Tuesday, April 12, 2016

It could be gluten--roll eyes, then read.

I didn't think I'd ever be one of those people.

For the over two years that I worked at Kate's Kitchen in San Francisco, I waited on those people who ordered the gluten-free biscuit, who asked what was in our gluten-free flour (as if we had the time to go back to the kitchen and look at the damn flour bag). You don't want gluten, don't order pancakes is what I thought. And my grad-school colleagues who ate gluten-free were just lucky that red beans and rice, which I made for them, is naturally wheat-and-barley-and-ryeless.

I love gluten, and would have made pecan pie for my classmates if dessert was needed. I am, it's true, a bit of a dessert freak. Have I mentioned that I used to make biscotti every year during the Christmas holidays? But the idea of lemon-pistachio biscotti made with gluten-free flour make me want to cry. Just a little.

As far as I have been concerned, the gluten-free rationale and lifestyle (for non-celiacs) is annoying at best.

But when strange things began to happen to me that don't necessary sum-up at the doctor's office, I changed my mind.

I have been so tired. No, it's not motherhood. Yes, I get about seven hours of sleep every day. It is not the kind of tiredness most people have understood. It has all been very isolating.

My fatigue comes on unexpected. In the middle of a given workday, when I am trying to enter formula(e) and check numbers in Excel or draft the company newsletter, I sometimes get so tired I feel like I need to nap immediately and for a long time. I have also begun to get puffy eyelidsm which has never happened to me before. This could be due to allergies--having been away for over ten years, New Orleans is a new flora-environment for me. I can deal with that type of allergy. But the fatigue and accompanying brain-fog are not things I care to just deal with, especially when there's little room for error at work. But most importantly, I want to sustain my energy and stay well so that I can be the best mother possible!

I finally went to the doctor the other day, and she wrote in my notes that she thought my fatigue was due to the various stressors in my life (for one, I haven't been writing). She also ran a few blood tests and found my Vitamin D levels insufficient, almost deficient. She put me on a weekly supplement for 8 weeks. I'm two-and-a-half weeks in and hopeful!

The fatigue is the the most upsetting factor but there are other weird things. My face has gotten much more oily in recent weeks. This could be due to the uptick in humidity here as compared to the Bay Area and Central Texas. Or, since the skin is an organ, maybe it's trying to communicate something about what I'm eating. I have also had random visual disturbances I've never had before, like walking into a dark room and taking longer than normal to adjust. Like looking at the clock and having it move when I am actually sitting still. I don't know if I have arrived at the correct and permanent answer. I just want to know what I can do to help myself.

I realize that I have been overdosing on gluten at work. During Mardi Gras season two months ago, I ate king cake several times a week for a month. The Fiber One Bars stashed in my desk contain barley. Peanut butter sandwiches which I was eating daily contain wheat, and my morning oatmeal likely contains barley, rye and wheat. All these things might be culprits since I have sometimes belched first thing in the morning--before I have eaten anything at all.

What I am getting at is that I have decided to go gluten-free as much as possible. Potatoes or rice instead instead of pasta, and so on. I love sweet potatoes more than bread, anyway.

If you're wondering where I got the idea that gluten has anything to do with my fatigue, you'll be interested to know that for those with celiac disease (again, I hope that's not me), ingestion of gluten results in an attack on the small intestine which is responsible for the vast majority of digestion and nutrient absorption. For normal people not allergic to gluten, the small intestine has villi which absorb nutrients. For celiacs, the wall of the small intestine can become smooth, which ultimately means that the cells located there cannot participate in the delivery of nutrients into the bloodstream.

I'm not looking for a disease diagnosis. In fact, I doubt the requisite tests that could pinpoint celiac disease are covered by my insurance--which could explain the many people eschewing gluten on their own. Finally, I say good for them for trying to get to the bottom of what's bothering them.

It could be a lot more than six weeks before I'm fully back to my old self--and maybe diet is only a small part of it. But it can't hurt me to eat more wholesome foods since they really will help me sustain energy.

I have been 95% gluten free since Friday and I haven't had a single instance of brain-fog. Of course, because of my new found energy at night, I am back to writing.

And we all know that writing can help with brain fog.

Still, it could be the gluten!

Anyway, stay tuned...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Victory Gardens -- Can all you can!

When I was in grade school in New Orleans, I spent a lot of time at my grandfather's house. On many evenings, his neighbor, an amateur chef whom he also dated for many years, came over to cook for us. Mike (her given name was Ruby) had lived through the Great Depression, and though she didn't often prepare the cream cheese and olive sandwiches her mother had made from the family rations, I knew about them.

By the time I was a teenager, I'd learned about the Depression and the Dust Bowl, the Stock Market Crash of 1929. I was aware of how hungry I might have been had I grown up just half a century earlier.

It wasn't until last month when I visited the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center in Richmond, CA that I learned in detail about Victory Gardens, grown in abundance in the United States between WWI and WWII. The goal was to alleviate pressure on the public food stores. Gardening helped feed families and boosted morale for civilians on the home front. In the winter, excess food from VG's was canned and shipped to the troops.

To help get the gardens started, the government sometimes provided seeds, soil, water and expertise. Food was grown in public parks, backyards, on school grounds, and even in a crater in London.

The refrain "Can All you Can" emerged around 1941 here in the U.S.
In London, you heard things like "Plant more in '44!"

At peak production, Americans boasted 20 million gardens, and at that time VG's were responsible for over 40 percent of the vegetables consumed here. This was good for the government and even better for citizens' health; VG's were responsible for bringing nutrient-packed Swiss chard and kohlrabi into the American diet.

Here's what your standard backyard VG looked like, front to back:

2 rows potatoes
2 rows carrots
2 rows cucumbers
2 rows onions
2 rows lettuce
3 tomato plants

Needless to say, VG's fell out of favor when folks had more money in their pockets, but you'll notice a community garden here and there. With the 60's came a heightened fear (and rightfully so) of pesticide use. And people began planting anew in their own backyards.

I'm still investigating whether all these six items will grow outdoors in the Texas heat. It's a good experiment since my first baby is due six months from now!

I'll keep you posted. It'll be some time before I have access to enough of my own dirt.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kate's Kitchen for Dinner–Southern Food meets Californian

To your right as you enter Kate’s Kitchen, a landmark brunch restaurant on Haight Street in San Francisco, a painted message on the wall begins with, “LO2UL, hello to you all” and spans the length of the dining area. When decoded, it offers a note of welcome that whets the appetite. That most patrons don’t know the entire meaning matters little. Indeed, Kate’s d├ęcor is quirky, classic, and original, but it was the food that first brought patrons in the door twenty years ago. It’s what keeps them coming back.

Kate’s Kitchen, owned and managed by Hasan Khader, is the second-oldest traditional restaurant on the block. And it’s just reinvented itself. 

On any given day, tourists and locals alike congregate outside the front door, patiently waiting to drink the restaurant’s signature coffee with chicory, to taste the homemade fennel sausage, to soak their French toast orgy–topped with granola, fruit, and yogurt–in maple syrup. Not long ago, a man who was visiting from Maine said that the corned beef hash at Kate’s was the best he’d ever had. His friend later agreed.

Since the lunch and breakfast are so affordable and satisfying, it was as if on a dare to top his own daytime operation that Khader launched a dinner service last month. The locals I spoke with said they’re glad he did.

The new offerings include dishes like fried chicken, pan-seared halibut, shrimp and grits, roasted lamb, and kale salad with cranberries and bacon. The theme is a unique marriage of Southern and Californian cuisines. It offers something for the meat girl, the salad guy, and all foodies in between.

Mary's Fried Chicken
Roasted Lamb 
Shrimp and Grits
Khader and his family designed the menu, and if he happens to be on-hand when you’re visiting he’ll be glad to chat about the  new food items as well as the many changes Kate's has undergone in recent months.

The only regular day the restaurant closes is on Christmas. But in 2013, for the first time in twenty years, it closed an additional day so that an interior wall could be knocked down. Soon thereafter, a kitchen-view bar was built, which increased seating capacity and made it easier to serve beer and wine. 

Kate’s now offers draft beer and three types of mimosas, making the bar an ideal place to sit and eat before watching sports at your neighborhood watering hole. Or after–since dinner is now served from 5:00 to 9:30 Tuesday through Saturday.

What's more, the restaurant sources organic wine from California vineyards.

“Come in and let us know what you think!” Khader says. In the mornings when he stirs and cools his homemade jam, he sometimes asks his servers to taste it and tell him if something is missing.

He has the same philosophy for all food he serves. If something needs tweaking, he wants to know about it.

Kate’s Kitchen is, after all, a restaurant for the people. Whether they live around the corner or have just arrived from Europe, patrons will likely agree that the dinner entrees are spot-on.

Then they’ll come back the next morning for breakfast.

Kates Kitchen
471 Haight Street @ Fillmore 
San Francisco
(415) 626-3984

Breakfast and lunch served everyday

Dinner: Tuesday - Saturday

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Farewell to Mills College

As published by the Mills College newspaper, the Campanil:

My Mills education hasn’t been books only. Around this time two years ago, I’d already paid a tuition deposit for another local MFA program. But when I first drove onto Richards Road, I knew this would be my next academic home. It just felt right; Richards was my grandfather’s last name. He was a great writer, a word enthusiast, one of my earliest influences. As a young girl, I used to do homework at his house while he studied foreign languages and swiftly completed the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, the hardest of the week. For him, words weren’t just an assembly of letters; they had histories, origins. He insisted I consider such things.
Most important for me at Mills has been the word community. By way of context, to be close to campus I moved to Oakland from San Francisco where I’d lived since 2005. I loved my new neighborhood and apartment, but shortly after settling there I started to feel unsafe. My car was stolen twice; I was threatened while walking my bike through the park. The news of more dangerous crime nearby felt stymieing.
At the same time, here at school I began studying prose and poetry that grappled with questions about community. Is our natural state one of peace or are we more war-prone? What, if anything, should we consider shared space? The entire Earth or nothing at all? Every piece we read in the Commons Class, offered by the English Department, provoked deep thought, new imaginings. We read Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony about land rights and war trauma, about who owns the storytelling of oppressed communities. What was theoretical was also very real for us.
From the poetry of the Occupy Movement to Emily Dickinson on death and the grave to John Milton against government censorship of thought (Aeropagitica, 1644), every week enlightened me.
The readings also worked in tandem with Mills as an institution by encouraging, even demanding, an attention to one’s community. There is the hectic outside world, yes, but there’s also the welcome of Mills, the teaching of the Millsians.
I’ve been lucky to attend talks by inspired scholars and activists, to hear writers share their work–humorous, political, elegiac–on Tuesday nights in the Bender Room. I’ve also enjoyed blogging for The Campanil, reviewing fiction submissions for 580 Split. And helping other students has made me a better writer and mentor.
My first few months here, I used to get nervous when I read my work aloud. Now when this happens, I think about our clock tower, the oldest concrete structure west of the Mississippi. And I calmly finish reading in a way my grandfather, who lived to almost 100 years old, would be proud.
Long after I graduate, I will continue to think about all I gained from my time here. Thank you, Mills College, for the past two years. I look forward to many more.

Megan D. Brown 

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Tribute to George Washington Carver - the Plant Doctor, the Peanut Man

"Where there is no vision, there is no hope." – George Washington Carver

When someone does good work, it's worth acknowledging the person and the work again and again. Many months ago, I decided that Mookie's Food Odyssey would award its version of a Blue Ribbon to those with particular panache in the world of food. The first one goes to the late George Washington Carver (1864-1943).

Here's why. Not only did Carver come up with over 300 uses for the peanut–and every part of it, from fats, to oils, gums, resins and sugars–he also developed 100 uses for the sweet potato, and he worked with Henry Ford to derive an alternative fuel from soybeans! Hybrid-car drivers, please thank this man. Pioneering and persistent, Carver even attracted the likes of Thomas Edison, but "The Plant Doctor" said his services were needed elsewhere.

The nickname the "Peanut Man" is perhaps most useful for young history students. The designation "Plant Doctor" gives us even more information about Carver; this name is at the heart of who he was. He grew up an orphan and was often too ill for the more strenuous household chores, so he began taking care of the plants. He was so skilled in horticulture that his neighbors began to bring him sick plants which he would nurse back to health. And what was local, Carver made more global. Via his Jessup Agricultural Wagon, a moveable laboratory, he traveled the rural South educating farmers about sustainability. He encouraged crop rotation to conserve nutrients in the soil. What's more, he convinced many farmers to stop planting cotton–cotton requires extraordinary amounts of water–and to cultivate peanuts instead. And in this way he encouraged a departure, however slight, from the cotton industry which had effectively held the farming-South hostage.

Carver, who earned a master's degree in horticulture, was a scientist, a painter, a crocheter, and a pianist, among other things. He was a folk hero, even. You might say he encouraged a form of peace during wartime since U.S. soldiers began eating peanuts for sustenance as early as the 1860s. And soldiers of both World Wars continued to eat the legume.

Finally, although Carver may not have invented peanut butter all on his own, he certainly expedited the process by his repeated experiments in making peanuts spreadable. Peanut butter made its official debut at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, a few hundred miles from where Carver was born in the town of Diamond. 

For his progressive moves in the food world, bravo to Mr. Carver!

Now, let's eat.

Here's his personal Peanut Brownie recipe:

2 eggs
2 squares chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1/8 cup coarsely ground peanuts

Mix and bake in shallow pan in a quick oven*; garnish the top with nuts; cut in squares.

*What's a quick oven, you ask? 
I think the missing steps in the recipe indicate that he has faith in you. Go forth and bake. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What's the Big Fat Deal?

A recent Huffington Post email headline reads, "American Fast Food Reaches Glorious New Low." I'd gotten so used to seeing the phrase new low in association with national employment stats or the stock market that I was prepared to read about a decrease in the percentage of fast-food consumers. Given that fast food and diabetes are strongly linked, public health officials might laud a departure from high-calorie eating as glorious, and a health conscious reporter, perhaps the one who titled yesterday's email, might reveal his angle–or her personal opinion–in such a food-related headline. 

As it turns out, though, the word glorious, at least in this context, seems to have meant "wow, that got my attention," and not, "I admire or love that."

The opening paragraph of Tuesday's article reads: "Americans may or may not be ready for Taco Bell's Waffle Taco. (Could we ever be ready for a breakfast sandwich of sausage and eggs wedged into the crevice of a folded waffle, then topped off with maple syrup?)." 

To which I say, "Don't be so incredulous!" At the restaurant where I work, we have a cheddar and bacon pancake that patrons douse with syrup and butter. They also eat scrambled eggs on top of their french toast, and they slather jam on savory biscuits.

If, for example, it's okay to pair berries with stinky cheese, then encase it in phyllo dough before baking it, then what's so bad about Taco Bell's waffle?

This new waffle (unless someone decides to put Velveta cheese on it) is nowhere near as gross as the Wrigley's mint chocolate gum that I saw yesterday. But, should the gum get more credit because it's sugar-free? I intend to sleep on that.

I say that if we're going to fault anyone for our interest in tasty but unusual combinations of food, let us talk to Ben and Jerry of Vermont. It wasn't until I started eating their ice cream that my own had anything other than a spoon, and maybe some nuts, in it.

Ben and Jerry's used to seem kind of expensive, and was a novelty for a while. Taco Bell's waffle, I fear, isn't quite as creative.

But people are eating it, and you won't find me shaking a finger. Having looked through the window of awe-inspiring restaurants like Las Vegas's Heart Attack Grill, which serves customers a Guinness-certified "World's Most Calorific Burger," I'm not easily shocked these days. I also acknowledge that my upbringing in New Orleans, with its giant muffuletta and Po-boy sandwiches, has shaped the way I view food. With Fat Tuesday less than a week away, I wish I could share a gluttonous meal with my New Orleanian friends and relatives.

Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Some of them, no doubt, will sample Food Drunk's King Cake Burger. Let them eat alone! Though I love a good king cake with cream cheese filling, never in a million years would I add cheddar cheese and beef to a sweet brioche roll. It's not that I'm a hamburger purist. You can add cheese and pickles (even sweet ones), and mayonnaise, and all that stuff. But I draw the line at icing and sugar sprinkles.

My biggest objection to the King Cake Burger is that it physically leaves no room for the plastic baby. In New Orleans, tradition dictates that whomever gets the king cake baby in her piece buys for the next party. No baby means no tradition and I'm stuck paying the bill for a bizarre meal which I may or may not have eaten alone.

I may be a food adventurist. I may have been a cornbread pusher during childhood. I may occasionally be desperate to prove something. At the end of the day, though, I don't eat weird stuff for free.

Instead, on a very rare occasion, I go to Taco Bell. I order one small bean burrito and an absurdly large diet drink.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Potential for Widespread Rumors about Pomegranates

It feels so good to return to blogging!

I admit it, I got burned out. Between working at the restaurant and trudging through grad school, there was only so much non-paid writing I could do. Now that my thesis is underway, and I'm confident that I'll graduate from the MFA in Prose (fiction) program this semester, I'm dabbling in other genres. If interested, check out some food blogs I posted last semester with the Mills College newspaper, the Campanil.

I had every intention of posting my Thanksgiving recipes on Mookie's Food Odyssey, but it felt a little awkward after New Years came and went with the black eyed peas.

In keeping with my tradition of highlighting what's funny about food, here's some correspondence I found online. I can't remember how I stumbled upon it--probably when I was helping a dentist with copy for her website. Anyway, it gave me a few laughs! For context, what follows is a Q and A between an orthodontist and someone who seems very confused about dental care. Check it out:


Friday, 05 May 2006 - answered by Dr. Seema T. Gupta

Consultant Orthodontist,
Incisor Dental Clinic, Agarwal Eye & Dental Care,
 New Delhi

Q: I am a 20 year old student. One day a doctor came to our college to explain to us about dental care. He said that if you brush your teeth with a stick of pomegranate, then it can cause leprosy? Is this possible?

A: Leprosy is caused by infection with Mycobacterium leprae and not by brushing with a stick of pomegranate. You can read more about Leprosy on our website. 


I'm gonna be straight up. I don't know a lot about pomegranate sticks (or how they help your teeth). But I do know something about leprosy (Hansen's disease). Some armadillos are naturally infected with the above-mentioned Mycobacterium leprae, and some have been injected with the disease for research purposes.

By the way, armadillos are edible!

Dr. Gupta is so nice not to have simply replied, "lady, are you trying to get my goat?" He probably thought it, and then changed his mind.

I'm no expert, and you didn't ask me, but my advice is to keep getting at your plaque with the pomegranate stick, and if you happen to eat an armadillo, spit it out right away. Just not on anyone else, in case it has leprosy.

Personally, I find the lack of information out there very distressful.

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