Sunday, June 28, 2009

Happy Anniversary

There are so many reasons to celebrate!

Its a little hard to believe, but I have been living gluten free for 2 years and 1 year ago today I started this blog.

The day began with some delicious masa harina-based Jonny Cakes, made with apple sauce. It was finally a beautiful day, not too hot, not raining, not humid, it was beautiful. Over 450,000 people were out to celebrate the Chicago Pride Parade, which was awesome.

After several hours in the sun, dinner at the Paramount Room rounded out a fun day with a great dinner.

I have been holding onto these pictures for a bit. It seems time to finally post them. Thanks Johnny of Arguedas Photography for these shots.

(This is my new about me photo)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wild Willy's

I had heard about Wild Willy's, a chain that offers gluten free buns at their Worcester location, but I wasn't sure if they were worth the drive till I saw this photo and review. Being in the neighborhood, I was pretty insistent that we find this joint and try them for ourselves. Frappes and a raspberry lime rickey started the meal - everyone agreed that the frappes weren't really frappes, more like milk shakes, good but not frappes. The rickey did have fresh limes but went with raspberry syrup rather than the "fresh fruit" that was touted on the menu; it still was delicious and refreshing.

The food arrived, servers knowing where to go by the giant playing cards denoting orders for each table, and I was surprised by the size and fixings. I got the Bubba burger - bacon, cheddar, bbq sauce, pickles and onions on a toasted, buttered gf bun, with a side of fries. The even bigger surprise was the fact that the bun held together through the entire burger eating session! It did have a slightly weird aftertaste, perhaps too much baking powder/soda but it was a distinctly "oh it tastes like gluten free baked goods do sometimes" taste that was not noticeable unless you took just a bite of the bun alone.

Overall it was a great meal. My only regret was not getting a giant pickle; seriously, what was I thinking?!

Friday, June 19, 2009

What should we eat?

I have been called on/out by a friend in her discussion of local and simultaneously there has been a lively discussion occurring on the ASFS listserv (Association for the Study of Food & Society) regarding what sustainable means.

I don't see local, organic, sustainable as all or nothing scenarios. In fact, I probably exemplify Danielle's farmshare + Market Basket pseudo philosophy on eating. When you can, eat locally/organically/sustainably, but those words, rules and guidelines cannot be fixed. I think that might be my biggest problem with Michael Pollan is that he [attempts to] offer(s) universal rules that people in America should follow. But for ever rule that he, Alice Waters, or [insert food critic/chef/nutritionist/food movement/diet trend or fad HERE] offer up, the food industry can quickly subvert and/or capitalize on.

Remember when the word natural meant something?
Then came ads like the 7-up bunny burp and the Now 100% Natural commercials, which now have been replaced with Snapple's better stuff commercials that imply they have found new and better ingredients, sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. (Pepsi throwback is following suit.)

So natural is out.
Organic has been co-opted by the USDA to mean something, but not really in the true spirit of the word - not to mention the fact that most small farms cannot afford the fees required to obtain that green circle of approval.
As much as I can disagree with Mr. Pollan on many things, his "everything is local somewhere" comment rings true with the confusing and manipulating usage of the word. (Is something really local if the feed/soil, pesticides and insecticides used to create it were created elsewhere and shipped across the state, or the country?)
Is sustainable just the latest fad word or marketing gimmick that is going to battle it out with "bio dynamic" or "minimally processed" for some sort of food authenticity?

QUESTION: What should we believe and eat?

ANSWER: I don't know.

Ok, that is really unfair. I eat, you can tell because I need those calories to blog. I have the free time to blog, so you know that I am able to collect enough food to not be spending this typing and thinking time working or procuring food. Yet I have to think about food and what I eat 3+ times a day because eating cannot be a mindless act when there are foods and food additives that can make me very sick.

Do I think about food more than most people? Probably.
Can I afford to eat the way I feel I should? No.
Does this mean I throw up my hands when I cannot afford a $35 chicken? No.

So, how do I eat?
Before moving to Chicago for the summer I had a diet is not easy to categorize, but here goes:
-greens, I try to eat these at least three times a week
-cheap, I shop at 4-6 different grocery stores and co-ops
-June-October/November I visit 3 different weekly farmers markets - my egg consumption rises during these months
-fish, I try to eat it once every week or two
-meat - I eat it about 2+ times a week. The Austin Farm family bring their meat to the Central Square Farmer's Market in Cambridge, MA and its the best beef I have ever tasted. I probably eat more meat in the summer for this very reason.
-dairy - I don't eat a ton of this, but Kate's butter is my favorite and worth the price
-processed foods - if its a new gluten-free product AND its on sale I have a tough time not buying it and trying it out. I probably eat more processed foods now than before I had to go gluten-free
-organic, I buy it when I can (availability and price); but this goes out the window when the farmer's markets come into town
-coffee - I love it. I drink it daily and it is not grown in New England, nor are most of the spices or gluten-free flours I use.

Are my dietary habits local or sustainable?

+I buy from a co-op & farmers markets
-Most gf products are not made in New England
+Buying more gf products might make their cost go down and make them more of an option for those that need them, thus more sustainable for the gf community

See how it gets into that tricky "sorda" area real fast?!

While it is endlessly complicated and perhaps there are no simple answers, I love talking about these problems. It is probably the biggest thing I miss about not being in school, but I am glad for it to be happening if only in cyberspace.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Paramount Room's kobe burgers

I haven't been exploring the city too much, but last night the draw of kobe burgers + a pint for $10 was too good to resist. The Paramount Room, in downtown Chicago, was a former speakeasy. The lower level even has a small landing, located at the halfway point of the descending stairs, with two tables that overlook the floor below.

In addition to the burger deal, for $2 more you can add on an order of hand cut fries or tempera string beans. The bartender informed me that the beans were dipped in a rice-flour batter and were ok to eat too. Original Sin cider was on tap and qualified as a "beer" for the beer & burger special and started the meal off on a refreshing note. (Original Sin is not my favorite cider, but it is drier than Magners, Woodchuck or Harpoon, so I was glad to grab a pint.)

The burgers arrived hot and cooked to order. (This is an exciting discovery - a restaurant where you don't have to lie or mis-order to get your burger medium-rare!)
The french fries were hot, crisp and served in a wire cone lined with paper. Beyond show, this presentation kept the fries from steaming and getting soggy, so even the last spuds were crunchy. The fried green beans however, completely stole the show. Light, crisp and cooked so the beans themselves still had some snap to them, they came with a vinegary hot sauce that made it hard to stop eating them.

I don't know if the burger was really made from kobe beef - everything I have heard about kobe it doesn't exist outside of Japan - but it was in my top 3 burgers of all time and I cannot wait to have another.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monster Cookies

This recipe was shouting at me from the back of a bag of gluten free oats. How could I resist the temptation to create MONSTER COOKIES?!

*The original recipe only called for 1/4 cup of butter, and the cookies held their shape (domed - I used a disher) and didn't spread. I stirred in the other half stick and the cookies made me happy, though they are very soft.

1 stick (1/2 cup butter) at room temp.
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup peanut butter (I used the unsweetened kind and these were plenty sugary)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups gluten free rolled oats
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup pecans (or walnuts would be good here)
1/3 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350F

1. Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.
2. Stir in the eggs and mix well till combined.
3. Stir in the peanut butter, powder and vanilla, until combined.
4. Stir in the oats, chocolate, nuts and dried fruit.
5. Spoon cookies out onto a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.

These were good, very very good.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Zatar Spiced Meatballs

Sorry for the lag in posting, but I jumped at an opportunity in Chicago and will be here for the summer. Most of it is exciting, though trying to navigate a new city is challenging in ways I hadn't expected. I got accustomed to having a decent grasp of grocery store isles and that has gone out the window. It took me 4x longer to buy a basket's worth of food because I had no idea where things were and kept finding new products and needing to pour over the fine print. I am excited about upcoming farmers markets and finding some specialty stores.

In the kitchen I have had a few dinner success; last night was an impromptu aloo mattar with brown rice that turned a few left over potatoes and half a bag of frozen peas into a great meal. Last week I made pupusas for the first time.

Tonight I embarked on Zatar spiced meatballs. This isn't much of a recipe, its more of a list of things I through together, but I am actually proud of this fact. Throwing things together in a bowl/pot/pan was how I used to cook and doing it more and more often know makes me feel like I am getting my kitchen fingers back.

Inspired by some delicious zatar I picked up at The Spice House in Evanston, IL, I decided to modified the lamb meatball recipe I made in January, and worked off this Food&Wine recipe to create dinner.

Zatar (also spelled Za'atar, satar, zahtar or zatr) is a blend of herbs, sesame seeds and dried sumac. I love it sprinkled atop hummus, but I always think of Lebanese flat bread, that my mom brought home from the deli, smeared with olive oil and zatar when the spice is mentioned. I think missing that bread might inspire my next baking project... but back to dinner!

Zatar spiced meatballs
-diced 1/4 an onion
-minced 1 clove garlic
-zatar spice [WARNING - many zatar spice blends contain roasted wheat as an ingredient. Please read carefully!]
-salt and pepper
-1lb. ground chuck

The mixture wasn't coming together too well, so I added in 1 egg to help bind everything together.
Then I formed them into meatballs:

I pan fried them in a tablespoon of olive oil, drained them and served them up.

I added lime juice to some hummus and served it with the meatballs on a corn tortilla with a slice of pickle - hot sauce on the side, a bit reminiscent of the falafel at Rami's in Coolidge Corner, Brookline, MA. For some crunch, there is cumin slaw and a watermelon & feta salad on the side.

Cumin Slaw
-head of cabbage, sliced thin
-half lime juice, half apple cider vinegar to coat cabbage
-a few pinches of salt (this is less than you think you need, its ok)
-whole cumin seeds (to taste)
Toss well to combine. This tastes better the next day.

Watermelon & Feta Salad - this is something I saw on Top Chef last season and thought was weird sounding, but always wanted to try. A sale on whole watermelons, $2.99 at Stanley's, sealed the deal. (Stanley's is seriously the most amazing place I have been to in a long time! They have the cheapest produce I have ever seen. The organic section is often way cheaper than the conventional. I was in sensory overload, and loved ever second.)
For the salad I...
-watermelon cubed
-chopped or crumbled feta
-thinly sliced onions (I used Vidalia)
-balsamic vinegar and olive oil to coat, really just a little because the watermelon will weep
-a few pinches of salt and black pepper

Dinner was a success and there is enough for left overs!

Monday, June 1, 2009