Tag Archives: 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?

27 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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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

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