Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Since avoiding gluten consumes my Naked Fork life, it must be given some due here.

Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley and malt (and, due to contamination from harvesting and storage, also in most oats). Gluten is the molecule that gives texture to breads and other baked goods and makes these things yummy! It enables baked products to hold together and expand in cooking.
People who have CELIAC DISEASE cannot consume any gluten, not even a crumb.

The first time you eat a gluten-free ("GF") slice or bread or a cookie, the initial shock is when it turns into dust the instant you bite into it.

Whoo boy. The U.S. press has gotten hold of "gluten," and is this ever a mixed blessing! For those who have Celiac Disease (more than 2 million in the U.S., 97% of whom do not know they have it), the press coverage is great in getting more information out there -- with discussion of symptoms and explanations to the rest of the world of how involved and difficult it is to live without gluten.

However, as the press grabs up and ultimately sullies nearly everything, "not eating gluten" is suddenly being touted as the latest fad (see: Top Ten 'Yuppie' Health Conditions), lessening the public's opinion of what is a very serious disease for many. But on the other hand, the more people who are actively seeking to avoid gluten, the more pressure there is on food manufacturers to produce true and palatable gluten-free foods (a fledgling industry, at best, in need of some serious palate and taste guidance).

There is a lot out there written about Celiac Disease and gluten -- so I do not intend to squeeze a treatise on this subject into my little blog.

Here are some of the best informational sites, if you are interested in finding out more:
  • GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group® of of North America)

And here is the best book written on Celiac Disease ...
CELIAC DISEASE: A HIDDEN EPIDEMIC by Peter H.r.Green and Rory Jones

For decades, European countries and their governments have recognized Celiac Disease as a major medical condition. It has taken the U.S. a long time to catch up, but it is finally happening. As a result, much is available now to read and learn about gluten and Celiac Disease. Most people who are in this fix have already read it all -- so I won't be paraphrasing it here.

I will limit myself to just a short list of personal observations to share with those who don't have to live this life:

  • Gluten is present in almost everything. If it is not an actual ingredient, so many packaged, canned and bottled goods are cross-contaminated by it. Surprising foods that contain gluten are: soy sauce, beer, many sauces and salad dressings, French fries at just about any restaurant (because they are fried in the same oil with wheat-battered items) and many veined cheeses (due to using wheat bread to start a culture).
  • There is no such thing as a "little" gluten. One must strive to eliminate every bit of gluten possible. Gluten is not always listed among ingredients on food labels, so hours and hours of research are necessary to know what foods are gluten free.
  • A growing number of restaurant chefs, managers and waitrons understand about gluten, and go out of their way to help one eat gluten free -- almost like a normal person. My message to you, and you probably know who you are: YOU ROCK!
  • My fantasy "last-meal-before-execution" (in the event I ever eat a Twinkie and "accidentally" off someone): KFC (Original Recipe, of course), a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme and genuine San Francisco sourdough bread.
  • Never let it be said that I cannot see a silver lining in all of this. Having to eat gluten free forces one to look to freshly prepared foods, and to give up an awful lot of junk food -- usually riddled with gluten. Instead of seeking my jollies in a Big Mac with Fries, I'm far more likely to get excited over really great freshly prepared meat or fish, with a wonderful salad of organic baby greens with a sprinkling of nasturtiums, plus freshly roasted gold and red beets with thick aged balsamic vinegar and Greek EVOO. (Oh, yeah, right ... unfortch I can't get the latter for 3 bucks. Whoops! Where did that silver lining go all of a sudden?)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


BEAUTIFUL gourd art from Vickie's Sketchbook

GOURD: A word used to differentiate winter from summer squash. Summer varieties being delicate, fragile, quick to slice, speedy to cook. Winter varieties being hearty and dense, heavy and encased in armor, such that they have been used by ancient civilizations for art, bowls, spoons, dippers, ceremonial rattles ... and Seminole Indians used the seeds for "adult's sickness caused by adultery."

I love winter squash. The taste is lush and deep, just as are the colors of its shell and flesh. However, user-friendly it is not. To extract its edible goodness requires wielding your biggest baddest blade to remove it from its unyielding carapace and cut it into pieces. Thankfully, as vegetables go, winter squash is also nearly imperishable, and will keep on your kitchen counter until you are able to gather up sufficient courage to attack, strip and dice it.

Although high in carbs, Butternut Squash (for example) delivers a relatively low glycemic load, and is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese.

So, it isn't just about pretty colors!
There are many approaches to how to attack a winter squash, with two extremes linked below:SIMPLY RECIPES: Elise's rational, logical and artful approach in How to Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash

VIDEO: Not me in this vid, but exactly how I often feel when faced with this daunting task ... How to Cut a Really Big Squash

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


This entry is not, as the reader might expect, about water in bottles or water from magical springs. Nope. This entry is about Alice Waters, proprietor and visionnaire of the oft-celebrated Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California.
(Beautiful book cover below by David Goines, long-time illustrator for Chez Panisse, the image below linked from his site.)

Alice came to the Indiana heartland to speak this week. Such a juxtaposition could be barely imagined: the woman arguably responsible for California Cuisine -- all about locally grown, organic and sustainable foods -- speaking right here in Naptown, where each summer there is a contest to decide which “food” -- the Twinkie or the SlimJim -- turns out the best battered-then-deep-fried offering at the State Fair. As a quick aside, the greatest joke of all that the Fair now touts that no trans-fats are used at the venue! Somehow, when you’re talking Elephant Ears or Corn Dogs, I think it matters little whether the fats are “trans.”

Alice’s lecture was sold out -- which means many here are at least interested in Alice’s message, which begins with opening minds to the limitless delights of food, and transcends to opening the mind about culture, diversity, politics and the blessings of The Earth. That can only be a good thing.

Rather less-than-good was a food sampling, served up afterward, by a local culinary school. With to-be-expected gluten in everything, I could not partake, but could smell and see food that was sloppily plated and redolent with stale (and far too much) garlic -- such that I was a not bit disappointed that I could not eat any of it. Had these students and teachers even heard of Alice Waters before this? Perhaps not, and we can only hope they were able to hear her speak to stir some inspiration in their hearts.

However, a sweet surprise was to find Peet’s Coffees and Teas being served -- straight up out of Berkeley! I could, of course, partake of a Peet’s Coffee, but was left to wonder how it appeared there. In a decade, I’ve never seen Peet's in Indy. A request from Alice? Perchance a thought of “let’s have coffee from Berkeley because Chez Panisse is in Berkeley?” I care not -- I could drink it and it was splendid.

Alice spoke regretfully of the vanishing family meal, where everyone would sit together at the table to share in the everyday experiential event of food and conversation. Per Alice, only 15% of families in this country still come together regularly at the dinner table. One of her major projects is currently The Edible Schoolyard -- a wonderful experiment in a formerly rundown Berkeley middle school.

Image linked to The Edible Schoolyard

Rightfully, it can no longer be called an experiment but clearly a shining success. Here, through hands-on gardening and preparation of fresh food, children are learning the basic values of hard work, self worth, rewards, respect, integrity, appreciation and so much more.

The real reason that Alice is special enough to warrant her own page on The Naked Fork is that Chez Panisse was highly formative in my own relationship to and learning about food. Just out of college, I had the supreme experience of eating at her wonderful restaurant during its early (and, yes, more affordable) years. As now, Waters offered a single
prix fixe meal each night at the main restaurant. It was often new and even challenging food -- but one always trusted in Alice and ate it, always to great amazement and admiration. Eating at Chez Panisse taught me to keep an open mind about food, and (almost) never to turn up my nose to anything unless it was unclean or unsafe in any way.

For more about Alice
, her history and the restaurant:

The California Museum/Alice Waters

Chez Panisse Restaurant