gluten-free mini cheesecakes

Standard

Since my last post, I have accomplished many items on my newly single household to-do list. Find a roommate: Check. Is that roommate a heterosexual male with a dog? Check, check. I really couldn’t be more excited. How did this possibility never cross my mind before? The situation seems totally ideal: no crying fits, no untoward drama, zero chance that we will be attracted to the same women. I’ll even get to de-sync and reclaim my menstrual cycle as my own. Mind-blowing, huh?

I’ve spent possibly too much time out with friends and too little time at work. The apartment exorcism has been progressing at a good pace so far. I got rid of her nightstand yesterday (an end table I once heroically salvaged from the street on one of Penny’s morning walks just for her, I will add).

I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time considering whether Penny would prefer plaid or animal print for Christmas. In my lonelier hours with the dog, I’m proud to say that we only have more in-depth conversations when it’s to Penny’s benefit (for example, when her obsessive ear-scratching led us to discuss the pitfalls of sadomasochism). Those of you who know me well know I’ve not gone insane, just turned the bass up on what was already normal.

I’ve also made some moves towards redecorating what will hopefully retrieve its past status as the intimate space in my apartment. I came up with a few combinations. Derisively speaking, my favorite is probably what I’ve called the “Death to the Sex Drive” collection. It includes:

These Scooby Doo Curtains.

These Scooby Doo Curtains.

And…

Screen shot 2013-11-12 at 11.06.02 AM

This Sheep-Themed Duvet.

Plus, can’t forget…

14417259_201307051025

This Underwear.

(Full disclosure: I did buy the underwear.)

Perhaps misguidedly, I’ve been taking a lot of advice from questionable sources, like MTV’s Girl Code. I had a great sandwich today. I lost my favorite earring on Bedford Avenue for fifteen whole minutes before I retraced my steps and found it. That sort of luck never happens. So seriously, folks, stop worrying about me. Penny, however, has been wearing the same sweater for three weeks now and can barely stay awake four hours a day, so if you’re itching to rescue somebody…


Eating-wise, I’ve become a wizard with leftovers and whatever “food” appears to be in the house. Yesterday I took a risk on a two-egg omelette stuffed with this weird cinnamon apple goat cheese I bought at Trader Joe’s three weeks ago. It was a win. Dinner most nights this week has consisted of a slight variation on the rice and beans  leftover from last Saturday night out in the Lower East Side. Those leftovers, plus a fried egg, some Tabasco, a frozen jalapeno chicken sausage I found in the freezer… and we’re done.

If this precis has you thinking I’ve completely let go of my culinary interests, you’re probably right for now. Being a lone, haphazardly employed grad student in New York– even unlike single life as a full-time advertising strategist in San Francisco– means I could easily be out with friends most nights, eating with an eye towards how this dish of enchiladas will look next Tuesday. My day doesn’t even start until after 1pm, and even that’s only the case for three days a week. The other four days, I’m wrestling myself into grading papers or doing a modicum of my own work, in which case I’m always eager for a distraction as soon as dinnertime rolls around.

So for now, I’ll be a drag on the gluten-grieving world. But in the meantime I have a few recipes I collected on that hiatus to tide me over.

The last party I threw involved a modified version of this lame-looking Kraft recipe for mini cheesecakes. I ingeniously (if I do say so myself) realized that I could replace the crust with thumbprinted crumbs from TJ’s otherwise totally creepy gluten-free, soft-baked snickerdoodles. This is what happens when white trash logic meets hipster baked goods. If you can’t imagine what rolling crumbs up into a ball and then mashing them into the bottom of mini cupcake tins looks like, here are a few visuals:

IMG_5791

Yes, chipped nail polish and all.

IMG_5793

The thumbprinting is the hardest part. After that– and some basic blending and oven pre-heating– you end up with three dozen mini-cheesecakes, each of which I topped with a raspberry or blackberry, because it involved the least effort possible. Raspberry, from what I heard, was the favorite.

IMG_5799


gluten-free mini cheesecakes
adapted from kraft recipes

yields 36
prep time: 20 min.
cooking time: 40 min.

4 8 oz. packages regular cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
9 Trader Joe’s soft-baked, gluten-free snickerdoodles, quartered
36 mini cupcake tins and a 12- or 24-cup mini cupcake pan
1 8 oz. package fresh raspberries
1 8 oz. package fresh blackberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Blend the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  3. Fill cups of cupcake pan with as many cupcake tins as needed. Roll each quarter of a snickerdoodle into a ball and then flatten one quarter-sized thumbprint into the base of each tin. This substitutes crust for the cheesecake.
  4. Fill each tin just over 3/4 full with the cheesecake batter.
  5. Bake 20 minutes. Allow mini cheesecakes to cool before removing them from the pan. Then repeat the process with each following batch until 36 mini cheesecakes are done.
  6. Refrigerate all cheesecakes for three hours. Before serving, add a raspberry or blackberry to each.

the breakup edition: bachelor’s gluten-free penne with salami, olives, and feta

Standard

I’ve taken a long, unintentional hiatus from this blog. Sometimes, you just have to step back from the fun stuff and pay attention to all the fine, ugly details of your life as it collapses into a grizzled husk at your feet. After all, once the devastation settles, you will need as many gory moments to replay, psychoanalyze, and rage over as possible. Otherwise, what else will you do with your now seemingly endless hours of empty free time, except write more blog posts?

Within these posts I kept quiet about the unsettlement going on at home. I kept quiet in general, hoping, as we all do when life gets bad, that reality might turn a corner. So it came as a surprise to a lot of people when K and I broke up two weeks ago. I’d even done such a good job of sketching out a foolproof, reasonable narrative around our unhappiness that I was equally shocked when my just-shy-of-three-years-long relationship abruptly ended.

Happiness, for me, has always been the exception, as far as ways of life go. Unhappiness is, of course, disappointing and soul-deadening, but for whatever it’s worth, it’s familiar and therefore hard to gauge or terminate without a lot of doubt. Plus most people seem to think of lesbian couples as having some sort of special proclivity for eternal commitment. Especially if you and your ex are both at least moderately viable for whatever reasons. The question seems to be, why aren’t you mating for life? It’s the Penguin Theorem. There are so few options out there, and only the dregs remain anyway. Chisel out your igloo and then attempt to breed once a year until one of you dies. Doesn’t that sound ideal?

It sounds like marriage to me. We did the right thing in letting go now; once the ice clenches around my heart, it rarely thaws. I’m lucky to have gladiators for friends, several of whom are going through the same pain. Skin monster (a.k.a. Penny) simulates human warmth with some level of authenticity. I don’t know how anyone reels back from one or three or five years of togetherness without a skin monster to clutch.

As for me, I’m startlingly functional. In the words of one of my closest friends, I have restrained myself to “two bouts of suicidal ideation a week.” (I’m kidding.) Too much alone time does lure the depression back; I either end up listening to Rufus Wainwright’s “Hallelujah” a thousand times, identifying with a different moment in each session (currently, the sexy, sadistic bit, “She tied you/ To a kitchen chair,/ She broke your throne, and she cut your hair,/ And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah,” is reigning strong), or look for any reason to use a hammer.

Otherwise I went through the Kübler-Ross grieving cycle with an alacrity that astonished even myself. As I told another friend, imagine that the emotions I have left are like images on screens all over Times Square. If you were standing beneath those screens as they began to flicker off one after another, you’d have the sense that something apocalyptic was probably about to happen. But at least it would be an orderly, or even peaceful, kind of apocalypse. And hey, if all the glitter suddenly flashed back on again, you’d be all the more humbly surprised. What better end could you ask for?


Eating has probably been the most difficult symptom of depression to overcome. Or, at least, eating normally, or eating with even the vaguest gesture towards giving a shit about what I’m eating. Initially I was gorging on gluten-free cupcakes from all over the city and whole pints of ice cream. It was like I was ten years old again, aiming to bury my loneliness and alienation at school in the bottomless pit that braced my KMart size-16 elastic waistband. The thing about bingeing is that you just feel emptier with each bite. So then you anxiously pack the bites in, and before you know it, you feel like the glutton corpse in Seven– bloated and dead inside. 

Then I threw myself into work. Or, more accurately, making really shitty but nevertheless time-consuming attempts to catch up with work. As a result, I forgot to eat lunch for several days and drank my calories in after-dinner drinks with friends practically every night. That, I realized, was not a great alternative to gorging; it did, however, make me feel just as sorry for those who are sober as for those who are without skin monsters.

More recently I’ve tried to reconcile my murdered appetite and crunched time by stocking my freezer with overpriced gluten-free pizzas and Annie’s rice-based mac and cheese. While this solves the convenience problem, it only appears to aggravate my wallet and the potential for weight gain. The last thing I need right now is to become a fiscally or physically unviable penguin.

So, the recipe I have here represents a very slapdash attempt I made this week to invest some interest in my own self-preservation by actually cooking again. It’s something of a kitchen-sink pasta that gave me an excuse to go to Sahadi’s, one of my favorite grocery stores in Brooklyn (I am aware of how hipster-lesbian it is to have a favorite grocery store in Brooklyn; bring on the judgment). I’m sure it possesses no nutritional value whatsoever. But insofar as it combined some of my favorite ingredients (cured meat, feta, olives), which also have the gustatory effect of transporting me back to one of my favorite places/times of life (Istanbul), and required little to no work, it worked for me.

photo-1


bachelor’s gluten-free penne with salami, olives, and feta

serves one (that’s right, one; it’s a new age, people)
prep time: 5 minutes
cooking time: 10 minutes

1 cup gluten-free corn penne
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
10 olives, various kinds, pitted and chopped, at room temperature
4 slices of salami and/or prosciutto, at room temperature (I was using the last of one of the multipacks that Trader Joe’s now sells)
2 tbsp. crumbled feta
squeeze from 1/4 a lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (approx. 1/3 tsp. each)

  1. Put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil. Cook penne according to package directions (8 minutes in a rolling boil).
  2. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Mix in olive oil and lemon juice, then add chopped olives, cured meat, and feta. Finish it off with salt and pepper. Add more olive oil, sparingly, if the pasta seems too dry for your taste.

gluten-free spinach, red pepper, and goat cheese frittata

Standard

The end of my summer has been a roller coaster of gluten-free ups and downs. A pretty shitty roller coaster, as far as roller coasters go. Something like a wooden doom buggy on wheels. The dips in its track are more like hiccups; every so often, there’s a harsh turn, but no loop-de-loops. You descend from the platform with a headache and a queasy, jittery feeling that won’t leave their kneecaps. And really, the only rush is in knowing that each year you ride it increases the statistical chance that you could have died but didn’t, and, well, that’s kind of great (or not, depending on your mood).

Immediately following my last entry, I boarded my flight to San Francisco with a fever and only five minutes to spare. About forty elderly white women in the security check line at 6:30am berated me and K for our “poor planning” as we begged our way to the front. I took two Excedrin PM as soon as I buckled my seatbelt. The flight attendant jostled me awake twice in the first fifteen minutes, because apparently passengers are required to be conscious for this part. As if I’m less likely to drown in a tragic plane crash half awake with my limbs partially immobilized by sedatives. Then I slept for four hours.

When I awoke, I felt miraculously cured. Given that I don’t believe in miracles, it seems far more likely that the prospect of being in my favorite place in the world in just shy of an hour was enough to jolt my body out of its usual ambivalent dejection.

Whatever it was, we had a fantastic time. Between late night dance parties with my adoptive lesbian aunts, the continued survival of Idol Vintage, all the amazing friends I’d forgotten how much I missed, and the frighteningly beautiful 75-degree weather we experienced, I couldn’t have asked for better.

Unsurprisingly, I ate well in San Francisco. For the first time in a full year, I had gluten-free French toast at Radish, a bistro directly across the street from the Lex, a dingy lesbian bar one good friend calls “the troll cave,” in the Mission, near where I used to live. It was also the site of at least one or two of my more woeful attempts at meeting sane women in queer mecca. So yeah, memory lane.

Another friend who had just recently moved to Noe Valley walked us to the best gluten-free pizza I have ever had at Paxti’s just a few blocks from her new home. San Francisco also had the worst regular pizza I ever tasted before I knew I was slowly decomposing my small intestine, so it feels like a fair trade off.

At Straw, my favorite restaurant in San Francisco (it’s circus-themed), a new-to-me, gluten-free menu noted the regular menu items that wouldn’t cause me great distress. And so I tried their “say that times ten” entree (blackberry barbecue ribs, scallion buttermilk mashed potatoes, cider slaw) and relegated myself to drinking a vodka cocktail for once (mostly because it was rimmed with Fun Dip, which is, in case you were wondering, GF).

Bi-Rite Creamery now has a gluten-free cake cone; I shamelessly ordered a triple-tiered cone two or three times in seven days. Philz, my favorite coffee joint, served two kinds of gluten-free coffee cake (lemon almond and vanilla cinnamon?) at their 24th Street location. In fact, every coffee shop we went to advertised a gluten-free pastry at some point in the day.

 

Even in the one place we ate where there weren’t any gluten-free bread swap-outs available (the Pork Store Cafe, where the egg scrambles were nevertheless delicious), the waitress looked unsettlingly ashamed to have to admit it and apologetically promised that they’re “looking into it soon.” To be fair, I probably should have been ashamed of myself when I stole a plate full of bacon from the table immediately next to us. (They left without having eaten more than a slice of it. What do you do if you want the bacon? You take the bacon. In my defense, I was bringing San Francisco one step closer to their goal of having zero waste by 2020.) But that’s one of the things I love most about San Francisco: shame will only ever fail to thrive there.

Feeling normal can feel very strange when you’ve been, well, estranged from any semblance of it for so long. Suddenly I could be a person who didn’t need to double- and triple-check the menu online for some evidence of food I could consume before leaving the house. I didn’t need to bring lunch from home for a pizza party going on. I never once worried about the possibility of going hungry around happy people.

Our best find by far was the Flying Pig Bistro, a newish cafe in SoMa on South Van Ness that provided a gluten-free alternative for absolutely everything on their menu. Even herbed focaccia bread, fake chocolate Hostess cupcakes, and beer. Three different kinds of excellent gluten-free beer (all from a brand I’d never encountered before, called Omission).

I really had never thought I’d have focaccia bread, one of my favorites, ever again. When it came time to eat my mango-chicken sandwich from the Flying Pig on the plane home the next day, I gorged on it with more than a little regret already.

My younger sister, who is also now gluten-free, visited the weekend after I got home to New York, and we attempted to replicate a convincing version of the fantasy that we could move through the city like regular people by going on a bakery romp through the East Village. Tu-Lu’s, where the cupcakes are still very good, and the coffee cake was particularly stellar this time around. Jennifer’s Way, where a raspberry thumbprint cookie cost $4. Big Gay Ice Cream, where the transvestite matron at the door and the salty pimp dip on a gluten-free cone almost gave me the illusion that I was still in San Francisco.

Almost, but not quite. That about sums up all my feelings about New York in the wake of San Francisco. There are times when it doesn’t even make the grade for the “almost, but” half of that statement. Like when I go to a department event, find nothing edible, and have to duck out for fifteen minutes to purchase a $7 salad at a cafe nearby; or when I mill through three grocery stores to find granola that doesn’t have wheat flakes in it; or when I get really excited to find three ciders and one GF beer advertised at Buffalo Wild Wings, only to learn that they only maybe have one bottle in stock, and that one bottle is Strongbow. At least it’s not Woodchuck, right?


School starts in barely five days. That recurring reality every August is no longer frightening. Fear has been replaced with an automatic sort of passive resignation that is far more manageable. Disappointment, like the inability to eat in most public places, has become normal. So, I start the semester patiently sipping my scotch until the disappointments start to emerge.

Until then, I’m again attempting to think ahead to foods I could make and cart with me to school for lunch. The reality that my schedule only puts me on campus for school during lunchtime once a week has not yet dawned on me. Thus I experimented with making a frittata.

I decided to make a frittata (and bought the ingredients for it) long before I read about how to make one and realized it typically requires a cast-iron pan, one of which I do not own. So as usual, I improvised in my unconvincing, ad-hoc way, and something delightfully edible, even if perhaps not quite a “real” frittata, emerged.

This crust-free frittata was incredibly easy to make. It just involved sauteing a few vegetables in a pan…

photo (35)

 

Crumbling some flavored goat cheese (I used tomato basil, but you can use any kind that’s not fruity) into some beaten eggs before adding the veg mixture…

photo (36)

 

Pouring all of that into a very greasy pie pan…. (There’s no photo of this because it looks almost identical to the finished product and therefore seemed redundant.)

To baking it until it’s set…

photo (38)

 

And serving it with some spring mix!

photo (34)

 

I am slightly sketched out by how long quiche and frittata seem to keep, but I plan on eating the last slice of it today, and it’s been six days, so if you never hear from me again, you’ll know what happened.


gluten-free spinach, red pepper, and goat cheese frittata

serves 6-8
prep time: 15 minutes
cooking time: 30 minutes

2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 one red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 bunch spinach, chopped and de-stemmed
10 large eggs, beaten
4 oz. tomato basil goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
spring mix, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, as desired
unsalted butter for greasing the pie pan

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pepper and onion, sauteing until tender (3 min.).
  3. Add the chopped spinach to the pan and wilt (2 min. more). Remove from heat.
  4. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat or whisk ten large eggs. Crumble the goat cheese into the uncooked scrambled eggs. Stir in the vegetable mixture and spices.
  5. Heavily grease a 10-inch pie pan with butter. Pour in the egg mixture.
  6. Cook for 15 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven.
  7. Rotate the pie pan and time for another 15 minutes (checking at 10 min.). Remove from oven once a toothpick (or chopstick, or knife…) in the center of the frittata comes out clean.
  8. Serve with spring mix, olive oil, and a little red wine vinegar.

tofu, bok choy, and broccoli stir fry with gluten-free szechuan sauce

Standard

Yesterday I had to cancel today’s ice cream plans with a friend because of a dental emergency. This friend had very kindly alerted me to finding gluten-free ice cream in Alphabet City last week. I didn’t mention that I pretend not to know that ice cream sometimes has gluten in it. Even so, I was very disappointed to have to take a raincheck on such a thoughtful gesture. Little did I know that the disappointment only started there.

When I explained what had happened with my teeth– that I appeared to have swallowed at least a third of one of them– she aptly commented on the absurdity of the situation. She also asked if I feel like I’m on The Truman Show. I forgot to reply to that text (sorry, R!), but it got me thinking.

No, I do not feel like I’m on The Truman Show. I feel like I’m the Corpse Bride. Oscillating between mild depression and torrid rage over my normal state of half-death, just waiting for body parts to fall off and remind me that I have control over nothing. Or, in this case, for a mini gummy bear to dance down my throat with a segment of one of my few remaining molars.

You see, I think it would be somewhat false (no pun intended) to call the bone fragments in my mouth “teeth.” They’re more like various prostheses intended to simulate the experience of teeth. I wait for them to fail me, as I do all the semi-permanent fixes for virtually every problem in my life.

So initially, I flipped out when I noticed a huge piece of my tooth was gone yesterday afternoon, on Thursday. Denial had me routing out a mini flashlight from the toolbox and peering at my mouth in the bathroom mirror, as if to disprove my tongue’s imprecision. Anger had me dialing the dentist and tasting blood (this was pretty literal) and ranting when they couldn’t see me until 11:30am the next morning.

After that, as usual, I got tired of whatever those third and fourth stages of grief are and jumped straight to resignation. Resignation persisted as a pleasant enough feeling until this morning.

An hour and twenty minutes before my dental appointment, my body catapulted me into a celiac flare-up. Yes, the celiac flare-up I’d been anticipating all week. Accompanied by the early onset of my period, and the total annihilation of any satisfaction I theretofore found in surviving.

I know that sounds melodramatic, but the next time you find yourself doubled over in pain and unable to stop shitting, remember to let me know how that feels.

What is that kind of cataclysmic collision of pain like? It feels like Drano snaking through your intestines. It makes your hands shiver. But it also isn’t so powerful that you forget not to grit your teeth (in an effort to avoid making other currently well-behaving problems worse).

So, I pulled my shit together, so to speak. Focused on swallowing and walking the ten minutes to the A train. Wished violent deaths on the three men who gave me my daily catcalls. Hoped my final paroxysm might involve vomiting on at least one of them.

On the subway, forcing myself to read had the surprisingly salutary effect of pushing the pain aside. By the time I got to the dentist, I felt almost normal. As usual, my dentist, Dr. K., shook his head with pity upon looking into my twenty-five-thousand-year-old mouth. He admired my serenity in the chair as he drilled into the remains of my broken tooth. The wads of cotton he removed were stained with blood that I hadn’t realized I was losing.

For my part, I imagined that I was back at Splash Mountain in Disney World last week. Except my Splash Mountain was called Scotch Mountain, and there were no children. Only dogs, ruled by Penny.

Thanks to the anesthesia, I drooled on myself for the length of the subway ride home. It was kind of nice. No one spoke to me on the walk back, which was also nice.

Should I lose all my teeth by middle age and come to share Penny’s most recent moniker (“mush mouth,” given to her by a custodian in the building), there will be those benefits. They’re not dazzling benefits, per se, but they’re something.


The truth is that I care about as much about the recipe part of this blog as you probably do. So, I’m running out of them. But I like to think that it keeps me in check, and the recipe box app on my phone is shit.

Here’s one I photographed but never posted a couple months ago. I often have cravings for Chinese food (which is possibly the hardest craving to satisfy if you’re gluten-free, because hardly any restaurant uses Tamari in place of good ol’ wheat-filler-filled soy sauce).

I drained a block of extra-firm tofu, using a recently newly GF friend’s method. Place the tofu brick on a paper towel on a large plate. Put another plate on top of the tofu brick. Let it squash for ten minutes.

Then I cut it into triangles, because I like triangles. These turned out to be incredibly difficult to brown on all five sides. BUT WHATEVER.

IMG_3155

Because I had to make it from scratch, I learned what Szechuan sauce basically is. Garlic, fresh ginger, sesame oil, peanut butter, Tamari, cooking sherry, rice vinegar, honey, and sriracha. Bet you never knew that. I don’t have a photo of this because it basically just looked like mud in a blender, and my media quota is running low.

Meanwhile, I sauteed the broccoli until tender and wilted a box of baby bok choy from Trader Joe’s.

IMG_3158

And oh, right, there was rice cooking. Once all that was done, I combined the tofu and sauce into the above pan with the vegetables and ladled it over the rice. The sauce was thick, but very satisfying. And successfully reminiscent of Szechuan sauce, like my teeth are reminiscent of teeth.

IMG_3160


tofu, bok choy, and broccoli stir fry with gluten-free szechuan sauce

serves four
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 25 minutes

1 1/2 cup brown rice, cooked to package directions
14 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and triangled (or cubed, if you’re less of a masochist)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 tbsp. sesame oil, divided
1/4 cup. smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp. Tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. sriracha
2 tbsp. warm water
2 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
1 medium head broccoli, cut into florets
1 pound baby bok choy, cut from the stem
4 green onions, sliced, white parts separated from green

  1. Put one and a half cups brown rice on to steam or cook according to package directions.
  2. In a blender, combine all ingredients for Szechuan sauce (garlic, ginger, two tablespoons sesame oil, peanut butter, Tamari, sherry, rice vinegar, honey, sriracha, and warm water). Pulse until sauce is smooth. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat remaining two tablespoons of sesame oil over medium heat. Drain the tofu and pan fry it until it’s browned on all sides, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer tofu to a large plate.
  4. Add canola or vegetable oil to the saute pan. Keep heat on medium. Cook broccoli florets, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until tender– about 6 minutes. Add bok choy and white parts of green onion. Stir until wilted, roughly 3 minutes.
  5. Return tofu to the pan, and add the sauce, tossing until the vegetables are covered. Heat for 1-2 minutes more. Serve over rice, sprinkled with remaining green onion slices.

gluten-free bean, spinach, corn, and quinoa enchiladas

Standard

A year ago on a date I don’t remember, I started this diet. I don’t bookmark most milestones; saving the date seems superfluous. I figure I’ll be either dead or similarly nonplussed the next time the anniversary rolls around.  This event was no exception. The only difference was that starting the diet felt something like starting a life sentence. Like prison. Or marriage.

It would figure, also, that I’d royally eff up said diet the very same month that marks one year of living peaceably under its reign. I’d like to blame Florida, where I spent the last five days. I’d like to blame Disney World, where ostensibly everything is fried. The same could be said for Orlando at large, but that’s redundant.

I was in Orlando for a national conference where I presented my first academic paper. The paper was about New York City-based, HIV-positive performance artist-activist, Hunter Reynolds (whose work is amazing– check it out). In retrospect, it seems a little ironic that part of my argument involved rewriting stigmas against AIDS that see HIV-positive bodies as emaciated, vulnerable, weak, etc…

I didn’t exactly go hungry. I don’t have that kind of willpower. But I also didn’t have enough money to buy the $39 room service entrees that I knew would definitely be safe and gluten-free.

So what did I do? (Besides curse the hotel for not serving the only gluten-free item on the menu, an english muffin, after 11:30am every day?) The first day, I held out from eating dinner until midnight, when room service was finally about to close and $18 didn’t seem so expensive for a tuna salad anymore. The next day, I ate a gourmet salad of “native Florida greens” (the native Floridian next to me assured me that something called “swamp cabbage” was the only truly native green to Florida, and it was not among the spring mix on my plate). Left craving protein, I ate a plateful of chipotle-basted “naked” wings at dinner (okay, at Hooters, where our nymphet waitress gave me the stink eye for asking an overly complicated, dietetic question about the “naked” wing and sauce combinations).

That experience taught me that it definitely wasn’t worth asking after the non-obvious contents of entrees anymore. At lunch the next day, I got lucky when the taco truck manager was able to scrounge up six corn tortillas from the back of a shelf. I hope Florida is the only place I’ll ever go where even tacos are made with flour tortillas.

By the time dinner happened, I was so over the hassle that I pretended not to notice that the pulled pork and cheese sauce on the nachos I was eating in an ale house were both advertised as being made with beer. The gluten-free options (no-frills protein that would have gone on sandwiches, like grilled chicken, plus rice pilaf) were $3 more than the daredevil nachos.

And then by my last day in Orlando, when my southwest salad in Disney’s Frontierland arrived mixed up in probably flour-based tortilla strips that weren’t shown in the picture, I really couldn’t have cared enough to protest. Between the huge amount of processed carbohydrates and near absence of fruit and vegetables I’d eaten, I sensed my stomach would hate me later. Suffice it to say that,  in my first two days of being back in my old Brooklyn routine, my body is proving me right.

What will I do differently when I travel to San Francisco next week? I will be paranoid. I will pack a loaf of bread in my suitcase (even though it’s fucking San Francisco, for God’s sake). I will go to the grocery as soon as I arrive, even if it requires taking the worst bus in the city (even if it requires taking two of them). But I will probably still refrain from asking whether the salt water taffy at Z. Cioccolato has gluten in it, because I’m stubborn, and I don’t really ever learn from anything I do.


An affordable entree I saw everywhere in my trip was one I could never actually have: a chicken caesar wrap. I could not eat it for three reasons. First, it sometimes involved breadcrumbs. Second, it almost certainly involved artificially processed caesar dressing thickened with flour. Third, flour was the only choice of wrap.

So, I bought the ingredients to make my own gluten-free chicken caesar wrap this week, which I can’t share here yet since I haven’t made it. What makes it possible are the surprisingly, amazingly, comparably real brown rice tortillas sold at Trader Joe’s, which are the basis for this summery burrito recipe as well.

I adapted this recipe from Real Simple in order to make it gluten-free and add a few more vegetables. I know I’ve said this before, but you don’t have to subject yourself to gluten-free food in order to enjoy anything on this blog. In fact, you get to be the privileged reader who can enjoy more and pay less by swapping out my ingredients for whatever you would have normally bought if you didn’t know brown rice tortillas existed (which, chances are, you didn’t know anyway before reading this post).

IMG_2502

As usual, I chop all the vegetables (jalapeno, onions, garlic) first. To avoid seeds in chopping jalapeno, start by cutting lengthwise down the outer edge of the pepper, then gather all four or five strips and chop at once.

At the same time, I cook the quinoa according to package directions (1. Rinse 1 cup of quinoa thoroughly in cold water, until the runoff is no longer murky. 2. Bring to a boil in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 cups water or vegetable broth. 3. Lower heat and cook, covered, 15 minutes. 4. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.)

In a large, shallow saucepan, I heated olive oil and then cooked the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. I then poured in the vegetable broth, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of cayenne before mixing in the pinto beans. Once that had boiled, with only two minutes left, I tossed in the frozen corn and whole fresh baby spinach leaves, folding the vegetables over each other until the spinach had wilted.

IMG_2505

As usual, I overfilled the burritos. This recipe could have easily made enough for six people (we only used it for four). Layer contents on the tortilla in the following order: 1. Quinoa; 2. Shredded cheddar (so that it melts); 3. Vegetable mixture; 4. Salsa and sour cream (if desired). The ideal way to make a burrito involves filling the center just enough so that you can still pinch the sides inwards (imagine gift-wrapping a box) and then fold the wider ends over to make a pocket.

IMG_2506

I served each burrito alongside slices of avocado drizzled in lime, to make sure the avocado wouldn’t turn color while we were eating.

IMG_2508


gluten-free bean, spinach, corn, and quinoa enchiladas

serves six
prep time: 5 minutes
cooking time: 20 minutes

1 cup quinoa
2  tbsp. olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 15.5-oz. can pinto beans
3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
1 10-oz. bag fresh baby spinach leaves
6 10-inch brown rice tortillas
12 oz. sharp white shredded cheddar cheese
salsa, sour cream, sliced avocados to taste

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions
  2. Heat olive oil in large, shallow saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook 4 minutes, or until onion is translucent.
  3. Pour in the vegetable broth. Add pinto beans, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Once liquid is mostly dissolved (2-3 min.), fold in corn and spinach leaves. Cook over medium heat until spinach is wilted (2 more min.).
  4. Separating the contents evenly over the six tortillas, layer the cheddar cheese, quinoa, then vegetable mix, then salsa and sour cream (or take whatever you need for the number of burritos you want to make now and save the rest for leftovers).
  5. Pinch the sides of the burritos and fold over width-wise, to make a pocket. Serve with avocado and lime, if desired.

the best potato salad you will ever have

Standard

When you’re a graduate student, summer could mean any number of things. Drudgery in the basement archives of overly air conditioned libraries. Existential crises around relationships that you’d spent the last six months conveniently neglecting. Barbecues, sun poisoning, and, with any luck, some reading along the way.

My summer so far has been a mix of most of these things. Because school’s out, I wouldn’t have social contact unless I scheduled it. This means a lot of beach outings, parties, holidays, and festivals. A lot of fun, for sure, but also a lot of food.

This is my first full summer as a celiac; when I was diagnosed last August, I leapt almost immediately into a new semester at school, which meant I had a lot of opportunity to control my diet strictly. I could bring my own lunch, cook my own dinner, remain unable to afford going out, and never worry about affecting anyone else’s plans.

So far, this summer has made me realize two things: 1) it is not easy to take me to places like the boardwalk (from funnel cakes to zeppoles, pizza to ice cream cones, lager to malt liquor, it’s all off limits); 2) I’m lucky to have friends who have learned to be so sensitive to my limitations, though I realize that not everyone has that kind of luck.

One of the most common questions I get in these excursions is, what would eating gluten do to you? It’s never asked as an accusatory question, at least among my friends. No one is ever insinuating you’ve got a fake disease (trust me, I know what it’s like to have those, re, fibromyalgia). Most people just literally cannot comprehend a body that can’t process something as basic as bread. They also think gluten is in wine. They assume that it could possibly be in everything (theoretically, it could) and are very touchingly worried about accidentally walking you into any gluten grieving.

Since I’ve been asked about what eating gluten would do to me about five times in the last month, I’ve been trying to come up with a stock answer. Here’s what I’ve got so far (and the reasons why I don’t think it’ll work in reality):

  • “You know how lactose intolerant people can’t drink milk? It’s like that.” Except it’s not. Eating gluten in spite of an intolerance increases risks of bowel and colon cancer. Eating lactose in spite of an intolerance causes flatulence. See the difference? (Okay, it may be a difference of degrees, but it’s still a difference.)
  • “It’s kind of like an allergy.” Except that real food allergies kill you swiftly. Gluten intolerance prefers slow violence (see above).
  • “My doctor says that if I eat it enough, I’ll have bowel cancer by the time I’m forty.” Too melodramatic. Will shut down any conversation. No one likes to think they insinuated that you’ll get cancer from eating the birthday cake they just offered you.
  • “It just makes me really uncomfortable. Stomach sick, for a few hours or a few days.” Not melodramatic enough. It sounds like you’re describing something a Tums could fix. And no one understands just how much you’re trying to convey with a humble word like “uncomfortable.”
  • “Wikipedia it.” Way to be helpful, asshole.
  • “It slowly eats away at the tissue on the walls of my intestines until they leak like colanders.” Graphic. The kind of poetry that isn’t informative.
  • “It starts with a stomach ache, then loosens my bowels, sometimes leaving me constipated for days.” Way too graphic. Impolite (but not as impolite as you could be). But probably the most accurate.

As you can see, I’ve not been so successful. It’s hard to talk about your dysfunctional bowels on a beach full of tan, healthy twenty-somethings. I’ve never been very forthcoming about my bodily movements; as my high school friends will tell you, there was a long-running inside joke that I was too prim to poop (how ironic). You should let me know if you have any ideas of your own.


Now onto the recipe. I sound uncharacteristically confident in the title for this one, don’t I? You’ll notice it’s also missing the “gluten-free” tag– though it is indeed gluten-free. (I’ve been adding that to titles recently because, with two years having passed since the one year when I worked at Google, I finally remembered that search logarithms only work one way: you must mention the keyword in order to make it searchable. Imagine that.)

I brought my “secret” potato salad recipe to a Fourth of July party this Thursday knowing that I’m not fantastic at keeping secrets, and the second anyone gushed about how great it was (because really, it is; if you think I’m acting like an asshole, just read one of the 59 previous entries of reckless self-excoriation, and you’ll feel vindicated), I’d end up blazoning it on the internet for all the world to see.

Luckily my world is fairly small, and if a heart-stopping potato salad is enough to catapult me into cyber fame, so be it. Especially since Penny continues to fail without fail on that count.

She manages unmitigated failure even with head shots like this. That's pretty impressive.

She manages unmitigated failure even with head shots like this. That’s pretty impressive.

Also, my friends were kind enough to invest in some gluten-free hot dog buns (made of tapioca… mm, huh?) for me at Fairway, so that I could eat hot dogs on a roll like a real person at a barbecue. I’d tried two grocery stores earlier in the day and, as usual, had failed to find anything I could consume. As I told them, GF bread products are hardly ever about the taste anymore; all that matters is the simulated experience of normal human social engagement that they facilitate.

The secrets to this potato salad are twofold: the vegetable combination and the creamed sauce that goes into it. This recipe is kind of extravagant for a side dish. It took me over an hour to prepare it. Since I had just discovered the Americana Station on Pandora for this installment of Fourth of July cooking, time flew. Shredded carrots, celery, green onions, and jalapeno go into one mixing bowl for the vegetable mix.

IMG_3536

In a separate bowl, I combined mustard, relish, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, and spices for the sauce.

IMG_3537

Toss the chopped potatoes in with the vegetables before adding the sauce (oh, right, the potatoes have been boiling and then cooling the whole time you’re doing the rest of this).

IMG_3538

And then I folded in the mayonnaise mixture, adding a bit more sea salt and cracked pepper on top.

IMG_3539


the best potato salad you will ever have
serves 12-14

prep time: 30 min.
cook time: 20 min.

8 large white potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, and cubed
3 stalks celery, diced
5 whole green onions, sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 jalapeno, minced
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
2 cups Hellman’s mayonnaise
2 tsp. yellow mustard
2 1/2 tbsp. sweet pickle relish
1 1/2 tsp. dill seed
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
10 grinds black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

  1. Bring a stockpot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, scrub and peel potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1-inch cubes and add to pot. Boil 20 minutes.
  2. While the potatoes are boiling, mix celery, carrots, green onions, and jalapeno into a medium mixing bowl.
  3. Remove the potatoes from the heat. Hard boil four eggs (To hard boil the eggs: Immerse the eggs in a quart saucepan with enough cold water to rise about an inch above the eggs. Salt the water, bring it to a boil, and boil, half-lidded, for two full minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and set a timer for 15 minutes. Drain the saucepan and run the eggs under cold water for 5 minutes, then peel.)
  4. While the eggs are boiling, combine the ingredients for the sauce (mayonnaise, mustard, relish, dill seed, zest, garlic, onion, pepper, and salt).
  5. Once the eggs are peeled and finished, chop or crumble them into the mayonnaise mixture and combine, carefully.
  6. Now the potatoes should be cool. Chop them further if they are not bite-sized. In the stockpot, combine with the vegetable mixture first, then fold in the sauce. Toss to combine.
  7. For best results, store in an airtight container and refrigerate for 3 hours before serving. Makes 12-14 side servings.

slow-cooker, gluten-free vegetarian ratatouille over goat cheese polenta

Standard

When you find yourself theorizing bread as a cultural construction to pass the time in lecture, you realize fairly quickly that you’re probably losing your mind with boredom.

I didn’t even like bread that much before last August (as a side note, the first anniversary of my gluten-free life sentence will be coming up in two months; if you were thinking of sending me any immensely depressing care packages of rice bread and carob cookies to commemorate the event, please, don’t).

My long-lived dislike for bread stemmed from Sjögren’s syndrome. Because of the intense dry mouth it causes, I have trouble chewing and swallowing dense, saltless foods like bread. I can’t eat the stuff without a glass of water in hand. Rice bread, also known as cardboard’s cousin, makes sandwiches even less appealing than they were before.

A scene from Workaholics, a Comedy Central show full of fart jokes and mild misogyny, comes to mind. Ders (or Adam? I can’t keep men straight– ha ha ha) dares Blake to eat a wedge of ceiling in exchange for urine that won’t test positive for marijuana (the entire office is being required to take a drug test). As Blake is chomping through the plaster and coughing up dust, he blurts out something like, “This ceiling is dry as a mummy’s dick.” That’s exactly how I feel about bread.

Given that I associate the texture of bread with fossilized phalluses, it’s no surprise that I’m hardly interested in it. Usually. But bread has found me everywhere this last month. At the oral history institute I’d been attending, a new friend gave an interesting presentation about first-generation, Italian American wives as breadwinners. She was talking feminist history and political economy, but all I could think about were the sesame stick breads my mother used to buy for less than a dollar at the Italian Peoples Bakery back home.

I’ve been told that distant cousins of mine owned that humble chain of bakeries. Ditching grad school to start my own bakery used to occupy my fantasies. Since my celiac diagnosis, I’ve had to reclassify those fantasies on the “sadomasochistic” end– versus the “healthy alternative life choices” end– of the pleasure spectrum.

During another event for the institute, an octogenarian who has spent her life opening birth centers in low-income urban areas recounted her memories of breadlines during the Great Depression. It occurred to me that if I’d been born into the same class context and with the same disease eighty years ago, I might not have made it through the decade. (But then again, I also probably wouldn’t have known I had celiac’s, because I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford healthcare. So I would have made it through that decade but might have caved to bowel cancer before JFK’s assassination. Better or worse?)

The weekend following, I found myself in an Italian bakery in Brooklyn with my parents. The air smelled thickly of yeast. The cupcakes were the size of fists. The raspberry pinwheels glistened. I thought I might have an aneurysm.

(I didn’t.)

Since summer has started and day trips have therefore begun to proliferate, my friends have been witnessing firsthand, for the first time, just how much of my everyday life revolves around negotiating the politics of bread. This involves various survival strategies, the most effective being what I’ve come to call the BYOB (bring your own bread) tactic. But even this preventative measure has its shortcomings.

Example: We’ve heard of a bar in Red Hook that boasts five-star-rated pulled pork sandwiches, two for $5. This means I must bring my own buns, unless I feel like eating a pile of slow-cooked meat on a plate (I have done this before). Two Trader Joe’s and forty-five minutes of fruitless hunting later, I settle for gluten-free English muffins since both are out of GF hamburger buns.

There’s no real point to this post. My attempt to complicate the concept of bread is basically just an intellectual exercise in making the otherwise meaningless appear meaningful. Is the point to uncover the gastrointestinal ableism embedded in our language surrounding economic survival?  Should people be more aware of other people’s dietary restrictions? Should Trader Joe’s keep its gluten-free shelves better stocked? Not really (who cares?), yes (but they won’t), and definitely.


Since we only succeeded in getting the gas turned on in our new apartment as of yesterday, we’ve spent the last two weeks relying on the slow-cooker for survival. What a wonderful, resilient, and it turns out, tiresome, machine. Here’s a great, vegetarian ratatouille recipe that I made before we got sick of cooking meals for ten in the crock pot; I originally adapted it from this more complicated, not gluten-free, but no less awesome recipe on Epicurious.

In hindsight, I realized this was not the quickest slow-cooker recipe in the world; it made me twenty minutes late to Columbia at 8:15am. It also would not survive eight hours in the crock pot, so I prepared the contents in the morning for my partner to turn on around noon. But, should you ever find yourself at the mercies of your small appliances, stranded in an apartment without basic utilities like gas for two weeks, this recipe is ideal.

First, peel the eggplants and red onion, then chop all the many vegetables listed (zucchini, garlic, etc.). Then I added it to the slow cooker with a large can of unsalted, whole, peeled plum tomatoes, tomato paste, cornstarch, some chopped olives, spices, and stirred it around.

IMG_2590

Once I came home from the oral history institute, I finagled a way to cook the polenta in our rice cooker since we didn’t have gas. This worked quite well, though, should you be one of the privileged many with working stoves, you could easily accomplish the same effect on a burner in half the time.

IMG_2594

Then I topped the slow-cooker contents with some fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese and ladled it over the polenta. I think ours still cooked for a bit too long– four to five hours would be enough to keep some bite in the vegetables, but ours had to go for six hours since no one was home to turn it off. In any case, it was still very tasty and lasted for days.


slow-cooker, gluten-free vegetarian ratatouille over goat cheese polenta
 prep time: 20-30 minutes
cook time: 4-5 hours

for the ratatouille*:
serves 6 to 8
2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large red onion, diced
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup mixed olives, pitted and sliced
3 tbsp. garlic, minced
3 tbsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 28-oz. can unsalted, whole, peeled plum tomatoes
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
10 grinds black pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

  1. Add the eggplant, zucchini, onion, peppers, olives, and garlic to the slow cooker. (Note: if you’re short on time and want to avoid bitterness from the eggplant seeds– meaning, you don’t have time to salt slabs of eggplant and let it drain into a colander– just cut out the center parts of the eggplant that have the most seeds and dispose of them separately.)
  2. Toss in salt, cornstarch, thyme, and tomato paste. Don’t worry if this is uneven; it will disperse while cooking. Dot the vegetables with butter.
  3. Cover in peeled plum tomatoes and juices.
  4. Cook on low 4-5 hours; test the eggplant for desired tenderness. Stir occasionally to mash up the tomatoes.
  5. Once finished, fold in parmesan, basil, and black pepper. Serve over polenta.

*Note: if you don’t have a slow cooker, you can cook this ratatouille in a large pot over low heat for 30-45 minutes and achieve the same effect.

for the polenta*:
serves 4 to 6
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 oz. fresh goat cheese

  1. About 45 minutes before the ratatouille is set to finish, coat the nonstick basin for the rice cooker in olive oil.
  2. Push the on button to start a regular cooking cycle for rice. Pour in the broth, sea salt, and onion powder. Give it 15 minutes to begin boiling (or at least reach a really hot temperature).
  3. Stir in the cornmeal slowly, in batches, making sure it’s not clumping; you may want to use a whisk. Put the lid on it and allow it to finish the cycle.
  4. Once done, fold in butter and goat cheese. Serve with ratatouille.

*Note: if you don’t have a rice cooker, you can cook polenta in a small saucepan in about the same (if not less) time. Heat the olive oil; add the broth, salt, and onion, and bring it to a boil. Then slowly mix in the cornmeal and let it cook until the polenta has reached the desired texture. Fold in goat cheese and butter.