Close to Wolf's Chickpea Salad

For those who have come from KUOW, here’s a PDF of the chickpea salad recipe I mentioned, from How to Cook a Wolf (pictured above), and here’s the vanilla-olive oil cake.

Art Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Filed under appetizers, Cakes, chicken, dessert, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, lupus, Pasta, recipe, salad, Seattle, side dish, snack, soup, vegetables

A little pinch of ridiculous

A few weeks ago, Frank and Michelle made me the most hilarious birthday gift, meant as a form of encouragement for my renewed enthusiasm for biking: They took a Specialized advertisement starring Tom Boonen and put my face where the professional bike racer’s head once was, atop a bike significantly faster than mine. It’s a scary clip, and makes both me and poor Tom look quite ridiculous. Like the wolf in Grandma’s clothing, only in my case, it’s my little bobble head on a significantly more athletic body. My, Jess, what strong legs you have.

In my lexicon, “bicycle” and “racing” only really meet each other when I’m talking about getting those damned shoes off. When we rode with our friends again last weekend, though, I started to feel strong on a bike for the first time in years. (Or ever, maybe.) Michelle chatted me up the side of Queen Anne Hill at a whole mile an hour faster than I’d gone the previous weekend. I took a hit of one of those carbohydrate gels without making a face, even.

Now, I’m no Tom Boonen, but I’m getting closer. Michelle took off near the top of the second hill, to finally get her muscles warmed up, and I came to an almost dead standstill, to breathe again – but I didn’t get off that bike, and that felt good. And at the end, as we headed up Fremont toward the zoo, I didn’t think of crying.

It’s one thing, to have someone say you can do it. But it’s another thing entirely, another great, wonderful, life-preserving, heart-filling thing, when the people you’re with say you are doing it. I’m being dramatic, I know, reading so much into a single bike ride, but resting at the top of the Lighthouse hill (which measures a 22% grade at one point, thankyouverymuch), having hauled my ass up the thing in a painfully slow sinuous pattern at a crowd-pumping 3 miles per hour, I sure didn’t feel like I was “suffering from lupus.” Or anything, for that matter, except a little touch of sunburn. I just felt like the old Jess, trying to get back into shape, doing the biking thing in a way I sometimes thought I’d never do again. Oh Tom, I thought, pain is your enemy. But do you know how nice it is to feel the most normal pain, as opposed to one you can’t control? Maybe he does. Good for him, too, then.

That husband of mine? He’s doing his best to make the whole thing a positive experience, also. (Smart man. He’s the one who taped my handlebars pink, which thrills me to the core, and encouraged me to get a good bike jersey, because he knows I subscribe to the fashion-equals-fitness exercise mentality.)

On Saturday, he hopped right off his own trusty steed and into the kitchen, bike shorts and all, to whip up some huevos rancheros – my favorite brunch, if the rumblings my stomach is now making are any indication – to refuel us.

While he cooked, I stretched, and putzed around in the refrigerator for something to tide me over. I found the cucumber salad I’d made a few nights before, and again, obsessively, the previous night.

Then, it had seemed so perfect – crunchy and light, almost fizzy-tasting, with that celebratory champagne vinegar, and sharp, with that little dab of mustard. I made it because it seemed like such a shame to hide fresh cucumbers in a salad, or put them aside for pickles, when I could taste them just for themselves. The cucs were sliced thin, so we got all the good green flavor of the skins, but none of their sometimes-leathery texture. (Really. “Leather” and “cucumbers” should never be used in the same sentence.)

But when I opened the container after the bike ride, I just about laughed. Cucumbers? Pointless. I traded them for a piece of bacon, and sat down to wait for the rest of breakfast.

Sunday, we went for an easy hike up near Mt. Rainier, in the glowing September sun. (Oh, yes, a full weekend without work! Maybe that’s why I feel so good.) We took it easy, and my joints were more or less happy.

That wolf? I guess she’s all bedded down in grandma’s pajamas, these days. I know she’s there, and I know she’ll be back with the rains, all huffety puffety, but boy, is it nice to have some silence, for once. I do hope it’s a positive feedback loop.

Now that I’ve recovered a bit, my appetite has been correctly recalibrated, and I want another batch of those cucumbers, to celebrate Indian summer, on the porch. There are still a couple left from Friday.

Between us? They’re getting a little soggy, three days on. But that second day, they were still surprisingly crisp.

Cucumber salad

Champagne-Chive Cucumber Salad (PDF)
Here’s a recipe for cucumbers you won’t have to wait months to enjoy. It’s a simple, spunky, refreshing salad, the kind of thing you can eat standing up without feeling guilty. It’s also the perfect counterpart to rich fish, and would make a great sandwich ingredient. Slicing the cucumbers ultra thin means you get the flavor of the peel without its objectionable texture.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

2 small cucumbers (not pickling cucumbers), or about 2/3 pound
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
Salt and finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible on a mandolin, and transfer to a mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk the mustard, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste, until blended. Add the olive oil, and whisk until emulsified. Add the dressing to the cucumbers, along with the chives, and stir to coat all the cucumber pieces, using your hands if necessary to separate the slices. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 4 hours and serve chilled.

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Filed under Lunch, lupus, recipe, salad, side dish, vegetables