Traci Anello

The Power in Food


Leave a comment

A favorite pie and a slice of cheesecake are all part of the power in food

This Thanksgiving plans were all set. I was going to New Jersey to have dinner with my sister Kim, her family and some dear friends. We talk about the menu months prior and everything started to line up. I love cooking in her kitchen. It’s beautiful. The set up is perfect and the balcony filled with fresh herbs is right outside the door. I always head out there with my coffee and a pair of scissors. There’s fresh thyme, chives, sage, basil, rosemary and mint. It’s how I picture Alice Waters everyday gathering her fresh herbs for her salad or for her roasted vegetables.

Well, sometimes plans change and it can happen very quickly. For us, it happened in the blink of an eye. I got a phone call four days before Thanksgiving that my dad had fallen and was in the hospital. He cracked 9 ribs and was in a lot of pain. Thankfully he was stabilized and was resting. On the way to the hospital, my step mother got in a car accident. The second phone call I got about her accident was hard to hear. Thankfully she was unhurt, as was the other driver but her car was totaled. Immediately it was clear that the game plan for Thanksgiving was about to change. After talking with my sister, it was decided that I would stay back and drive to Massachusetts instead for the holiday meal. It was a no brainer actually. My dad needed to stay rested once he got home. So I made the call to my step mother and told her I would be down on Thursday to cook the meal. I was more than happy to do this. It meant they didn’t have to leave the house and they were going to get one hell of a dinner. This is where a quick change of plans can be a good thing. You never know in a given day how things are going to change. If you go with it and adapt to the current situation, it can become less stressful for everyone. Love is a wonderful driving force and it can create some beautiful moments out of an unfortunate set of circumstances.

I came up with a menu and the very next day went to our local butcher and asked about an eight pound turkey breast. They were sold out which was to be expected so it was off to the supermarket in town which I always try to avoid because I prefer to support local businesses. Fate had a different path for me. I went into the store and couldn’t find what I needed. An associate from the meat department approached me and asked if I needed help. I was a bit surprised because customer service in a corporate setting is a thing of the past. But this man was very happy to help and I was very happy to let him. I told him I was looking for a turkey breast about 8 pounds.   He said he was almost certain they were about to put an order in for some that would arrive the following morning and he checked. Sure enough, I was in the right place at the right time. I was able to order one with the understanding that I needed to be at the store early to assure it would be there. The associate was looking every where for a pen while I was thanking him several times. I wanted this meal to be the best for my family and it meant everything had to line up two days prior to Thanksgiving. He played a big part in making this happen. Where there’s a will there’s a way. So I took my favorite pen out of my checkbook and handed it to him. He wrote down my information and went to hand the pen back when I told him to put it in his pocket and hang on to it. I don’t know who was more appreciative. Was it me for getting this order in or him for getting a nice pen? It was a wonderful quick moment that ended in us both wishing each other a nice holiday. These are the important little victories in life and this was just the beginning.

The next morning, I was supposed to be at a local bakery to help the owner make her yearly mega pie order. By now it’s a tradition to do this with her and her amazing staff every year. But first I had to pick up my turkey breast and sure enough, it was ready. I was thrilled. I brought it home and placed it in my refrigerator and then off to Kennebunk to make what would be 145 pies that days. I was thinking of dessert for our meal on my way to the bakery. I decided I would make my dad’s favorite pumpkin cheesecake and his wife’s favorite mincemeat pie. That would make them both very happy and given the circumstances we were in, it was the exact thing to do. I love food and I especially love he power in food. So while I was in the middle of this pie marathon, I was trying to figure out when am I going to have the time to pull these desserts off the day before the big meal. Out of the kindness of this bakery owners heart, she said for me to just make the pie while I was there. Thank you!! So I did which meant it was a real time saver for me and I also got to roll out a beautiful homemade pie crust. Out of the 145 pies I made that day (146 including this one), the mincemeat was my favorite. The meaning behind this pie was of pure love. When you know what someone’s favorite dessert is and you make it, there’s a lot more than ingredients going into that pie. Love in Love out. The cheesecake I put together that night. I thought of my grandmother, Marietta Straguzzi, and the love she used to put into my dad’s meals. Maybe I was channeling her love and techniques. I like to think so because I never measured the ingredients. It was a little of this and a little of that just like she used to do.

Thursday morning I packed up my car and headed to Massachusetts. It was a perfect trip down and I stopped and grabbed a couple of coffees from my dad  and Ginna’s favorite coffee shop. I got to the house and hauled all of the good things I brought down with me. I took the pies out of the bag and showed Ginna her mincemeat pie. She was really happy. When my dad saw his cheesecake he was willing to dine on that first and eat turkey later. He’s  funny guy my dad. He loves to eat and loves his desserts.  It was nice to see him getting around. He was very sore but he stayed in the kitchen and we talked while I prepared the meal. I knew once he started to smell everything cooking, it would stimulate the healing process. That’s what food does. When it smells good, it looks good. When it looks good, you associate it tasting great before you even stick your fork in it. The healing starts. You’re happy and excited in anticipation of a great meal shared with family. We had turkey breast, two types of stuffing (I’m plantbased so no animal products on mine), roasted squash and carrots (all produce was organic too), mashed potatoes, roasted head of cauliflower, green beans, gravy, fresh rolls and the cranberry sauce. My dad, his wife, my brother Tony and I all sat around the table and laughed and ate a lot of food. It was the best time. It was very special to me and them.

This was a meal that wasn’t planned and would not have taken place at this holiday if not for the unfortunate events that took place with my dad. This was a total reset moment for me. This meal was so special and meant so much to each of us. There were a lot of hugs and love in that room. How can that not be healing?? It’s an important lesson that when an event happens that’s devastating and hard to embrace, you have to go with what’s important for everyone. You have to create a new set of circumstances that will bring a good feeling for each person including yourself. We did it in less than a day. It was the right thing to do. It created some very good memories. It brought back some important traditions. These would have all been lost that day if my dad hadn’t fallen. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have had a nice day otherwise because they most certainly could have. What I’m saying is, this situation created an opportunity for four people to reconnect and enjoy a nice meal together. The conversation was fun. The food was good. Love was abundant. It was a beautiful day that came to a close with a favorite pie and a slice of cheesecake.

I’m very thankful for my family. I’m also very thankful for the power in food.


Leave a comment

The Day I Didn’t Hate Chocolate

You read that right. Today is the day I realized I didn’t hate chocolate. Hard words to read coming from a pastry chef who loves to work with it.

For years I have spent creating decadent cakes, traditional cookies, rich pies and a host of other desserts using chocolate from all over the world. It was my every day thing to do. What did people like? How could I recreate this dessert or that pastry using a variety of chocolates? It was my life. It consumed my every menu. I went to bed thinking of how I can make something completely off the cuff to waking up and finishing what I started thinking about before bedtime.

Years ago I was a pastry instructor for a college level program. Up to that point I had been entering the chocolate show held in Portland, Maine for myself as well as some restaurants I worked at. I was very successful at this event. My first award was a three layer ganache cake that I had made while on a movie location in Georgia in August. Do you want to really test your strength in baking?? Do it in 100* weather with 100% humidity.  I had to create something that would hold up to that southern heat and everything that came with it and at the same time have incredible rich flavor. This cake was it. It was the perfect first entry and I won Best Cake. That was pretty cool. I went to win the next year and a stretch of 5+ years after that and before long, I had 12 total awards to my credit. So back to the program. While I was teaching, I decided this event would be the perfect event for my students to experience competition. After getting the approval of the director of culinary arts, I broke the news to the students. They were thrilled. There were several categories we could choose from so we picked a few. I also told them their presentation would be judged as well. We decided to enter the “Best Alternative Dessert” category. This was any dessert out of the ordinary like vegan or gluten free. Someone actually tried to cook a sole dish with chocolate. It was an epic fail too. The place smelled like the Charles River in Boston in the corner they were cooking this dish.  There are just some things that chocolate doesn’t marry. In this case, it was fish. We decided to make a vase of fruit flowers dipped in dark chocolate. The students carved beautiful patterns on the pears. We chose exotic fruits like the start fruit that would resemble a flower. We dipped them half in chocolate and using skewers (also dipped), they creatively displayed them in the pear vase. The students won that category. It was such a satisfying victory for them and the program. For me it was a nice feeling to upgrade the program to an award winning one as well. We were the first culinary school to enter and I’m happy to say the following year, another culinary school participated. That was very good competition for the students. Not to mention all of the amazing local businesses that entered. Portland is a very competitive market in the pastry field so this was a very healthy challenge. The following years we made biscotti, a cholate raspberry torte and a few other desserts. The program did well. I was approached by a team member of the event and was asked if I’d like to be a judge the following year. I was honored actually and agreed. Then I thought about how I wasn’t a fan of chocolate. I’d have to taste each and every entry. I was having second thoughts. It was the sweetness I didn’t like. Anything very sweet like candy or rich desserts just wasn’t my thing to eat. I loved making them but thankfully I wasn’t  obsessed with chocolate. I don’t curl up and watch marathons on Netflix with a quart of chocolate ice cream or Oreos. Now a loaf of fresh crusty bread and (at the time) a nice hunk of cheese and there’s my comfort zone. I think that comes with being Italian. I always hoped there was a bread competition but it just never happened. I would have loved critiquing that.  Anyway, I did agree to judge the following year and sure enough, I got the candy category. Can’t get an sweeter than that. There were 10 entries, all different from each other. At each table was a local celebrity, a culinary expert and some other invited guests. I actually loved this part because I’m a teacher at heart. As everyone tasted the entry, they all had some very interesting opinions and questions. My real role was judging the technical field. You can love or hate a piece of candy but if it comes down to three really good tasting candies, only one can be the winner and  the technical merit plays the deciding factor. That was my expertise. The competition was really tight for the candy category. These businesses that really go for the right to be named the best are giving it their all. These contests are not cheap to enter. You have to have a minimum of something like 600 pieces per entry. You enter a couple of desserts and that’s a lot of sweat, money and chocolate not to mention the labor that goes into preparing for one of the shows. There’s a lot on the line so when it comes down to those three great tasting candies, you better have your mind on the job. After entering this show so many times, I knew what each entrant put into it or at least had a very good idea. I’m a firm believer you should only judge events you’ve entered previously. You have to understand the effort that goes into it. This was  great event and I enjoyed every year I participated whether a judge or entry.

Chocolate is a funny thing to work with. There’s really great chocolates from India as well as Belgium. There are awful chocolates that have very little actual chocolate in them. It’s a wide open field. Once you find what you like, generally that’s what you stick with. It really depends on taste, texture and the ability to work with it. The temperature of the product has to be right and the atmosphere has to support it as well. Recipes are very specific about how to melt chocolate and cool it down. There a whole world of techniques out there and wonderful pastry chefs that have shared their wealth of knowledge on it. If I had to pick an expert to recommend, it would be Jacques Torres. He’s an absolute wealth of everything chocolate. He’s an artist for sure. His pieces are show stoppers and his ability to teach is beautiful. If you’re interested in learning, look him up and I’m sure you’ll agree he is a true master. He’s pretty funny too. I love watching his videos.

So why is today the day I stopped hating chocolate?? Well, I was headed out to do some laundry. The place I go is right next to a health food store. So I put my laundry in the machine and walked over to get something to drink. There’s this beautiful chocolate on the market called HU. It was started by a brother and sister. I’m a big supporter of family started businesses. I love the packaging and the fact it’s organic and vegan. I bought some recently and sent it to my daughter to try. She’s my best critic when it comes to any food. She honest and to the point. She loves this brand. Today as I was cashing out my drink, I saw a bar that had almond butter and quinoa in it. Who thinks of that??? Almond butter and quinoa together?? Is this another case of “You put your almond butter in my quinoa?” or “You put your quinoa in my chocolate?” Or did two people really just think this one through and decide to be gutsy? Either way, it got my attention. I bought the bar. I felt great supporting HU Kitchen (out of NYC) and I was about to eat a chocolate bar for the hell of it. It’s got puffed quinoa in it so how can it be bad for you?? I took the first square and let me tell you this. When I put it in my mouth, it was the best piece of chocolate I’ve ever had. The combination of an excellent dark chocolate with almond butter and puffed quinoa snapped me out of years of deprivation of chocolate. Who are these people?? Who are these creative chocolatiers?? And why weren’t they ever entered in the chocolate show years ago when I had to judge that category?? This was such an epiphany. I realized at that very moment that I didn’t hate chocolate anymore.  Thank you to HU Kitchen for creating such a masterful bar of pure love. This, my friends, is the power in food.


Leave a comment

The Power in Pet Food

Tonight was a typical night of a quick run to Whole Foods to pick up a few things and then home to feed that cats. It’s National Cat Day and they were in no mood to wait for their dinner.

Sometimes I think we get lost in the beauty of our pets meals. They wait all day in anticipation of that ceremonial pet on the head which leads to the crinkle of the treat bag always first and then dinner. It’s a routine they both know too well. I have two black and white cats. Chaos is 18 and Bear is 6, but a kitten 6. Chaos has been with us since the very beginning. He’s a beautiful American Short Hair with a full white belly and half of a mustache. When he was born he stopped breathing and his mom tossed him out of her little nest. My daughter picked him up and rubbed his tiny little chest until he belted out this kitten squeal that quickly got the attention of his mother. He was the obvious choice to keep from that litter. This cat has had a very strong will to live and I’m grateful every day for it. He’s been my best friend. He’s 18 this month but you’d never know it. He jumps, plays, eats, drinks and occasionally gets a good jab and clocks Bear up the side of his head. His energy level is up there. Bear is 6. I brought him home from the pet shelter when he was 1. He was super chill and when I went to pet him, he closed his eyes and put his paw on my hand. We connected! The very next day when I went to bring him home, he was the only cat sitting in the window just waiting. It was the most beautiful moment. He knew he was coming home. He’s an American Long Hair all black with a little white star on his chest and a big bushy tail. He’s majestic and gorgeous.  He enjoys cardboard boxes, laser pens and his cat treats. He’s slowly buying into the lap thing.  They both get whatever they love and sometimes an abundance of it.  My daughter says that I spoil them but if you’re a pet owner, who doesn’t?

When it comes to meal time, I’m reminded at 4am and then again when I walk in the door in the evening. For the longest time I only fed the boys organic dry and wet food. That is until Bear got crystals and I found out it was from the white fish in his food. He was put on a prescription dry food that is very expensive. Although very pricey, it did the trick and he’s had no problems since. If you break it down price per bowl per meal, he’s eating pretty high on the hog. If this was a pet restaurant, he’d have to make reservations 6 months in advance for a bowl.  Maybe Michelin should give out stars for cat food. He loves the taste of it and hasn’t shown any signs of boredom so it’s worth every penny. Canned food is a whole different story. The vet said he could have any wet food as long as there was no white fish. For months the boys ate Whole Paws but like every canned food I buy, they got bored with it. It’s an hour round trip drive to buy this food so I was open to other options. I brought home everything under the sun that had a high rating. No luck. It has to be pate. That’s the only condition. Every one I brought home was good one day and I was throwing it out the next. So back to the vet. He told me to just buy anything as long as they had the prescription dry food. So I went with the old stand by and bought what I think is the equivalent to crack for cats. It’s a cheap brand and they actually eat it. Chaos loves it and at 18, that’s important for him. I have to alternate the flavors every 4 days but they eat it. It’s really kills me to open that can twice a day but it’s their meal time and if they’re content, it’s a win. Some people make their own cat food and that’s impressive providing they know what they’re putting in there. I know quite a few people, especially dog owners, that make their own food. Now that’s love!

I think the one thing I needed to do was to apply the same philosophy I do to our food. Sometimes it’s not what you serve but how. I put a lot of love into what I give them. Their cat dish is a Rae Dunn bowl.  It’s a ceremonial occasion every day. They’re pumped it’s meal time and I’m thrilled they’re still eating this food. They’re healthy and happy. Some days we have to start with a treat to stimulate them which I’m sure my daughter would call shenanigans on that. She says I just keep spoiling them. Either way, it’s their meal and served with bottled spring water, they’re happy. Happy cats make me happy.

Pets show unconditional love. They teach us that too. The least we can do is treat their mealtime as exciting as our own. They look forward to it like we do. It’s healing for them just like it is us. If you’re happy when you eat it, good things happen. And just like us, usually with cats, it’s nap time almost immediately after. To them, that’s a good thing.

The next time you’re preparing the food for your best friend(s), remember how it feels. Be happy and excited for them. They love you for it so put as much love as you can into what’s going in that dish just like you would your own family. Believe me, what you’ll get in return from these beautiful creatures we will never be able to completely return in their lifetime.

That’s the power in pet food.


Leave a comment

Portland Farmers Market

Fallmums garlicpurple cauliflowertropical

 

Fridays excite me. Why? Because it means one more day until the Portland Farmers Market at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine. This is my favorite Maine market on Saturday morning. I want to note that this also runs on Wednesday’s at Monument Square.  Maine has many and I haven’t been to all of them yet. My goal is to visit each and every one of them. If you have a favorite, please list it. If you have a favorite farm, please add it in the comment section.

What I enjoy the most about this market is the farmers. They proudly display their hard work with arrangements fit for any magazine. The colors are vibrant. The produce is healthy, unblemished and anxiously waiting to be a part of your creativity. The flowers, the herbs and the canned goods are a rainbow of colors that stretch from one end of the market to the next. The freshly baked sourdough breads, the muffins bursting with their own carrots and zucchini and the honey are impossible to walk passed with trying.

My first stop is always the Good Shepherd for his sourdough bread. By Thursday I’m usually out. Thursday is a sad day. I wait all week for another fresh loaf.  He has many to choose from including his sourdough, carmelized onion, carrot and even chaga (a type of mushroom). The reason I visit his table first is because his daughter has her own little entrepreneurial set up selling her zucchini muffins. She’s pleasant and efficient. She always says thank you and keeps her table neat and in order. She looks to be about 8 years old and on her way to becoming a successful future farmer. This is what the market is all about to me.

My next stop is Two Farmers Farm. I first had their Siberian Kale back in the Spring and I have to tell you, it was the most tender kale I have ever eaten. It was so good I was eating it on my way home. If you’ve ever had other kales, they’re course generally and need to be massaged before putting in a salad. I love their assortment of greens and they’re customer service.

I was first introduced to Cornerstone farms at a fundraiser I did a couple of years ago. I donated two of my photos to help raise money for SNAP which allows EBT cardholders the opportunity to purchase produce at half price. I won a silent auction gift card from Cornerstone. They were very generous with their offer and it was easy to see when I met them. They’re wonderful people who enjoy talking and educating the public on their produce. They always take the time to explain the new wonderful vegetables they have. They turned me onto Kolrabi which to me tastes a lot like the stem of broccoli. I shred it and put it in cole slaw or a stir fry.  In the Spring, I purchase my seedlings from them. This year I enjoyed golden grape tomatoes and green peppers all summer.

Maine Cap n Stem has the most interesting mushrooms. They’re table is always photogenic. Their displays are very well done. These people know mushrooms. I first tried lions mane and king oysters corals from them. They have a mixed quart you can purchase and try many of the different varieties. Ask them about how to prepare them and you will be amazed at the things you never knew you could do with mushrooms.

Snell Family Farm has a display of flowers and bride would be sold on. Last week I purchased a vase of flowers that looked as though they were antique in color. They sat in a beautiful olive green vase. I couldn’t walk passed them. After I took a few pictures, I asked the woman proudly selling them to hold them for a picture. I handed them to my daughter and we both fell in love with them. I usually buy my flowers from Frinklepod Farms in Arundel but I just couldn’t pass these up.

South Paw from Freedom had the perfect poblanos. The dark green healthy amazing peppers were going to be perfect for my next dish. I also was drawn to their perfect carrots. I make a curried tofu salad and I only use carrots from the market in it. There’s something pretty special about taking a bunch of carrots with full green tops. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.

There are many famers there and my blog could go on forever. They’re all wonderful. I’ll leave the website for a full list of them so you can see for yourself. You will not be disappointed. There’s a lot of everything here. There’s arts and crafts in their own nook. There are musicians playing the perfect music and even a woman on stilts dressed like Alice from Alice and Wonderland. You’ll see happy dogs thrilled to be meeting new dogs. It’s kind of like their little meeting place. There are many many children learning the way to self sustainability. There are children with their own bags doing their own shopping. Nothing makes me happier than to see young ones trying something new, handing over their dollar for an apple half the size of their head or just piggy backing and taking it all in. There’s just so much going on. There are a lot of choices. It’s a celebration of food. It’s a classroom, a meeting place and a canvas for photography.

I follow a whole food plant based lifestyle. I’m certified in plantbased nutrition. I’m also a food photographer. The Portland Farmers Market offers me all of this. I can do my shopping, learn about new produce and take some of the most spectacular photos. It’s the whole package. If you’ve not made it to Deering Oaks yet, treat yourself. Talk to the farmers. Meet the people. Learn something new. Enjoy the community. Try a vegetable you’ve never seen before. Take it all in. You’ll fall in love with famers markets.

For a full list of farmers and to view their online store, visit:  http://www.portlandmainefarmersmarket.org and http://www.mofga.org

The Portland market is in Deering Oaks every Saturday and Monument Square every Wednesday until December. Their hours are 7am to 1pm. I’ll post about the winter market as we get closer.

 

Beets20130423-204632.jpgv

 


Leave a comment

Mamis Portland, Me

Portland, Maine is a haven for a variety of restaurants, food trucks and cafes. I’m always in search for good food, local food. Sometimes it happens by a search but more often it happens just by driving around Portland and something catches my eye. In the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate to discover not just one of the best food trucks I’ve ever eaten at but a restaurant to match.

I’m talking about  Mami’s Restaurant in Portland, Maine on 339 Fore Street and their Japanese Food truck. Just a couple of years ago I was leaving the Portland Farmers Market at Deering Park and headed over to Urban Farms Fermentory.  As I drove by Rising Tides, I saw a beautiful food truck. It was all black with a delicate drawing and the words “Mami” on the side. I was with my daughter, Ronni and we pulled in the parking lot without hesitation. The menu was intriguing. The Yokasoba noodles caught my attention first followed by the grilled  rice ball, the Yaki Onigiri. We each ordered the noodles and decided to share the rice ball. The customer service was very good. These people were obviously proud of their menu. When that happens, the meal already taste good and you haven’t gotten it yet. I couldn’t help but peak at the people around me to see what they were trying. The plates were colorful and every single person was focused on the food in front of them. Another great sign that this is going to be good.

Our name was called and when I went up to the truck, the person who helped us said,”Thanks guys! Enjoy!”. I love that!  As always with me (and get used to it if you eat out with me) the camera came out. This was a photo opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. The food looked and smelled incredible. It photographed just a well. The colors popped and the pure art of their presentation made it easy to take pictures.  As we dove in, the taste was like nothing I’ve ever had. It all worked. The flavors, textures and aromas were happily doing their thing all together. The only disappointing moment was when we realized we should have ordered two rice balls. They were crispy on the outside with beautiful fresh scallions and when you got inside, the filling just tasted like heaven. If heaven made grilled rice balls, this would be it followed by the Yakasoba noodles. This is real food. Before I even got up from the picnic table, I was following them on social media.

This year we saw some really good news. Mami’s opened a restaurant with the same delicious options from their truck. My daughter surprised me with a special lunch there. It was as good as our first meal with the Japanese Food Truck. The customer service was enjoyable and engaging. They are as proud of the menu they’re serving as we experienced from the truck.

Owners Austin and Hana know food, good food. I love local and supporting local business and the farmers they support. Their restaurant and food truck are at the top of my list when I want to have good local, fresh, well made good eats. It’s a whole experience from the moment you look at the menu to placing your order, receiving your meal to the pure enjoyment.  Food should be celebratory. Maimi’s  offered all of this. Visit their website: http://www.mamifoodtruck.com


Leave a comment

My anti-inflammatory journey…Day 14

Today I’m happy to say completes 14 days into my anti-inflammatory journey.

The benefits I have experienced have been nothing short of amazing for me. I’m finally losing the weight, no joint pain and my skin is looking much better. I’m finding more energy and I see and comprehend things much clearer. What I finding to be very exciting is what I can’t see that’s going on inside. I’m sure my body is in extreme repair mode. I guess that because I do have some periods of exhaustion and after what I’ve put this body through with years of unprocessed foods, I would be exhausted too.

I started with an article from vegetarian magazine that turned me on to JJ Virgin’s book. From her book I found a wonderful challenge. Seven days, seven foods, lose seven pounds.Then I was at the book store and saw Dr. Andrew Weil’s magazine/book about the anti-inflammatory diet. educations makes all the difference.

Now I have one more week to go before I start adding in one by one the seven foods I took out. Honestly, I’m good. I really don’t have any one of the foods I want to put back in. I’m considering eggs but so far so good without them. The real challenge has been reading the labels and making sure non of the seven foods are in anything I consume. The one food I think is the real culprit? Gluten. There is no doubt in my mind. dairy is the close second. For almost six weeks I had a cough that wouldn’t go away. My doctor said it’s going around and you have to wait it out. I hate taking over the counter meds but this cough was annoying. I was hooked on Mucinex DM. It really was helping but I was taking it like a multi vitamin. Once I started this new way of eating, within three days, the mucus and coughing stopped. I mean completely. I woke up one morning and realized I didn’t cough all night and I didn’t have to clear my throat. That was my first good sign. The second was I noticed no joint pain in my knuckles. This is pretty cool. There’s something to this new “lifestyle”.

I’m fortunate to have a supervisor at work who is doing the same thing as I am. The fact that he’s an excellent chef is simply a bonus. I think the hardest thing is to make dressings for salad. After a few discussions and bouncing ideas back and forth, he had some pretty good suggestions. Sometimes a dressing is as easy as fresh lemon juice or a quick Dijon dressing. use olive oil and whisk in some Dijon to make it creamy and then a little cracked mustard seed dressing for fun. There are some really good balsamic vinegars out there as well. This whole new eating lifestyle is about taking fresh whole foods and creating what you want. Even a fresh squeeze of an orange with balsamic can be a nice treat on a salad. For dinner tonight I had roasted Brussel sprouts, sautéed green beans, turkey breast and lentils (see picture). It was more than enough. It was wholesome and delicious.

Eating healthy actually can be affordable. We’re coming into farmers market season. I can’t wait. In the mean time I find Trader Joes is very helpful place to shop. I buy my organic beans there as well as almond butter, avocados and apples. Another tip is to go to the various organic companies and print our their coupons. That’s been a big savings. I drink unsweetened coconut milk and love organic greens. There are coupons for them online. Since I have the room for my own little garden, I’m going to grow the vegetables I need to juice: Kale, parsley, spinach, cucumbers and beets. Luckily I live in New england and we’re still expecting snow this week, so I have time to finalize a plan.

One of the hardest things about doing all of this is trying to explain it to people you love with hopes they will give it a try. It’s like any life change. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean everyone else is ready. All you have to do is just share what you’re experiencing and then maybe it can be helpful.

I guess in time. It’s all about education. Sharing Dr. Weil’s magazine has been a nice way to give someone the choice. Facebook is a good tool for posting articles and various stories about anti inflammation.

In the meantime, I’m very happy with my new lifestyle. I feel healthy. My walks are more vigorous. My nights are relaxing with a new article or writing some new recipes. I have a book ready to be published with gluten-free and dairy free recipes that will make your life so much easier and taste better. Now I have the motivation to write a new book with recipes for the major allergens. I’m a chef who has been given the gift to create recipes for people who thought they could never have their favorite foods again. This is a gift I love to share.

Sometimes it all starts with an article. Then by just applying it for one day at a time, you can accomplish more than losing a few pounds. Making the effort seemed like a big accomplishment for me. After completing 14 days, I have one more week to go to finish the twenty-one days. Life is good and staying on this path means it’s just going to keep getting better.

20130410-200837.jpg


Leave a comment

This was no coincidence…

Today completes day 7 in my food intolerance journey! I couldn’t be more excited for a few reasons. One, I actually completed something I started. Two, My body has been pampered for 7 straight days. I’m sure my major organs and my gut are celebrating their first vacation from horrible intruders. It’s amazing how I actually look at food now.

Today is my day off from the hospital so I knew I wanted to spend it researching more about inflammation, which I have dubbed the new buzz word. I decided a trip to the book store would be a treat. This is my reward for completing 7 full days. My daughter and I drive to Portland (about a 30 minute ride) so I thought it would be a good time to talk to her about what I have learned. She listened and was actually interested so I was pretty happy and relieved. There are so many things we could have talked about but I knew this was important. We have a very close relationship so if she had told me that she wasn’t exactly interested in this subject, I would have probably changed it. But…she was all ears! I found myself saying things like “I feel really good” and “I’m sleeping better than I ever have” and so on. it was saying affirmations. After our conversation, she was very interested in creating a plan that could work for her.I couldn’t ask for anything more. she already knows that gluten is a poison. When she was in college, she took gluten out for almost a month and realized she wasn’t getting her usual migraines. I was fixing her meals for her then and she was also shopping at Trader Joes which was very helpful. But as college went on, the gluten was reintroduced and the problems started all over again.So knowing that it has worked in the past is good reason enough to give this a try.

We get to the book store and head to the magazine section. I notice she is looking at outdoor magazines and canning and self sustainable living magazines. Ah ha! She was listening. I head over to the natural food and health section to see who else is chatting about inflammation. I pick up a couple and flip through them but nothing really catches me. Then I see a Dr. Andrew Weil magazine and the top says “The Anti-inflammatory Pyramid in-depth”. I looked over at my daughter and said,”Is this the new buzz word? Is this that word I’m going to see everywhere now? How weird is this?”.I pick up his magazine and flip through it and every article is about inflammation. This was exactly what I was looking for. This was no coincidence. There are hundreds of magazines to choose from and this one catches my eye. It’s wonderful too! It’s very in-depth. I include a picture copy of the magazine below so when you look for it, you’ll recognize it.

I’m convinced that I’ll be reading some of his books now. As a chef, I will also be creating new recipes to share. This is what I do. I find foods that people feel they no longer can enjoy and recreate them to their specific allergy so they can enjoy them. After all of these years, why wasn’t I ever doing this for myself? Why did I not feel I deserved to treat my body with the utmost respect? I’m ashamed. But I’m also happy that I have finally woken up to realize this is about me too. This is self-care. So why not take the gift I was given and share what I know with everyone.

I decided to share my first recipe with you. It’s full of flavor, gluten-free, dairy free, soy free, sugar-free and corn free. I use this mediterranean dressing on everything. It’s wonderful on chicken and fish or just over rice and lentils.

Mediterranean dressing

In a medium bowl, chop and combine:
1 Vine ripened tomato
1/2 Vidalia onion (or red onion)
1 can artichoke hearts
1 small green pepper
12 kalamata pitted olives cut in half

Combine and add:
1 tablespoons of the olive juice (for the salt)
Fresh cracked pepper to taste
1/4 cup of good olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)

Mix in with the bowl of pure goodness. let sit overnight.
It’s wonderful!! Add fresh herbs if you want too. I chopped a few chives in there because I had them. I also cut up an avocado for the salad.
You can also spoon this over flatbread and add goat cheese (For those people who can tolerate goat cheese) and broil until the cheese melts.

This such a nice recipe. The colors are beautiful. In season, chop fresh parsley and maybe even a red and yellow pepper for more color.

So as my journey continues, I have two more weeks to go to complete the 21 days. As I said before though, I’m in no hurry to put any of these foods back into my body. They just don’t belong there. The fact that I saw Dr. Weil’s magazine was simply re-enforcement that I’m on the right track. It was no coincidence. Here’s to whole foods and positive cooking.

20130403-190202.jpg


Leave a comment

Sometimes you just have to ask

“You can’t always get what you want. But you just might get what you need.” Rolling Stones

Never a more true phrase spoken. Thank you Mick Jaggar.

As I start my new journey, I think of what I want. I actually was able to imagine where I wanted to live and the type of place I was looking for. I just simply asked. The universe answers in mysterious ways. Within 48 hours, I found what I was looking for. I’m living by the water in a safe and happy place. That was pretty cool. So if it worked for my home, it must certainly be an effective way to achieve a good job. Not so easy. Or is it?

As I move along in my career, I decided that I wanted to step out of the kitchen and write about food. I didn’t want to write a typical cook book about making cookies and a weekend carrot cake. I want to write about food, the love of food. I want people to realize just how important it is in our everyday lives. There are people out there who are happy making a pork pie or Salisbury steak because they have to but then there are people who really love what they do. These people want you to receive the love they put into your food. Thought. Actual thought about what you might like and how to make it not only eye appealing, but taste amazing. A meal that you will be looking forward to having again before you even leave their house that night. That’s the type of food I want to write about.

I want to write about creating dishes for people who suffer from allergies. Teaching them how to think back to what they really miss and recreating that with them. It can be done. My ideas about how to approach teaching are very simple. Just find something you never thought you could have before and I’ll teach you not only how to have it again, but how to make it even better than before. The allergy scene is a growing one. I feel there a lot of options out there to try. My theory is: Why not make it yourself and put the love into it and share it. There so many options for so many allergies. I have a book that is ready to be published. It’s all types of cuisines adapted to the most common allergies. It’s an easy book that speaks to you as you read it. It’s like I’m standing right next to you in the kitchen. I want to travel and teach. I’m so close. I have a deal with the universe: You get me to this place and I won’t be a pain in your backside. I’d love to travel to different countries and learn their techniques. A lot of countries are gluten-free by default. It’s what they have available and how they use it. Maybe a show dedicated to people with allergies. That sounds more like my cup of green tea.

I know what I want and I think I know what I need. I may not get what I want but I know I will be provided with what I need. All I have to do is ask.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

Leave a comment

20121118-201730.jpg

This is my favorite quote. It applies to so many things: food, art, people, situations, journeys and so on. I just finished putting this print up from the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine. It’s a beautiful picture painted by and signed by Dahlov Ipcar. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the museum. She is a beautiful person. She writes books about cats and paints pictures of animals. Apparently when I hung this painting up, my cat knew that. He walked over and took a quick look. Then he decided to see it in a different angle. Doesn’t matter what I thought. It was his moment and he was taking it all in. He, at that moment, was the beholder.

The beauty of art is everyone has their own vision of what it is and what it means. It doesn’t mean that one person is incorrect from another. It’s their interpretation. It’s an opinion. It’s not wrong…ever. Just like your idea of what you’re seeing is your vision. It’s never wrong. It’s what it is at the time you viewed whatever was in front of you.

Food is a lot like art. Actually, food is art. We all like different cuisines for different reasons. What we like is our opinion. A chef is an artist that uses his or her talents to create a dish that will instantly catch your eye whether it’s being set down on the table next to you or right in front of you. We eat with our eyes. But let’s take one step back. It starts long before you walk in the restaurant. Sometimes it starts with a recommendation from a friend or family member.The way it’s described (their opinion) will either turn you off or keep you listening. Most people describe the food, the atmosphere and just as important as the food, the service. So you decide to try this place based on their opinion. It’s always a good idea to look a recommendation up online. There are usually menus to look at and reviews to read. Hopefully the menu has pictures of the entrees and attractive descriptions. This is where is starts. So you get to the restaurant and the first thing you experience is the hostess. The meal actually begins here. If the service is very good, the meal will only be better. You get your menu and drink and the experience continues. You can’t help but look at what is placed on tables around you. If it smells great and looks just as good, you’re in for a treat. The person that recommended this place is a good friend. I’ll save the opposite reaction for a different blog. This one is about beauty.

From the time you order, to the time the order goes in, the chef is already at work. This is like painting 100 pictures in less than 2 hours. The chef has to combine terxtures and flavors that in thier opinion, will please your every sense. Once your dinner comes to your table, beauty will be in the eye of the beholder. Everyone is staring at your plate while you’re staring at theirs. It all looks good. Like a fine painting, you give the look of approval with a simple nod and a smile. Everyone has an opinion about their meals. It’s good. It’s not so good. It’s beautiful or what happened in there?? I’ll definitely be back or not so soon. It’s judge and jury when the plates hit the table. The canvas is quickly altered but the original painting is still in your mind every time you think of this place.

Based on that experience alone, your opinion about the entire experience will either guide the next person to or away from this restaurant. Much like art. If you go to the museum and really enjoy what you see, you’re more apt to recommend a particular place. It’s all in the presentation. It’s the same for music, movies, theater and even sporting events.

The beauty about this is that we all see things differently. If we respect the fact that each of our opinions are just that…ours, than we can share the beauty.

I have to admit, after my cat got up and went on to do his cat things, I went over to the print and layed on the floor and looked at it. I thought maybe I’d see something a little different. He might have been on to something. His angle gave me a different perspective. I didn’t quite get what he was looking at but who am I to judge. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


Leave a comment

Friendship and food

Tonight I met my new neighbors.

I was invited to a friend’s apartment to meet everyone. To my surprise there was a card on my door inviting me to a gathering. It turns out it’s a woman I used to work with. I was so happy to hear she lives in the same building. So I got home from work, did a quick laundry and headed over to her apartment.

Everyone was there. A few I recognized from seeing around the building. A few I had not met. It felt a little awkward at first but then my instincts kicked in. Say anything about food. So I did and the conversation took off like wildfire.  There was some really nice appetizers on the table so it wasn’t hard to talk about. Now my friend was very kind and let the other guests know about some of my past accomplishments. This too will open a quick door. I’ll share those in another blog.

The food looked wonderful. The wine was perfect and her apartment was just beautiful. I didn’t stay too long but long enough to feel comfortable with everyone I met. There’s a much older man who lives downstairs from me that apparently met my cats in the window. I’m glad to see even my boys are hospitable. Now give them a little food and you have a friend for life.

Food is a wonderful way to meet people. It’s the perfect conversation piece. Where I work, I can’t tell you how many conversations I have about food everyday. Every conversation is different for various reasons. I work with serious food people who love organic food and are self sustainable. I also talk with people who love to bake and tell you what and how they make it. And I work with a woman who has been an absolute God send. Each week a beautiful item from her garden. Today she gave me these beautiful black radishes (pictured here). Behind is a daikon radish as well. I have never seen a black radish. They are gorgous!!! I can’t wait to work with them. I was going to juice them but they’re too amazing for that. They need to be in a salad so they can showcase their incredible colors. Friends who share their home grown produce are good friends. They’re giving you something that they put time and care into. You will receive that from the food you make with it. Love in is love out.

The thing I do enjoy is there’s always something new to see and talk about when it comes to food. Food is the gateway to knowledge. If you’re open to it, you can learn everyday and never know it all. There are so many different cultures and regions. The produce alone grown in our country (non GMO) is impressive. Go to a farmers market some day and I guarantee you will find something you’ve never seen before. It gets me every time. And every time I see that, I have to buy it and try it. But not before a million questions to the grower. Well, maybe not a million but at least two. Farmers love to talk about their produce. It’s like their tender little offspring. They start with their seeds, nourture it and carefully harvest. Then it’s transported to the market, purchased by someone who cares and is sent to a good home. It’s always a good thing to get to know your farmers. They’re good people growing good things for all of us. Farmers are our friends.

I can’t emphasize enough how important food is in our society.  It’s more than just survival. Food is art.  Food creates friendships. Food is love.