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June 27, 2011

Sunday Dinner (or, English peas, tofu, ham, pillow of lavender air)

I hate the Sunday night blues. 

You know what I mean.  That wee sense of dread that sets in, oh, at about 4 or 5 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, when you realize your weekend is coming to an end and you have to work the next day.  You didn't get all your errands done.  There wasn't enough time to finish the book you're reading. You really don't want the next week to begin because it's summer winter whenever, and you just want a little more down time because you aren't in the mood to be a worker bee the next day.

The only remedy I know of to cure the Sunday night blues is to have friends over for an early dinner.  Good music, good wine, great food, and low expectations.  Nothing fancy.  Easy clean-up.  Fun music.  Just a little marker in the weekend to stave off the blahs for a few hours.  By the time you finish eating, clear the table, and load the dishwasher, it's nearly time to head to bed. 

After the Saturday I had, Sunday dinner was the only way I could redeem myself.

So, what happened Saturday? 

Soy milk pustules tumors awfulness!


You guys, I did everything by the book.  Bought the dried soybeans, soaked the soybeans overnight, drained and blended the soybeans with water, heated the now-soymilk, skimmed the foam off the soymilk, strained the soymilk, reheated the soymilk, let the skin form over the soymilk, lifted the skins from the soymilk, let the skins dry then formed them into clumps... and then... they just got all coagulated and smelled weird, and just did not look or feel or seem even remotely close to anything they needed to be.  The skins (before piling them up) were supposed to dry "in a few hours or overnight."  After 18 hours, they were still pretty wet, and they smelled strange.  Add to that the fact that I was supposed to have five times the soy milk left over than I actually did, so I couldn't even move forward with the rest of the dish without starting all over again by soaking more soybeans for 8 hours... and I just... well...

So, I made the executive decision to adapt this into something else.  Didn't want all my other ingredients to go to waste.  I'm kinda bummed about it (I even bought nigari when I was in New York last week so I could make my own tofu; alas, another time), but I am nothing if not resourceful, and turned it into a whole Sunday dinner menu I'm still full from eating.

On Sunday morning, I texted my neighbors and told them instead of a Sunday afternoon tasting, they were invited to dinner.  I'd make something sort of resembling this dish as part of it, and figure out the rest.

I went to the farmers' market and picked up two chickens and some sausages (basil-garlic-beef, and spicy Italian veal).  I roasted the chickens and grilled the sausages.  Protein?  Done and done.  I whipped up a summer salad of grilled Romaine lettuce (chiffonade), sweet white corn, tomato, shallot, zucchini, green beans, yellow wax beans, and yellow squash, with a cumin vinaigrette.  I also roasted asparagus in olive oil, salt, and pepper.

And, I re-fashioned this Alinea dish into a kind of bruschetta.

I sliced an Against the Grain gluten-free baguette on the diagonal, rubbed both sides with olive oil, and toasted them under the broiler in the oven.  Then, I slathered each slice of bread with gooseberry sauce (had some in the freezer; left over from this dish) and yuzu mayonnaise (added a few splishes of yuzu juice to homemade mayo).  Then, I topped them with a buttery mixture of blanched English peas (from the farmer's market), diced ham, and lavender-infused tofu.  I bought soft, silken tofu from the local co-op in town, heated it to break it down to small crumbles resembling cottage cheese, and cooked it for a bit with dried lavender wrapped in cheese cloth.  I removed the lavender sachet and added the ham and peas and some butter to pull it all together.  Atop that on the bread?  Pea shoot leaves and lavender salt:


And you know what?  It was f-ing AWESOME.  Even the kids (who, this winter, were not really loving my adventurous cooking) gobbled this up.  One of them said (with his mouth full), "This bread thing is REALLY GOOD."  They wanted more.

So, there you have it.  My first foray back into the kitchen after a nearly month-long break and I CAN'T EVEN MAKE SOYMILK.  But I can whip up a dinner party with just a few hours' notice and adapt the heck out of an Alinea dish as part of it.

Not too shabby.

You might recall that in the original version of this dish, there's a pillow filled with lavender air the plate is set atop so the scent is release as you're eating.  I've experienced that at Alinea, and it is really quite lovely.  As for me doing it here at home?  Well, honestly, it was never gonna happen.  First, I cannot sew. And when I priced the pillow shams I could use, I just thought my money was better spent on ingredents.  Second, I don't want to buy a vaporizer.  And, third?  Well, there is no third thing; it just felt odd leaving it at two.

*   *   *   *   *

As far as my health goes, I want to thank you all so, so much for your sweet comments in the previous post, and for your lovely emails and Tweets.  You guys just make a girl get all smooshy inside.

Here's the latest health news on this front: in the grand scheme of life, I am fine.  I am not sick.  I am not allergic to anything else, nor do I have any new autoimmune issues.  That's the good news.  What kind of sucks is that my body now doesn't really know how to process dairy and fruit.  Could be celiac-related, but probably not.  No one knows.  Could be permanent, also might be temporary.  Could be only when it's the two of them together, or maybe as individual items.  Still trying to figure it all out.  Again... not allergic.  It's more of a metabolic/digestive/bacterial thing.  Either separately or together, in my body, casein (the protein in dairy) and fructose (natural fruit sugar) attacks the good bacteria in my gut and also suppresses leptin (a protein hormone in the human body that helps regulate our metabolism and determining what gets converted into energy).  That's what we know now.  That might change, or it might be the final landing point.

After a few weeks of what seemed like endless tests and adjustments to an elimination diet, my bloodwork is now back to normal and I feel really, really good.  Everything is working again; I'm sleeping 7, 8 hours a night, the headaches are gone, I have really good energy during the day, and I no longer feel like I'm carrying a 70-pound tumor in my abdomen and around my lower back (which is what made me go down this rabbit hole in the first place).

So essentially, at every meal, my plate is now 3/4 vegetables and 1/4 protein.  No fruit, no dairy, and limited (gluten-free) grains.  At the beginning of all this, the mere notion that I might have to completely eliminate fruit and dairy from my diet seemed traumatic, but it's actually a lot easier than it sounds.  And, it's not like I have to completely eliminate it.  I will not die from eating a few blackberries.  A bit of milk or cream in my coffee will not land me in the ICU.  The world will not end if I eat a peach (Best Fruit in the World™).  However, having those things every day is just not something I can do anymore (at least for the time being), and that's okay with me.

When you look at the big picture, I'd say that 80% of what I eat is food that I cook here at home, so when I go out, it'll be okay if I have a little dairy or fruit.  So, it all ends up working itself out.  But, it was really frustrating getting there.  I really thought I had a 70-pound tumor (and thus, my own reality show contract) or was losing my mind.  Or both.  Seriously.

But again, thank you for your sweet notes and check-ins.  You guys are just the cat's pajamas.

Up Next:  Pork Cheek, or one of the remaining Chocolate dishes

Resources: Against the Grain baguette from Whole Foods; tofu from the TPSS Co-op; everything else from the Takoma Park and 14th and U Streets farmers' markets.

Music to Cook By: DO NOT LAUGH AT ME but I am toooooooooootally into the Seals & Crofts Pandora channel.  It's got that AM Gold feel, and it's simply fantastic. [stop laughing]  [dude]  [I mean it] [no really, I SAID I MEAN IT]

Read My Previous Post: What I've Learned So Far...


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I haven't heard the phrase "cat's pajamas" in FOREVER. Thank you for that. Brings back a piece of my childhood that I will share with my husband later this morn when he wakes. :)

You know what? Everything won't always go your way. Neither will it always go mine. It stinks sometimes. You ended up with something terrific! (I just nodded my head.) TERRIFIC! Good for you! :)

Or, as they say in my neck of the woods, "Good on you." (Never understood that. But still.)

Happy Monday and thank you for your post. I love reading them.

I sooooo enjoy your stories!!!

The way you face challenges--in the kitchen and elsewhere--is amazing and inspiring. Thanks. It's a bummer that you have yet another dietary thing to deal with, but thank goodness it's something you CAN deal with. Hang in there.

OMG, I love Seals and Crofts! Summer breeze ... it's perfect. You know that you've got mad culinary skills so throwing together a great dinner is no surprise. I am sorry that you need to restrict your diet even more but it sounds manageable. Hope this will be the end of it - and that it goes away! One of my boys brought me peaches from southern VA yesterday. They're not quite at the peak of deliciousness yet but still pretty tasty. Peaches really are the best fruit.

Carol, I'm so glad it's nothing "serious," and so bummed that it's what it is. Amazed, as always, by your steadfast nature.

As for the dish, you need to make the ham nage. It's amazing.

So glad you are feeling better.

I think being able to take the Alinea components and adjust them as needed is really cool.

Sorry you have been having a rough time! The impromptu dinner party sounds great. Not much better than something roasted or grilled with a nice big salad. :)

gosh, Carol- you seem to have more than your fair share of trials to bear.....I could probably do the fruit but the dairy would be really hard (it is my job to eat cheese). As I am reading your post I am eating my lunch of a peach Chobani with fresh strawberries. Keep us posted on your progress!

Glad to see you whip something up for an impromptu dinner party. Sounds like fun! Great story telling...



Regarding the milk and fruit thing, celiac damages your small intestine and you might find in six months or so that you can tolerate them in increasing amounts, especially if you've been getting plenty of fiber (all of those veggies are loaded with fiber which is great for gut health) and probiotics in the meantime. My own ability to tolerate dairy varies but invariably improves if I've been getting a steady amount of probiotics.

You might also find that you can tolerate sheep or goat's milk... I can even, strangely enough, have raw cow's milk during times when I can't tolerate any other cow's milk. I don't know if that's because the milk is from Jersey cows, which have a more digestible form of casein than the more common Holsteins, or because it's raw, but I'm not going to complain. I can currently tolerate cow's milk after a steady regimen of eating cultured foods every day, but my norm last year was being able to eat it only if it was cultured or raw. Now that you know the boundaries you might find that they improve with time.

As far as milk substitutes go, I like almond (especially raw almond, which I still occasionally get just for the taste even though I can have cow's milk again), coconut, and hemp the best.

Hopefully the milk/fruit thing *is* part of the celiac, and will clear up with time. And if it doesn't... I use the same strategy you do, where I eat a very compliant diet at home and am willing to relax on my known allergens when I go out. I'm very strict on gluten everywhere, but the allergens don't have the long term consequences so I don't mind having some symptoms for a really delicious food, and if I've been eating really well at home then I tend to have a much lighter reaction than if I'd been getting more of it all along. I have a melon allergy so I wait until I see a really beautiful melon and that's my melon for the year....

I need to know how you did that salad -- specifically, the cumin vinaigrette. Were the corn, squash, beans, et al, raw? I need help. I am terrible at kitchen improv.

[Corn was cut from cob then blanched in salty water; squash was sauteed in butter and olive oil; beans were also blanched. Cumin vinaigrette was 1/4C olive oil, 2T white wine vinegar, 2T sherry vinegar, 1tsp. mustard, and a few dashes of ground cumin; all whisked together.]

Where did you get the sausages from? They sound delish!

[The folks at Smith Meadows Farm make them and sell them at my farmers market. ----CB]

this is a great website. it's fun hearing about your cooking efforts.

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