Archive | April, 2011

Going Out Again

20 Apr

Okay, we’ve already established my love of food. Have I mentioned how much I love going out to eat? (Probably.) This stems in part from laziness: Each dinner at a restaurant is one less dinner I have to make for myself. Plus, it’s often more cost-effective to dine out, as opposed to spending money on fresh ingredients that I won’t be able to use up before they go bad. (I realize this is a catch-22: If I cooked at home more and went out less, my grocery purchases wouldn’t be left to rot away in the fridge.) But mostly, I just want to eat good food prepared by folks who wouldn’t rather be doing anything else but cooking and who aren’t intimidated by a complicated recipe (like yours truly).

My celiac diagnosis has forced me to become finicky: no more blindly picking up a package without searching for the “gluten-free” label or reading the ingredients list, and definitely no more ordering willy-nilly off a menu. I’ve never felt more lucky to live in New York City—and I say that as someone who spends most of her time feeling lucky to dwell here—because there are so many gluten-free and -friendly dining options. This being said, I’m not thrilled about becoming “that” person when I go out for dinner with my peeps. You know, the one who has to dictate where we eat based on whether I can actually, um, eat anything there. Having this limitation makes it pretty hard to be spontaneous about where I go; research is now required before I set foot in a restaurant I’ve never been to. Kind of a pain in the ass, but two recent experiences give me hope that it won’t be so hard to eat what I want while still playing by the dietary rules.

My sister likes a good meal as much as I do. I didn’t think she’d be unsupportive of my condition, but I was truly taken aback that she was so game for g-free experimentation. On my first full day as a gluten-freer, we had dinner at Pala Pizza on the LES, known for its wide selection of gluten-free pizza and pasta dishes (they have regular versions of these things as well). The g-free pizza? Kind of a revelation. We went in with open minds but no expectations. Well, that’s not entirely true: I suppose we figured that if nothing else, the crust would be an adequate vessel for the droolworthy toppings (eggplant, cherry tomato sauce, mozzarella topped with ricotta salata, basil—oh, god, slobbering right now just typing them). It ended up being a lot more than that. Pala uses a mélange of flours, including garbanzo bean, fava bean, potato and sorghum. Not a mix I could ever have conjured, but it made for a crispy crust that had a nutty, white bean flavor. G-free pizza, I’m totally your bitch now.

A week or so later, I hit Bushwick, my sister’s ‘hood, to try Momo Sushi Shack (no relation to the Momofuku empire), a newish Japanese spot on Bogart. Seating is communal dark-wood tables, which I love. One of the owners came over immediately to reel off the specials, and when I asked about gluten-free options, he went through the menu with me, pointing out what I could and could not eat. Very impressive on-the-spot knowledge. We ended up getting a salmon and herb roll—it tasted like (non-existent) spring!—and splitting the pork chop special, which came with a tangy burdock-and-apple salad and the most delicious mashed potatoes I think I’ve ever scarfed down. My sister also got a pork belly appetizer (yes, we do enjoy the other white meat in my family) that I sadly couldn’t touch because it contained soy sauce. But the rest of the meal was so good, my despair was short-lived. Afterward, full but not stuffed, we walked around the corner to Arancini Bros. for rice balls, which they’ll make gluten-free on request (huzzah!). We ordered up a couple of Nutella balls, fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar. I could have had five.

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Blues for a Bagel

13 Apr

I’m a Jew, which means bagels are practically my birthright, though I would have fallen for them with or without the religio-cultural implications. Growing up, Sunday was bagel day at my house. My sister and I hopped in the car with Dad bright and early (we’d probably already been up watching Kids Incorporated anyway) to do the weekly grocery shopping before touching down at Morristown Deli for our dozen assorted bagels, cream cheese (plain and chive), thin-sliced jarlsberg and lox. In those days, Danziger’s bakery was conveniently located next store. They’d give us each a free mini cookie—buttery and crumbly, chocolate-dipped or coated in rainbow sprinkles—every time we came in. (Most weeks I’d beg my dad, rarely successfully, for one of the gigantic yellow-frosted smiley faces.) Then it was back home, where Mom was waiting, to slice the bagels, prepare the spread and eat ourselves into a carb coma. My usual: egg bagel, slice of jarlsberg on each half, toasted. The melted cheese bubbled and dripped down the sides, inevitably burning the roof of my mouth because I was too impatient not to sink my teeth in the second it was out of the toaster.

I still equate Sundays with bagels. My neighborhood place is a real hole in the wall, but I’ve never had a better bagel—they’re always fresh out of the oven, chewy and crusty and warm. I woke up last weekend with a monster craving, and it killed me that I couldn’t have what I really wanted. In an attempt to keep my tradition alive, I picked up a package of Udi’s gluten-free bagels and popped one in the toaster. I tried to keep an open mind, but knew, even before taking that first bite, that this impostor would disappoint. It was firm on the outside—not stale exactly, but you know how fresh bagels have that way of smooshing a little in your grasp? Yeah, this one didn’t do that. The inside was worse: Where was the soft bready goodness, that hallmark of any bagel worth its dough? Before spreading anything on it, I gingerly bit in: bland, very dry, not chewy. I slathered on peanut butter, hoping that would enhance the overall taste. It did not.

The thought that I may never again enjoy a real bagel is too depressing for words, and I fear there’s no gf substitute out there that won’t make me want to hurl. I really wish I didn’t know what I was missing.

My Stomach Don’t Tolerate

10 Apr

A couple of weeks ago, the title of an old Connells album popped into my head: Weird Food and Devastation. I’d just been diagnosed with celiac, and that title couldn’t have been more apt to my state of mind in the immediate aftermath. What would I even be able to eat now? What the hell is amaranth? How would I survive without pasta…and bagels…and BEER?!

Food-related allergies are a new ballgame for me. Until I started having off and on intestinal problems about a year ago, I’d always prided myself on possessing a stomach of steel (except for that time I decided beefy chili with a hot cocoa chaser was a good idea–hey, I was 10). Now, at 33, I find that my armor has unexpected cracks, and it’s a blow. I live to eat. Though I’ve been made to feel bad about that at various times in my life, I’ve never apologized for it. Good food is everything to me: love and comfort, challenging and complex, an escape and an embrace. Ridding my cupboards and my life of all the wheat-filled things I can no longer have has brought up a lot of memories and reminded me how much my life revolves around eating.

I know what you’re thinking: Another gluten-free blog? That was my first thought, too. It does seem like everyone is g-free these days, and they’re all blogging about it. What can I add to the already crowded conversation? Well, I can tell you that it’s not going to be recipes because, while I have discovered in the past year or so a heretofore untapped enjoyment of cooking, I am definitely more gourmand than gourmet. When it comes to meal prep, I’ve never met a shortcut I didn’t take. (Oh, hi, conveniently prechopped red onion!) No, what I’m more interested in is charting my course as I try to adapt my gluttonous leanings to the wacky world of gluten-free. Will gf snacks be my salvation or my undoing? Is there a gf bagel out there that’s even half as good as the doughy discs of perfection to which I long ago pledged my undying devotion? How will my new limitations affect my tendency toward dining out? My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to change my eating habits without having to change my lifestyle too much. Whether I can do it remains to be seen. Join me, won’t you?