Eating Local for Urban Families. Gluten-free and Dairy-free, too!

Sunday, October 10

Look for the Oatmeal: Hot Apple Maple Bacon Oatmeal Cereal

You can go through your life working hard, doing your best to be a good parent and wife, making a happy home for your family, squeezing in time with friends (or at least sending them supportive little love notes on Facebook) and think that whatever comes from all that effort is as much as is available to anyone in life. And whatever hardships cross your path are just there and there's no way around them.

And you could be very wrong. You could be missing a whole other level of happiness you didn't know was available to you.

I don't like conflict. I hate bringing up things that are difficult to talk about. Things that I think make me look pushy. Or picky. Or demanding.

This is no more evident in my life than with food. I live in one of the most vibrant food cities in the world, with farmers markets in every corner of the city to restaurants run by world-famous chefs to food carts. And yet I get all tied up with anxiety about trying anything new, or going to a restaurant, or any situation where I don't know what food is going to be served, because I'm afraid I'll be stuck eating a house salad (no crutons, vinegar and oil dressing). Or, that when I tell the server that I'm gluten-free they'll say, ignorantly, "It's all vegan!" Or they will refuse to serve me. (It's happened.) Or worse, I'll get sick.

And this is silly. There are ways for me to eat good food whenever I want. It only involves a little planning and speaking up for myself.

Sometimes it takes a good friend, one who is a true problem-solver, who has a perspective far way from your own anxieties, to point out the possibilities you may be missing. Someone like Asha.

At BlogHer this past August I roomed with Asha from Parenthacks. We took some very wrong turns on our Tutus for Tanner run (okay, walk) in Central Park and got back to our special runners' breakfast late. No food left. So we crashed the Newbies Breakfast. I'm always a ball of anxiety over the food at conferences because so much of it is wheat-based pastries and pasta dishes. I may find gluten-free food, but I'm often left hungry. I took one cursory look at the long buffet table and whined about how there wasn't anything for me to eat. I immediately resigned myself to eating Lara bars and lattes all day.

"What about that oatmeal?" Asha asked.


Right there was a deep pot of steaming, thick oatmeal. I mean, seriously, right in front of my face.

How many times had I thrown my hands up in the air and missed opportunities because I didn't have my wise friend next to me pointing out what's there for me to freely take?

I cringe to think about this. And I'm not just talking about food. Over the next few weeks I started thinking about the other places I give up without trying: In work situations. In my marriage. With friends. In my own personal projects.

Were they totally gluten-free oats? I wasn't sure but I generally don't have a bad reaction to oatmeal. It was breakfast. I had not been forsaken, which is how I usually feel when I eat outside of my home.

Which really? Is just ridiculous.

And this is easy to miss in my life, because in so many other areas of my life I dive headfirst into what's hard. Really hard. I do lots of things, everyday, that would scare most people, but it doesn't even occur to me to be scared.

So why do I let food interfere with my happiness?

I'm done with this. There is too much good food out there that I can eat. And cook. And grow.

My new mantra: Look for the Oatmeal.

Hot Apple Maple Bacon Oatmeal Cereal
Serves 4

4 cups cooked oatmeal (We eat the GF Bob's Red Mill Oatmeal)
2 small red apples
2 strips cooked bacon, chopped finely
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp chopped nuts
1/2 cup rice milk (or your favorite liquid dairy or dairy substitute)
dash cinnamon
dash salt
maple syrup to taste

1. Chop apples into small chunks, leaving a bit of skin here and there for color.
2. Add rice milk to the oatmeal and turn stove to low.
3. To oatmeal add apples, bacon, brown sugar, nuts, cinnamon and salt. Heat through until apples are just soft, about 7 minutes.
4. Add maple syrup to taste.

Friday, August 6


It's funny how sometimes a garden can mirror the landscape of your life.

My plan was to get all the starts and seeds in the ground before the SXSWi conference in March. Mother Nature had other plans and rained us out most weekends. We got the dead old plants out, prepped the soil with fresh compost, and that was as far as we got.

I came back from the conference exhausted (as usual) with a tremendous amount of work to get done (so grateful) and didn't touch the garden for weeks. Eventually we did get some seeds in the ground.

And then at the end of May my father died. Suddenly, unexpectedly.

But in the wake of all the grief and confusion and so many things to do came unexpected kindnesses, a deeper trust in special friends, and our busy life kept on.

Despite my neglect of the garden, things grew anyway. Amaranth came back in the same spot it had grown in last year. I still don't know what to do with this stuff. But I'm happy to see it there. It's pretty.

Work has been something of an experiment this year for both Aaron and me. Aaron left his job last summer, did some consulting, and fleshed out a start-up idea that had been brewing in his head for years. Now that that he knows it has legs this idea is now an official side project and he's looking for a fulltime gig. Meanwhile, my freelance and consulting became the steady work in our house. I got to work on some interesting projects with smart people...and now I hope to get paid for all of them. Oh, this economy.

I've never planted tomatoes in my garden. It doesn't get enough hot sun for enough hours in the day, I always said. But two tomato plants decided they liked the kale patch and would set up shop. Sun doesn't seem to be a problem for them and now they need to be staked (I'll get to that someday). Just seeing them when I water (or when I get to watering) reminds me that even things I think aren't possible, or aren't worth starting, can work out just fine.

After last year's squash took over my driveway I vowed to clear a space at the front end of the garden for zucchini and pumpkins. I never got the starts (or did I, and let them shrivel?) but pumpkins and watermelon (!) decided to set root in that spot, with out my help. I was grateful.

The grass grows. The children grow. The bees come and go.

And now it's August. I'm thinking about fall planting (I'm probably late on that). We're starting to harvest the greens that did grow, despite the cats digging up most of the seeds and shitting everywhere.

And when I stand at the end of the driveway and look over my garden and see the towering sunflowers (also, interlopers), the crocosmia grown from bulbs from my dad's garden, the adirondack chairs I set up to make a lounge in our carport, I think this is a pretty great garden.

And I wonder: Do I have it in me to keep this garden growing, to make it what I want it to be? To make it into a place of beauty and a place to welcome friends, a space that feeds my family? Am I willing to dig deep, turn the soil, see what's underneath? Can I put in all the hard work that's required to get what I want?


Saturday, September 26

Kicking and Screaming

I will never understand why, when those last days of August come into view, people wish for the end of summer and can't wait for fall. Their giddiness over cooler days, cozy nights by the fire, chunky sweaters is understandable, I guess, but I'd still rather be half-naked, outside, in the sun.

Maybe people succumb to this phenomenon because they are just exhausted by the sun-drunk pace of the season. In Oregon, where our summers are gloriously mild, but tragically brief, we try to cram every outdoor activity imaginable into those three short months before the damp and moldy winter sets in. As the days get short and Labor Day comes into sight it's as if these fall-lovers have rung every ounce of summertime enthusiasm out of their cells and welcome the dark and the wet just so they can hibernate until March. By then they'll undoubtedly have cabin fever and start wearing shorts as soon as it hits 65 degrees.

This is not me. Mainly because as the summer draws to a close I look back on my mental of list of things I wanted to do while I didn't have to wear some kind of water-repelling gear and always feel like a failure. I never picked enough berries, or rode my bike as often as I wanted to, I didn't re-landscape the front yard, or invite everyone I know to a barbecue. On and on. I was really meant for more of a temperate, Mediterranean climate where these activities can be spread out over the entire year. (Like Oakland, where I went to school, and where I am as I write this, the night before the first annual BlogHer Food conference).

This last week, the first week of official fall, we got a bonus week of hot weather. It felt like an overindulgent gift (but I'll take it). And for once, instead of letting all the annuals and the vegetables rot into the ground and ignore their brown, slimy selves until spring, I actually pulled out the tired and waning squashes and now-bitter greens and got to extending my gardening season. We planted another round of greens and little root veggies: arugula, kale, chicory, radish, radicchio, broccoli raab (which has always succumbed to bugs before, we'll see if it does better in the cooler weather). I put up new twine lines for beans that I hope to get into the ground when I get back home. I've still got rainbow chard which I might be able to keep going if I get a cold frame built to protect it (another item on the summer list that didn't get done this year).

Maybe I won't go into this fall kicking and screaming like years past. If I can keep my hands in the dirt, even if the rest of me is covered in wool and raincoat, and spread out the garden tasks over these long and dark months, I might avoid my own cabin fever and frenzied do-it-all-now mentality next summer.


Monday, August 3


Last year I had my first vegetable garden. It did okay. I found I can't really do tomatoes (doesn't get hot enough in my beds), greens do beautifully (and I learned I really love arugula), and cutworms are the most disgusting, frustrating beasts in the animal kingdom (and I'm proud to say I got rid of them, knock wood).

So we had our beds, along the driveway where I'd taken out a few of the old roses. And then on the other side of the house, where it's shady, we had some volunteer pumpkins, likely from dumping our jack-o-lanterns in the compost pile there. They were fun, growing up the fence, and we cut some and used them for decoration in the fall.

So I was kind of happy to have some volunteer pumpkins pop up on the driveway side when I planted this year's veggie garden in May. "We won't need to go to the pumpkin patch!" Clara squealed. I love it when the kids get excited about what's growing in our garden.

And so I planted beets and carrots and radicchio, three different varieties of lettuce, cantaloupe and basil and rosemary, and some others. I can't remember everything else. I haven't seen them all in so long...

...because those damned pumpkins have not only taken over the garden, they're taking over the freaking world. And the zucchini and patty-pan squash are their loyal accomplices.

Wednesday, July 29

Hot Salad in the City

I’m sitting out on my back deck, my flesh a feast for the mosquitoes, sipping some very drinkable sangria. And it’s 90 degrees. At eleven at night. Portland is in the middle of one of its worst heat waves in memory. Tomorrow we’re expected to tie our all-time high temperature of 107 degrees. All I can say is I am so, so grateful Aaron installed the A/C window unit in our bedroom this afternoon. Oh, yes, it’s true: many Portlanders don’t have A/C. There are even some, like us, who technically do have it, but never actually use it.

Earlier tonight we ate some quickly-thrown-together dish of rice spaghetti (at Iris’ request), garden zucchini fried in oil, leftover grilled chicken chunks and some torn basil. I tossed it all with some salt and pepper and a mayo-curry dressing I whipped up a few weeks ago when we ran out of salad dressing. It was fine, meaning everyone felt fed. But it wasn’t anything to get excited about.

As I was boiling the noodles, just that little bit of burner heat set off the emergency fan on my range (seriously) and the kitchen was almost inhabitable. And since I’ve just returned from BlogHer (more on that later) I hadn’t done any grocery shopping or meal planning and I’m literally just throwing protein together with veggies as quickly as I can.

(Oh, who am I kidding. I never do serious meal planning.)

Photo credit: Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times

I've got a few more quick dishes for hot nights in my repertoire, but not as many as The New York Time's Bitten columnist, Mark Bittman, who has 101 Simple Salads for the Season.

I love the way the recipes are divided. The first group is all vegan ingredients (unless you want to add the bacon Bittman suggests) so I know they're dairy-free, too. Then there are vegetarian salads, then seafood, then meat and then noodles. Most don't require any cooking, and best of all, almost all of the ingredients will be in season in the US at some point before October.

Here are a few standouts I want to try:

16 is really close to one of my favorites (fennel and apple).
28 is a revelation. I never would have thought to put figs and almond butter together.
38 is one of the many recipes with watermelon. I love watermelon in savory dishes.
They call 43 obvious, but I've never eaten raw beets. Have you?
50 may become my new lunch salad. Boiled eggs are a new staple.
78 sounds like something my sausage-loving, Midwestern husband would love and may force me to figure out how to make gluten-free bread.
79 could be a great one for impromptu dinner parties with grown-ups and kids.
I want to eat 81 right now. But the prune plums in my neighbor's tree are about a month out.
And 82 may work with all my arugula that's bolted.
94 Quinoa Tabbouleh!
I think even my quinoa-hating kids may love 99 since it calls for cherries (I'd make it with red quinoa, which is less bitter.)

There's a you can get even more ideas or offer some of your own at the Bitten blog's comments.

Tomorrow night, we may eat well. And not melt.