Posted tagged ‘Diabetes’

Crème De La Crème

February 10, 2012

Feel free to eat it right from the spoon, although personally I prefer to have a small bowlful. No, it’s not yogurt, since as a low carb eater yogurt is pretty much off limits to me. It is, I promise you, something much more delicious, and perfectly low carb. It’s crème fraîche, (which you pronounce crem fresh) and which is France’s gift to low carb eating. It’s easy to make at home, and certainly much cheaper than buying it, if you can even find it in your store. If you’ve been missing yogurt, or wincing over the carb content, you are going to love this.

Of course, everyone can enjoy this, not just low-carbers,

and you can use it in any recipe that calls for crème fraîche, as well in recipes that use sour cream. I like to put a few walnuts or almonds in a little bowl, just like the one Zazou is using here, and smother them in crème fraîche for dessert, or if you eat berries, you could use them instead of the nuts.

It’s pure cream, cultured to be very slightly sour, much less so than sour cream. Cream has only 6.5 gms of carbs per cup, and you know you won’t eat a whole cup! To me 1/4 cup or maybe 1/3 cup is a serving, so it’s practically carb-free.

Homemade Crème Fraîche

2 cups heavy cream (the best-tasting cream you can find, organic if possible)
1/4 cup buttermilk (get one with live cultures, organic if possible)

Mix together in a jar, cover, and set on the counter in a warm room for 24-36 hours, until nicely thickened. Refrigerate and eat. Now, when you have about 1/4 cup left in your jar, add 2 cups more cream and repeat, and keep doing that forever. Your first batch will taste a lot like buttermilk, but each successive batch will mellow out until after 3-4 times you have an incredibly luscious thick cream to eat instead of yogurt.

If you’ve ever kept a sourdough starter or made your own vinegar, you’ll enjoy this process.  If you have cats, they’ll enjoy it too. And remember, your crème fraîche jar is a living thing, so treat it well, feed it often, and you’ll always have a delicious little dessert on hand.


No Chef Is An Island

November 9, 2011

Sometimes the thing you most look forward to turns out to be the biggest disappointment. As I explained here, our ultimate destination on this trip was the Ile d’Oléron, and the restaurant called Le Grand Large, which is housed in a hotel of the same name.

It’s a very beautiful hotel, and we were given a lovely room

with a view out across the restaurant to the Atlantic.

An enticing path led from the hotel down to the beautiful beach,

and we didn’t hesitate to get right in the mood.

The sand was soft and golden,

and despite an amount of litter that was shocking to our Pacific Northwest sensibilities

the place was breathtakingly lovely. I remember now that I said to Shel “I’m so happy!”

Reluctantly we tore ourselves away from the beach to go in and dress up for dinner. We’d seen the gorgeous food on TV, the chef had said he’d cook in accordance with my dietary restrictions, and I was vibrating with anticipation. An hour later I was vibrating with fury, and I still haven’t entirely recovered.

I’d sent the chef, David Boyer, an excruciatingly detailed list of what I can and cannot eat, what any American restaurant would recognize as a strict low carb diet. They’d said he’d be glad accommodate me. So why was the amuse bouche based on carrots, after I’d said no carrots? Why was my first course a tartare of fish and green apples, after I’d said no fruit? And why was my main course fish on a bed of quinoa, after I’d said no starch? In an hour-long argument with the hotel manager, because the chef himself could not be bothered to apologize, I learned that a) he had apparently forgotten, and b) he was very tired, both physically and mentally, as it was the end of the season and they’d be closing in just six days, and c) they had a document that said diabetics can eat all those things, so my list of what I do and do not eat was not relevant. It was the most infuriating thing I’ve experienced since I became diabetic, and there was nothing to be done about it. We’d traveled 900 kilometres to eat at that restaurant because they’d said they would be glad to have me, and they’d totally blown it off.

In America I’m pretty sure that the chef would have come to the table, said something along the lines of “I am so terribly sorry, there was some miscommunication, let me make it up to you by giving you a fabulous dinner tomorrow” and although I would have been disappointed, he would have made it right. In this case, not only did none of that happen, but they still charged me 50 Euros for the dinner (about $70) and suggested that we eat in some other restaurant the following night.

So no, I do not suggest that you trek to the Ile d’Oléron to worship at the shrine of a chef that can’t be bothered. Instead, if you find yourself there, eat at Le Saint Pierre, as we did the second night, where you can really enjoy yourself, be treated like an honored guest, and eat whatever you like.

Or go to almost any good seafood place and eat mouclade, the local preparation of mussels in a cream sauce with just a touch of curry. It’s utterly delicious.

If you go, as we did, back to the continent from the island, you can go to Marennes, famous for its oysters and its low tides. Boats there  are made specially to be beached, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the sight


What we did in Marennes, and I definitely recommend that you do too if you get the chance, was to visit La Cité de l’Huitre, Oyster City. It’s kind of an oyster theme park, but the very best kind, full of opportunities to learn all about the life cycle of the oyster, and the history and techniques of local oyster cultivation.

We were able to have a guided visit with Yann, an ostreiculteur whose grandfather and father were also oyster farmers. Once again there were tons of kids on the visit, and Yann did a great job of getting them involved in his demonstrations. The French are really big on taking their kids to learn about all kinds of artisanal activities and food production, and we’re always struck by how seriously the kids take it, and how generally well-behaved they are. The visit ended cleverly, with a lesson on how to safely open oysters, and a tasting.  The catch?  Each adult got an oyster knife and two oysters; if you could open them you got to eat them. Luckily, Shel could open them but wouldn’t eat an oyster if his life depended on it, so I got to eat them all. Kind of like the visit to Cognac where he did the driving and I did the drinking. Not that I’m complaining!

That night we crossed back over the 3 kilometre long bridge to the Ile d’Oléron for a bittersweet end to our stay. I don’t think I’ve ever been so psyched about doing something, only to have it end so badly. We did manage to have an excellent time in spite of it all, but it was tough. Next time you’re in France, try to go somewhere where they’ll care about you. That would be almost anywhere but Le Grand Large.

“The Food Of Malaysia”

May 29, 2010

When I started thinking about this cookbook giveaway project, I didn’t realize that it would be an exercise in grief.  Not that I’m so attached to the pages themselves, it’s all about what they represent to me.

This beautiful mango pudding didn’t come from “The Food of Malaysia: Authentic Recipes From The Crossroads Of Asia,”  although it very well could have.  Nor did I test it for you today.  It’s been a long time since I made it, and I’ll most likely never make it again.  Just as I’ll never again make anything from this lovely book.

I picked up this book today because just looking at it gave me a swift and sharp craving for Malaysian food.  I’m used to doing a lot of vicarious traveling with food, and I love shopping in little hole in the wall stores where not all of the food is labelled in English, taking home my mystery ingredients and whipping up a dish that transports me instantly to places I’ve never been.  Malaysian food is perfect for that, it’s exotic, savory, intriguing, full of umami, and sadly, sweet.  Every single recipe has sugar, or starch, most often both.  Leafing through the book makes me realize that now I can never visit Malaysia.  There would be nothing at all for me to eat.  It makes me cry to hear that door slam.  I wonder what Malaysian diabetics do eat?

It’s true that the book has a daunting list of ingredients: candlenuts, cloud ear fungus, daun kesum, ikan bilis, pandan leaf, belacan. Fortunately, living near Seattle, I can find those things.  What puts me off though, and why you may have this book if you’d like it,  is the sugar. Lots of the recipes contain no more that a teaspoon, or a tablespoon, of the stuff, so someone might admonish me to just leave it out.  But no, Asian cooking is predicated on the balance of subtle flavors, and even a teaspoon of sugar will transform a dish.

Someone else might admonish me that a few grains of sugar or a bit of rice aren’t going to hurt me.  And they might be right.  But as I think we all know, that’s a slippery slope, one I’m not inclined to step onto.  And so for now, and maybe forever, no Malaysian food for me.  No Thai food, my hands-down favorite cuisine in the world.  No Japanese food and precious little Chinese food.

I could keep the book, and others based on the forbidden cuisines, hoping that someday my world might change and I’d be able to plunge back into these favorite foods.  Just like deep in the garage I have a box of clothes that are too small, kept in case I’d ever be able to wear them again.  Some of those garments I’ve had for 20 years, without being able to bear giving them up.  Hope dies an aching, invisible death.  So which is better, to fan the flames with constant reminders, or to just walk away?

But on a more practical note, my bookcases are overflowing, and if Malaysian food speaks to you like it does to me, don’t be afraid of this book.  There are stories about the various cuisines that have come together in ethnically diverse Malaysia to create its special food, pictures and explanations of ingredients and techniques, nice pictures of the finished dishes, everything you need to get started. If you live in a small town without access to Asian ingredients this probably isn’t the book for you, because the ingredients are pretty hardcore.  But if you’re brave and have a good Asian market near you, have at it, it’s well worth it.

If you’re ready for a trip to Malaysia, just leave a comment saying so.  If several people would like this book, I’ll put your names in a mixing bowl, give them a good stir, and draw one.  I’ll send it to you and I’ll ask you to pay for the postage, if you can, via PayPal.  For security and anti-spam reasons, please don’t put your email address or snail mail address in the Comments section.  When you comment I see your email address and I’ll contact you soon if I draw your name.  Give this book a good home, make something delicious from it, and I’ll be happy.

Sweet Nothings

May 6, 2010

Preparing food without tasting it is a cardinal sin among cooks.  How can I put delicious food in front of people unless I’ve tasted it to be sure that I didn’t accidentally put peppermint extract in the Scallops in Vanilla Beurre Blanc? But because I’m minding my blood sugar I eat absolutely nothing sweet these days, not even the merest molecule, and so baking presents the greatest challenge of all.

Lots of people have asked me how I can bake treats for Shel and our friends when I don’t eat them myself.  “All that temptation,” they say, “how can you resist?”  After thinking about that a lot I have a Eureka! moment and realize that I’m very lucky to have been a personal chef for a few years.  In that gig I learned to separate the act of cooking from the act of eating.  Cooking for its own sake, just for the pleasure of working with the ingredients, and for the pleasure your efforts will bring to others, and not because you’ll be rewarded with a good meal, is an art in itself.  I’ve always said that cooking is my art, but still, as a food artist you must taste, even if you don’t actually eat.

Last night I made some frosting for Shel, to top the muffins-that-wanted-to-be-cupcakes that I’d made the day before.  He wanted mocha frosting. Easy peasey, right?  I put a small amount of instant espresso powder in a bowl, added some cocoa, some sugar, stirred it with a little cream, and added mascarpone until the texture looked right.  Except, something seemed wrong.  It didn’t seem sweet enough.  It didn’t look sweet enough, it didn’t smell sweet enough.  Since I’ve given up sugar and all forms of sweeteners I think I’m developing sugar ESP.  I’ve always been able to smell when a food needed salt, but judging the degree of sweetness by smell might be a new skill, even if it’s a skill I’d prefer not to have been forced to acquire. So I added more sugar to the frosting and called Shel to taste.  “More sugar, more cocoa, more coffee?” I queried. “Perfect as is,” he pronounced.  Now how had I managed that?

Of course, one way to handle this situation is to make a recipe that’s already perfect, that I’ve tasted many times, and that’s guaranteed to work.  And that brings me to the carrot cupcake you see floating lusciously at the top of the page.  While you were reading my story about the mocha frosting, you make have done a little double take when I added the mascarpone.  It’s not a typical frosting ingredient, but I learned it from a fantastic recipe for Carrot Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting.  I’ve never made another carrot cake recipe since I discovered that one, and possibly you’ll be equally enchanted by this recipe.  As I recently discovered, it makes admirable cupcakes, and the frosting technique has a much wider application than the original recipe envisions.

Cupcakes are perfect if you’re in “sweet for him, nothing for me” mode, but don’t hesitate to make the whole cake just as written.  I’ve wowed countless people with this cake, and there’s never much left over.  I make it exactly as written, and you shouldn’t change a thing either until you’ve made it once. And after that, I’m betting that you won’t want to change it at all.  One click and sweet bliss is within your grasp Carrot Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting.

French Lunch, A Bunch

December 9, 2009

We’ve had some great lunch invitations lately.  One thing I love about France is that lunch can be a real meal, an event, and an occasion.  It’s really sweet to hang out with nice people, eat great food, and drink good wine, while the sun’s still shining.  In the above case, we were invited by some Belgian friends for a raclette lunch, which I’m here to say beats a Swiss raclette lunch hands down.  The Swiss thing is a huge round of cheese, melting bit by bit, served with a potato, and a cornichon or two, and maybe a pickled onion.  In other words, virtually all cheese.  And however good the cheese, it’s still all about the cheese.

Whereas Belgian raclette, at least chez Henk and Greete, involves rolls of smoked salmon, cauliflower, green beans, onions, pickles, mushrooms,

gorgeous jambon cru, a delicious cured raw ham,

as well as the inevitable (not approved for diabetics) potatoes.  Actually, this proved to be a perfect meal for anyone eating low carb, diabetic or not.

You lay a slice of cheese on your own personal tray, cover it with whatever suits your fancy, and top it with more cheese.

Then you slide your creation into the raclette toaster and wait until it becomes all melty and gooey.  I took a picture of the melty gooey phase of this lunch, but it looked like just what you’d imagine, yellow goo.  Thus permit me to leave it to your imagination, and believe me when I tell you that leeks and smoked salmon are fantastic with that special variety of yellow goo.  Really fantastic.

For those who weren’t worrying about their blood sugar there was cake and cream and

coffee from their nifty built-in Miele espresso maker.  It was all enough to make me resolve to visit Belgium as soon as possible.

Then, not long afterward, we had lunch with our one-of-a-kind neighbor Jean-Claude and his adorable mom, who is 94 years old and a treat to be around.  As opposed to a build-your-own lunch, Jean-Claude made us

his own special brand of beautifully composed food.  He was a restaurateur before he retired, and his plates always reflect that sensibility.  Here we had olives that he cured in salt from the tree in his back yard

and he sent us home with a jar of green lovelies that he’d cured in brine.

I wish I had a picture that did justice to the inside of this pastry pyramid, which was filled with beef tenderloin and tiny vegetables.  But alas, as with the yellow goo, my camera skills lagged behind those of the cook.  Suffice it to say that it was tender and succulent, a delight to the eye and the palate, even if the camera refused to cooperate.

Dessert was a beautiful, and, from what I heard, delicious, choux puff with a transfixing caramel mirror glaze.  I’d love to be able to tell you how it tasted, believe me I would, but you’ll just have to imagine it for yourself.

What I can tell you, without hesitation, is that it is truly a wonderful thing to be cooked for.  Normally I’m the one who cooks for my friends, something I adore doing.  But really, there’s a fantastic little something about being a guest, about having someone else standing over the stove, chopping the ingredients, presenting them beautifully.  I scarcely even regret the things I do not eat while I revel in the dishes that someone has prepared with me in mind.  I love to be a guest, it’s that simple.  Feeeeeed me!

For The Love Of Fruit

September 23, 2009

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I dream of fruit.  I long for fruit.  I admire fruit wherever I find it, whether in its natural or transformed state.  This is actually a sweet winter squash, although I might not have believed it had I not seen

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the transformation taking place before my eyes, the other day at the Moissac festival of fruits and vegetables.  Maybe I need to learn to love fruit as an object of art, instead of thinking of it as something to eat.

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This watermelon is actually not begging to be eaten, because who could bear to spoil its perfectly carved symmetry?  Not to mention the fact that watermelon is said to be one of the very worst fruits for diabetics, full of sugar that goes straight to your blood and stays there.

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Even the fruit that is just normally beautiful calls out to me.  I don’t answer, but it calls.  Some diabetics say they can eat half an apple, if they eat it with peanut butter or cheese, but I personally could eat that whole box of Reine Claudes, one of my favorite plums.  I could, but I don’t.  I don’t eat even one.

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But as Frank Zappa famously wrote “Call any vegetable, call it by name… and the chances are good the vegetable will respond to you.”  And so I called the radish.  These were exceptionally vigorous and virile radishes, longer than my hand and twice as pink.  And I wanted to do right by them, plus it was a chilly evening when a warm vegetable responded better to my dinner plan than any salad could.  So into the pot with them, et voilà, Butter Braised Radishes.

This isn’t an original idea, as variations of it are to be found all over the Internet as a low carb favorite substitute for potatoes.  I wouldn’t say the resemblance is close, as the radish retains a slightly peppery freshness that a potato just can’t achieve.  But it’s a delicious dish, one I’ll be making again soon and so should you.  It’s not fruit, it’ll never be fruit, but it’s one of the next best things.

Butter Braised Radishes

1-2 large bunches of radishes
a large chunk of good butter
salt and pepper

Trim and clean the radishes, saving the greens to toss into a soup, where they’ll really surprise you with their pleasant flavor.  Cut radishes into large chunks, as you would with potatoes if you were making home fries.

Melt the butter in a heavy pan, one wide enough to hold the radishes all in one layer.  You really need a decent amount of butter, so don’t hesitate to add more than you think is prudent.  You’re not going to eat all that butter anyway.

Add the radishes to the melted butter, salt and pepper them, and reduce the heat to medium low.  Allow the radishes to braise in the butter until they are tender and golden brown on all sides, about 20 minutes.

Serve them with love, and I’m pretty sure that those radishes will respond to you.

More Cheese Please

September 5, 2009

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A couple of nights ago we found ourselves doing what the French do with such aplomb, sitting outside on a warm evening, eating and drinking oh so well.  As you might remember, I’ve been agonizing over how a low carb life would be compatible with eating out in France, and this was the first true test.

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We were seated in the close company of pigeons at a great little place called Le Grillardin. I normally am not fond of Montpellier, which has the most hellish traffic I’ve ever seen and is not very pretty into the bargain, but for this place I’d gladly make an exception (so long as someone else is driving me there).

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My dinner got off to a lovely start with this warm pig’s feet salad.  Pig’s feet are one of those things that are almost always better when someone else makes them, because the deboning and extraction of the tiny morsels of meat is something I’d rather leave to professionals.  I love a good kitchen project, but boning pigs feet is right up there with making homemade blood sausage on my list of tasks to avoid.  Been there, tried that, now worship those who do it for a living.

After the salad I chose a main course called Roasted Raw Milk Camembert with Saucisse de Morteau and new potatoes.  Naturally, the potatoes were problematic.   In my experience French waiters aren’t big on substitutions, since every plate is balanced in the kitchen and changing one element might throw the whole thing off.  However, when I asked for green vegetables instead of a creamy potato gratin, our server relented.

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And here’s what he brought me.  Right, a whole Camembert, all melty and bubbling, with a side of sausage, salad, and beans.  I’d really ordered it because of my devotion to Saucisse de Morteau, one of the best cooked sausages in France.  I’d imagined a wedge of Camembert on the side, not a whole cheese served with a spoon.  Of course, when presented with such an opportunity, what would any sensible person do?  Eating cheese with a spoon right from the box sounds either decadent or tacky, depending on your perspective.  In my case, not stopping to consult my arteries, I dove right in, a headlong plunge into a low carb dream of warm meltingness.  But even I, a cheesehead from the get go, couldn’t polish the whole thing off.

I tried, believe me, I tried.  I only surrendered when I realized that a shot of Calvados would cut through it all in a most delightful way, and thus was I saved from having to report that contrary to expectations one person can eat an entire Camembert and live to dine another day.

Pigs feet, Saucisse de Morteau, Calvados, and most of all, Camembert.  Yes, I’m beginning to think that a low carb life in France is possible, although it will take a few more great meals like that one to convince me completely.  When it comes to the low carb life in France, there are many options, but in the end, the cheese stands alone.