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Some Like It Hot

31 May

Last weekend, my husband and I attended a business dinner at Manresa Restaurant, in Los Gatos. Here are some things David Kinch, Manresa’s adorable chef (see right), would like you to know about his place:manresa chef

1. It has two Michelin stars. There are only 17 restaurants in all of America with two Michelin stars (and 11 with 3 stars, but I haven’t been to any of them).  So… wow!

2. This May, Bon Appetit Magazine voted it the fifth most important restaurant in America. Which conflicts with the folks over at Michelin, but who’s arguing?

3.  The menu offers two prix fixe options — that’s it.  As I am sure you can appreciate, that means there is no classic celiac “would it be possible for me to have the starter salad, no dressing, with grilled chicken, no sauce, on the side?” negotiation table-side.  In fact, when you get the menu all it does it offer you an imaginative vision of what six or eight courses you may be getting — your server doesn’t actually tell what each dish contains until it arrives, in all its beautiful glory,  at the table.

We had an amazing meal.  It was delicious, and creative, and inspirational, and long (unless six hours doesn’t seem long to you).  So I want to be clear — I’m not complaining.  I’m just observing.  And here is what I’m seeing, from my little gluten-free seat at the fifth best restaurant in America:

1.  When I call ahead to say I’m gluten-free, and to ask if that’s a problem, and the lovely lady at the desk tells me “absolutely not”, I would rather not have my (otherwise charming) server ask me, in front of my husband’s four colleagues, whether I really mean I’m gluten-free.  “A bit of soy would be okay, right?” he inquired with a hopeful smile.

I ask you, what would you have done, at a celebratory meal that was not about you, not at all?  Wouldn’t you have asked yourself,

“How likely is it that David Kinch is splashing Kikkoman Soy Sauce into his squab marinade?”

I thought about how each course is about the size of a marshmallow, displayed artfully on a brilliant white plate the size of a hub cap.  I thought about how, just for tonight, I didn’t want to be high maintenance. Then I smiled, agreed, and ordered a cocktail.  This one, to be specific.  manresa cocktailIt’s made with Lillet (which our loyal readers will recall was one of my early celiac management strategies). And lemon.  It was definitely gluten-free and it tasted terrific.  But even a lemon drink in a beautiful glass could not alleviate the pathos of what happened next.

2.  They brought a basket of gorgeous, artisanal oven-hot breads to the table, for everyone who was not me.  And they brought me a basket of gluten-free rolls, which were cold.  Okay, room temperature.  But you and I know that once a gf baked good has left the Land of Warm, quibbling over its exact temperature is beside the point.

If there is one thing — and only one thing — I have learned about gluten-free baking, it is this: serve it hot.  Anything you bake without wheat will already be challenged.  It will not be fluffy, or stretchy, or crunchy (although it may be crumbly, but that is different).  If you pop it in your mouth the minute it comes out of the oven, though, maybe that gf muffin, cookie, or cupcake (well, okay, not the cupcake) will vaguely remind you of the glorious baked goods of your pre-celiac life.  But let it get cold, and you are screwed.  Screwed.

Why, oh why, has the undoubtedly clever and inspired bread chef at Manresa not learned that lesson?  Or, if s/he has, why was my gf roll served cold?

Don’t get me wrong.  That room temp bread did not ruin my meal.  I had a great dinner, we had a wonderful time, all was good.  But for $180 per person, and after I called ahead and gave them loads of notice, I would have loved a hot bun.

I’m sorry, did you say “farinata”?

10 May

I know I haven’t written lately.  I’ve been busy complaining to people IN PERSON about how being gluten-free doesn’t get easier, or more fun, over time.  But Sarah and I love the comments that have been flowing in (okay, trickling — but still!),  so here I am, back again, with a whole new commitment to bitching out loud.

I’m going to start with a story about last week.  It is all about hope, and dashed hopes, and wine on an empty stomach.

My wine glass. Empty, for the second time.

My wine glass. Empty, for the second time.

But it starts a while ago, so I have to open with a little flashback:

Last fall, a cool new restaurant opened in town.  Even though Santa Cruz is (1) in Northern California, (2) a hip college town,     (3) relatively upper middle class, and (4) supposedly a coastal food mecca known (by a hopeful few) as “Berkeley on the Bay”,  good restaurants are few and far between.  Especially when you (by which I mean me) are a little high maintenance.  So we went.  Immediately.

The minute James and I walked in the door I was excited.  Bantam (note hip, bird-related name) had industrial metal windows and  funky light fixtures with Edison bulbs.  It had concrete floors and a bar made out of reclaimed lumber with flakes of paint still left all over it .  Most important, it had a fiery brick pizza oven out of which emerged, every minute or so, a crispy pie covered with fennel or heirloom tomatoes or fresh-pulled mozzarella.

I was sure they would offer a gluten-free pizza crust.

They did not.  They had “farinata”, topped with stinging nettles, and that was the sum total of their gluten-free offerings.   A farinata is a pancake-like thing made out of chickpea flour.  “Kind of like a fried polenta,” the waitress said, and then she told me, twice, that it would NOT be coming out of the pizza oven.  Apparently they prefer to cook their pancake-like things on the stove.

So, what did I do? I ordered the farinata (rhymes with intifada).  I ordered it even though (1) I do not like fried polenta, (2) I was a little nervous about the stinging nettles, and (3) the only reason I was there was for that rocking hot pizza oven.  But I am gluten-free and that means sometimes you have to be flexible.

James had the pizza, which arrived burned (hot HOT pizza oven) but still delicious, he says.

The farinata was hideous.  It tasted beany and it was soggy and, amazingly, the stinging nettles did nothing to redeem it.  I ate one bite.  But I had hedged my bets with a little salad and that was good, so my emotional take on Bantam was, overall, positive.  Not positive enough to warrant an immediate return trip, but good enough to file Bantam in my “sure, I’d go there” file.

Which brings me to last weekend.  James and I were trying to decide where to go to dinner and I (yes – this is my fault) suggested we give Bantam another try.  Surely by now they would have expanded their gluten-free options.  Surely by now  they would have gluten-free pizza crust.  I mean… Domino’s has gf crust (not that I go there, but I’ve seen the ads).

They did not.  The menu, amazingly, was exactly the same as six months ago, except for they had deleted the lovely salad and added pickled vegetables.

Our pickled turnips were not pink. They were white and sad.

Our pickled turnips were not pink. They were white and sad.

And this is why, last Saturday, my entire dinner consisted of a bowl of olives, a dish of pickled turnips, and two glasses of wine.

Also, our bowl of olives was a LOT smaller than this one.  And there was no flower.

Also, our bowl of olives was a LOT smaller than this one. And there was no flower.

What do you get when you take eight ounces of vino and a handful of  nibbles and add that to one hungry woman with a really crabby attitude?  A very short dinner, followed by a stop at 7-Eleven so she can buy herself a fistful of chocolate in a desperate attempt to salvage date night.

Oh, and a husband who suddenly remembered this really important work he had to do on his laptop right when we got home.

I suppose you could say that the point of this story is that, most of the time, I can find something delicious and gluten-free to eat.  And that would be true.

But last Saturday, all I could do was look at those cool Edison bulb chandeliers and the general Brooklyn-based decor, and say to myself, “We are never, ever, EVER coming back to Bantam.”

Like She Said.

13 Mar

I just read a great article on Salon.com about eating gluten-free for fun (don’t you just love those people?).  It is called “Dilemmas of a Gluten-Free Convert” — you should check it out.  The author may be a symbol of everything I hate about, well, everyone who doesn’t have a celiac diagnosis, but I still loved her article.  I especially appreciate her observation about sticking to wine and dodging the appetizers at cocktail parties.

Ruth Reichl, you are my hero.

Daily Treat: A great, grown-up, spicy crispy chocolate thing, with pistachio nuts. Which I baked (even though ever since The Diagnosis I don’t tend to bake very much).  I would show you a photo of the crisps, except my family ate every single crumb and all I had left was the plate, which isn’t picturesque.  So instead I will (1) give you the recipe, and (2) provide you some visuals of the book (since as we know every blog post requires a photo, QED.)

The recipe is called Pistachio-Dark Chocolate Crisps, and it comes from the Gourmet Today cookbook (page 686), which to my surprise contains a luxurious selection of naturally gluten-free cookies and desserts.  I am looking forward to trying the Fruit and Nut Chocolate Chunks and the Crispy Chocolate Marshmallow Squares just as soon as my body stops gaining weight on water and roasted fennel (since that is all I eat).

If you looked, you would find  that the crisp recipe as it appears in the book is not completely, totally gluten-free, but it only calls for six tablespoons of flour, and that is close enough for me.  I just substituted gf flour, and then I doubled the curry powder…  If you read this blog for long, you will discover I fiddle with almost all my recipes.  No apologies; it’s my way.

Pistachio-Dark Chocolate Crisps   –   converted to gluten-free by ME!


1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (I used dark, because that was all I had)

6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used Terry’s gluten-free flour mix)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon curry powder (I used 1/4 teaspoon)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg white

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used double that, of course)

1/2 cup cup roasted  shelled pistachios, chopped

I wasn't sure if this would work with GF flour, but it did!

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  Combine butter, brown sugar, flour, salt, curry powder, vanilla, and egg white in food processor and blend until smooth.

3.  Glue parchment to baking sheet with a dab of batter in each corner.

4. Spread remaining batter evenly into a 10 by 14 inch rectangle on parchment paper (yes, I did measure!), then scatter chocolate and nuts on top.

5.  Bake until firm and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes.

6.  Transfer crisp, still on parchment, to a rack to cool completely.

7.  Remove crisp from paper, breaking into pieces.  Good for dessert.  Or breakfast.

This Tastes like Crap. And Such Small Portions.

29 Feb

Don’t you just hate it when you have a great idea, but it turns to crap right before your very eyes?

That’s what  happened yesterday with my husband’s oh-so-thoughtful Valentine’s Day present.  You may recall he gave me an entire year’s worth of gluten-free treats from the GFree Pantry.  Once a month, I am scheduled to receive a wonderful, inspiring cornucopia of delicious foods to make me forget I can no longer eat Devil’s Food Cake or drink bourbon.  Here’s what a sample box looks like on the website:

All bursting with g-free potential!

Here’s what arrived in the mail yesterday:

The fluffy green tissue paper obscures how very empty this box is. Just sayin'.

Eight small packets, in a large carton, surrounded by a lot of — presumably gluten-free — air.  For $23.00.  I got Caveman Crunch Mix (oddly fluffy, possibly from the space program, circa 1975); I got Caveman Chicken Jerky (more on that below).  And then, for a change of pace, I also got Paleopeople Cacao Nut Granola Clusters — which look, feel, and taste like a raisin that got stuck on the bottom of your boot during a  sandy (and possibly also muddy) hike in the rain.  At the very bottom of the box, I found a heavy block of something called a Macrobar, which is described as “A Big Picture Food”.

I can draw that picture right now, and it will not be pretty.

You may ask, “What do all these items have in common?” And I will tell you:  They are the kinds of things that, when you offer them to your children, they will say, “Mommy, please don’t make me eat that.”

Followed by, “It looks like a dog treat.”

I tried. Really I did.  I did everything I could to make the Caveman Foods Spicy BBQ Chicken Jerky seem appetizing.  Here are three tempting presentations:

Actually, the food artist for this plate was my hubby, who greeted me with this in the morning

Nothing worked.  The kids will not eat the jerky.  My husband will not eat the jerky.  I (obviously) will not eat the jerky.  Sarah, Sarah, where is our gluten-free spittoon when I need it?

But then I looked at Lulu.  And I looked at that horrible, unappetizing Spicy BBQ gluten-free meat product.

She was not enthusiastic, but she did eat it.  She is a living, breathing gluten-free spittoon.

Once upon a time, in 1987, in Marmaris Turkey, we met an Australian who didn’t like the eggplant appetizer.  He said, “This food is crappy.  And such small portions.”  That pretty much sums up my experience thus far with specialized gluten-free food products.  You want to know why I am a Gluten-Free bitch?  Look in the box.

I just cancelled my GFree Pantry subscription.  Now I’m going to go in the kitchen and eat a bag of chocolate chips.  Got the picture?

The Daily Bitch… I Love a Messy Counter

22 Feb

So, as I’ve mentioned, for Valentine’s Day my husband gave me a year’s worth of gluten-free treats from the GFree Pantry.   And my mother-in-law gave me a two-pound box of See’s Candies.  To be specific, she sent me a box of Bordeaux, half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate.  Bordeaux is my favorite candy in the world.  Absolute favorite.  And no, my mother-in-law is not taking applications for additional daughters.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?   All See’s Candies are gluten-free.  Every single glorious bite, but especially (and most importantly) Bordeaux.  Yum.

Legally speaking, the See’s candy is officially for the “family”, but everyone knows that whenever chocolate enters the house, no matter what it says on the card, it is really for “me”.  For the past five days, therefore, I have been expending a lot of energy hiding the Bordeaux from the girls.  It has been all over the house — I can’t tell you more because the girls read this blog and it could limit my options later.

But tonight they found the box.  I know that because, when I came downstairs, the kitchen counter was covered with those little rice-shaped chocolate sprinkles that cover a See’s Bordeaux.  They were everywhere.  This was not surprising.  I know — from eating many, many Bordeaux myself — that it is impossible to eat a Bordeaux without sending a little snowstorm of chocolate jimmies down all around you.

My girls will happily tell you that I am a bit obsessive about clean counters, and I will agree — up to a point. I don’t fold laundry, and I don’t really unload the dishwasher, but I do believe in a nice, crumb-free counter top.  (Don’t even get me going on the glutinous crumbs issue.)  But when I came into the kitchen just now and saw all those chocolate sprinkles on the butcher block, all I felt was happy.  Happy for the girls, because I knew what they were eating right then.  And happy for me, because I knew what I was going to be eating in just one second.

My box of Pirate’s Booty and gluten-free graham crackers hasn’t arrived yet, but right now I’m eating a Bordeaux.

Bye bye for now,

Enid

Today’s Treat:  Can you guess?  I had one for breakfast, with my tea.  I had one for lunch, with whatever else I was eating (I don’t remember).  I possibly had a few around 4:00.  And now I’m having more.  If you don’t live in California and therefore don’t have a Sees Candy store nearby, you can order Bordeaux (dark or milk chocolate) by the box, online.  http://www.sees.com.  

I’m taking the day off from bitching.

14 Feb

Romance in a box.  Over the past 20 plus years, my husband and I have shared many lovely Valentine’s Days.  There was red wine.  There was chocolate (there was a lot of chocolate).  There was some lingerie.  There have been vases full of red roses. But this year takes the cake (pun intended).  What did he give me to celebrate our love today?  A year full of gluten-free treats.

That’s right.  Over the past few months, he’s been right there at my side, as I snivel and scowl through the supermarket, and our favorite Thai restaurant (“chicken satay with no sauce, please”), and Christmas (no persimmon pudding, no french toast, no Yorkshire pudding, yuck).  He even offered to go gluten-free with me, which I completed rejected.   I mean, really, it’s bad enough that I have to give up hamburgers; should he have to do it, too?

Basically, he has been a champ.  And now, on this day of love and romance, he comes through with the box of Pirate’s Booty, Glutino Pretzels, and Macrobars.  Plus — as he gleefully informed me when he got home from work tonight —this Valentine’s gift is deductible as a business expense!  Ahh… the romance of it.

It’s not too late.  If you are reading this blog as a way to support your Celiac Loved One, you can still go online and join the Gluten Free Tasting Club.  Or…possibly less emotionally complicated, you can buy it for yourself.  Here’s the link:  http://www.gfreepantry.com.  And here’s what they say:

GFreePantry makes gluten free dieting simple. Stop scouring the aisles for certified gluten free snacks. Subscribe to the gluten free tasting club and discover new tasty gluten free snacks each month. Discover your next favorite snack, learn a new recipe, share your own gluten free recipes with the GFree world.

I’ll keep you posted on what comes in the box, and whether  it tastes like… the box.

Bye bye for now,

Enid

Daily Treat:  Dinner out with my thoughtful hubby, where I will eat something gluten-free and (hopefully) good.  I know there will be a gluten-free choice on the prix-fixe menu because I called the restaurant in advance and asked.  Now, is that brutal or what?  Now I have to call ahead before I go on our romantic dinner.

The Daily Bitch…Gluten Invades the Bedroom.

11 Feb

Last night I had a dream about cheese.  And when I say dream, what I really mean is “nightmare.”  There I was in my kitchen (as I often am), rooting around the cheese drawer (as I often do), and I discovered that my go-to cheese, Fromager d’Affinois, had gluten in it.  It said it right there on the label, in teeny tiny letters that I could barely read.  In fact, in my dream I had to go get my glasses because the print was so small that no normal person could ever hope to read it.

Of course, I had a complete breakdown right there in front of the fridge.  For the past three months – as I have been getting used to all the deprivation associated with celiac – I have had to console myself with something, and what has that something been?  Cheese.  Now my consolation was gone.  All my efforts to be gluten-free were for nought.  Three months of no bread, no cake, no bourbon, and now this?  Betrayed by brie?

It was a very bad dream.

Ahh... cheese. So gluten-free and yet so naughty.

But then I woke up and, even though it was only five a.m., I went right downstairs and Googled “cheese gluten free”.  I was pretty sure cheese is okay, but I just had to know.  Oh, I just love the Internet.  By 5:05 I knew I was home free.  With the exception of some blue cheeses, cheese is definitely gluten-free.  There’s a great website called CeliacCentral that answers questions like this.  You can see the post on cheese right here: http://www.celiaccentral.org/ask-the-dietitian/is-brie-cheese-gluten-free/pg–1/.

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ve probably noticed how much Sarah and I think about those two pillars of gluten-free gastronomy: chocolate and liquor But cheese plays a pretty major role, too.   It is salty.  It has great mouth feel — smooth and soft, or hard and crumbly, or even a bit grainy (like a great parmesan).  It is oozing with umami, that great taste best defined as “savoriness”.  It lends a certain, I don’t know, heft to your meal, and when you’ve given up on farro, and whole wheat bread, and basically everything good, you need a bit of umami to get you through the day. (If you’re not in the mood for chocolate, that is.)

Don’t get me wrong. Given the choice, I would love to smear my brie, my camembert, my soft blue cheese on a crusty baguette, but in a pinch I’m perfectly happy to eat it on a slice of apple.  Or a (gasp) gluten-free cracker.  Or my finger.  Anything, really.

It’s nice to know I’m not going to have to give up Humboldt Fog anytime soon.  

Bye Bye for now,

Enid

Daily Treat:  Scrumptious cheese plate with Honeycrisp apple slices and Mary’s Gone Crackers.  If you don’t love your local cheese shop, try Murray’s Cheese online, at www.murrayscheese.com.  You can find Mary’s Gone Crackers gluten-free crackers at your local market or online. I like the original flavor, but they are all (surprisingly) good.  www.marysgonecrackers.com.

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