Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gluten-Free Dining Now on the Zagat Radar!

Good news for dining out! has a feature article on chefs addressing the needs of those who must dine gluten-free.

Includes several SF area restaurants with gluten-free items. Let's hope this visibility keeps increasing.
Gluten lurks in so many food substances that it's difficult to avoid. How wonderful to have items on the menu that don't have hidden pitfalls.

I'll use this bully pulpit to lobby for one simple improvement: listing ingredients in each dish. This is so helpful for anyone with food allergies, and must save the wait staff hours of reciting or making trips to the kitchen with your questions. It gives the regular diner a quick picture of what a creative dish might be like, and the allergic person is forwarned. (We steer clear of dishes like the Martha Stewart pineapple-chocolate cheesecake with mint -- our all-time winner for combining foods to which James is allergic.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

When You Don't Feel Like Cooking

There are times you don't feel like cooking. It's too much work, too much thought, too much preparation and planning.

Perhaps you never really learned to cook. There was always someone to cook for you, or a series of favorite take-out counters. Or, if you have dietary considerations, the burden of having to demystify general advice made your brain want to explode. (Tomatoes! Why does every recipe have tomatoes, when they make my sweetie ill?)

I must digress to our favorite tomato story, when James and I sang madrigals at Renaissance Faire years ago. We had stopped for lunch at a booth offering toasted sandwiches. Like all the regulars who worked and played there, we had undergone weeks of training to speak and think in Elizabethan terms. Did the sandwich have tomatoes, James asked. "Oh, no sarrrh," replied the horrified serving wench in her finest BFA (Basic Faire Accent --just think pirate if you have never been to a Renaissance Faire, it's the same corner of Southwest England). "Everyone knows that tomatoes be poisonous!" "To me, they are," James replied. It was a fine moment of intersection of history with personal diet, and we all had a most hearty laugh.

Tomatoes are one of the hardest ingredients to substitute. When a recipe calls for a dash of tomato, I can substitute Avgar, a traditional Middle Eastern blend of eggplant and red pepper now available at Trader Joes and other places. But the great can of tomatoes called for in so many recipes--I throw up my hands in dispair.

So I am at a loss to cook from my latest find on the internet: The Three-Dollar Dinner (found at Television producer Jerry Kolber has written an engaging forward about how people ate when he was growing up, and the lessons this has for us in today's economy. For anyone who's not allergic to tomatoes, it is an excellent resource on how to prepare, shop for, and cook simple, healthy meals. Tomatoes are a cheap nutritional powerhouse, so they appear in about half of the recipes.

Our personal considerations aside, there is much to enjoy in this lively, engaging ebook. (Did I mention that it is a mere $6 download?) Here's a sample of Kolber's brash, positive attitude:
This is a new kind of cookbook, perhaps the first of its kind, focused on showing you how to make fresh food that is better than most restaurants will serve you, for well under three dollars per person. It’s about reconnecting with the joy of homemade meals while recognizing that no matter what your situation is you probably don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen. This book is for:
• One income or no income families with two, three, four or more mouths to feed
• Cool kids doing what they love in the big city and getting paid next to nothing (or nothing – thanks internship!) – but who still want to nourish their bodies and souls with fantastic organic meals for around $20 a week or less each.
• People who are trying to get out of debt but don’t want to eat rice & beans every day
• Grandmas and grandpas who want to eat well on a limited income
• People who don’t have a lot of time or money but want to eat well
• Anyone who wants to impress a date with a fantastic romantic home cooked meal
• Anyone who thinks it’s cheaper and easier to eat fast food than to cook at home--I’ll prove you wrong!
I've not yet tested the handful of recipes that did not have tomatoes as a key ingredient. (It won't be soon. This week I'm determined to work through the four recipes Jacqueline Mallorca is demonstrating this Saturday at Draegers.) I figured the advice alone was worth the price. There is a great divide today between the "healthy" nation and the "unhealthy" that mirrors the great cultural divide of the late 19th Century, when the newly rich robber barons appropriated "culture" as too good for the masses, who had been enjoying Shakespeare and opera just as much as the wealthy, thank you very much. Kolber addresses the current tendency to make healthy eating the province of the elite, and seizes it for the rest of us.

And, if you suddenly find yourself cooking for the first time, Kolber's little ebook is a fine place to start. Two weeks of healthy meal planning spelled out in detail, and recipes that come together easily. And cheap. Aside from the tomatoes, what's not to like?

[Thanks to spisharam for the wonderful tomato photo and this sassy quotation that fits Kolber's spirit: Someone smart said "If organic farming is the natural way, shouldn't organic produce just be called "produce" and make the pesticide-laden stuff take the burden of an adjective? " ]