Friday, February 29, 2008

A view of the soul...through MY Lense

One's own culture provides the "lens" through which we view the world ~
(Kevin Avruch, Peter Black – Anthropologists)

A very important person in my life wrote an amazing paper that will be presented in a highly regarded, professional forum later this year and as I was reading through the impressive document I was stopped in my tracks by this quote above. For many reasons that quote completely resonates with me, all the way to my my soul due to certain life experiences I've known. That one collaboration of words all lined up so nicely tells such a story, so take a moment to stop and think about their rhythm and just what it could mean to you.

We are all so busy, aren't we?! Packing our days and weeks, months, and years as tight as perfectly rowed little Spanish sardines. Time is of the essence in OUR culture as Americans and deadlines are how we measure least that's how it is in my profession as a public relations person. Sitting down together around the family table is almost a thing of the past for Americans - and why is that again? What could possibly be more important than a family stopping to prepare a meal together, sharing their day's stories and toasting to the stressful day they survived, hopefully intact? Nothing should get in the way of the bond that family, food and culture can bring to a table - any table, anywhere in this world.

My brother and I are both 3/4 Basque, or at least that's how we measured it out in our family - both our parents are Basque and the other nationality that snuck into our gene pool somewhere along the way is rarely, if ever discussed - shunned really! ha ha My brother and I have been raised with several cultures, when we really stop to consider. We are American citizens by birth, with a strong Basque lineage on both sides of our family, as well as being true Californians at heart. Most people don't stop to acknowledge that they are most likely influenced greatly by multiple cultures throughout their own lives. Throw in another significant culture that has also greatly influenced my life, Italian, and now I'm up to four! It's no wonder I get confused about which spices go with what dish!

Along with each one of these amazing "cultures" comes the great and powerful influence of their foods and what role they have played in shaping my life, and world view. The impact and strong-hold of Italian cuisine is a "no-brainer," right? Well that's an understatement, but let's NOT forget the very considerable influence that Basque cuisine is making throughout the culinary world. It's quite astonishing, really, and very exciting for those of us who share in this great culture. Food truly is the "glue" that adheres itself to our ribs, and our lives, not only because of the need for sustenance, but also for the pure joy and creative spirit that it brings to the world.

One of those very creative Basque influences of our time is chef Gerald Hirigoyen, restauranteur extraordinaire and owner of Piperade and Bocadillos restaurants in my hometown of San Francisco, CA. Gerald's passion for all things Basque and traditional are so apparent not only when you walk in the door of his great eating establishments, but in the taste and preparation of each meal or plate of tapas. Truth be told, since discovering Piperade and meeting Gerald several years ago, I don't eat anywhere else when I'm in San Francisco - and as a Celiac, let's just say you can eat some incredible dishes and never fear any consequences - just tell one of your wonderful servers you MUST eat gluten free and you are good to go! It will be a meal you will never forget...and I'm NOT just saying this because I'm Basque! Astegin Hartu!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Trip to the Sunshine...

My family started visiting Palm Desert/Palm Springs when I was in college. I remember caravaning with two other families and their kids on the long drive through the Mojave Desert, cars packed to the rafters as we meandered down Hwy. 395 in search of our oasis. Hours spent whacking balls on the tennis court with my brother was what brought us the most joy, along with those warm spring evenings where the sunlight just started fading before bedtime...ah the good old days.

I clearly recall another trip to the Desert back in 1999 before my diagnosis, when my body was so weak and sick from years of nutritional depletion that I wasn't able to play much tennis with my brother. Back home in the Bay Area at that time, I was in the midst of trying to hold down a rather large job as an assistant PIO (public information officer)for the City of Walnut Creek. Quite a challenge, I must say. So much so that it was during this trip to the Desert when my family and I talked for hours about me resigning due to my ailing health. What a blow - to land such a great job only to have it slip away from you with no tangible explanation as to WHY my brain was constantly in a "fog" and I was so tired and unable to think clearly - not good traits for someone writing press releases all day long.

Last weekend my brother and his lovely family invited me to Palm Desert with them for another quick get-away, allowing me some time to fill in as the "Nanny Aunt" along with playing a little tennis and finding some sunshine! What a gift it is now to be able to travel and always know (almost always) that eating out has become a much safer and enjoyable event for us Celiacs. Over the years I've honed my mantra of how to explain to the server or chef just exactly what I can and cannot eat in their restaurant. Don't get me wrong, there have been many a time when I didn't speak up for myself as I should have, feeling awkward and "abnormal" in comparison with my wheat-eating friends dipping into the bread basket, but I've learned that you MUST put the oneness on the server at all times. My mother has helped me to realize this and I thank her for the confidence boost to do so. So as we headed out for our first dinner at the wonderful Adobe Grille at La Quinta Resort I entered the restaurant full of confidence that my meal would be safe and delicious...and it was! Let's just say that they make the BEST, most fresh and fantastic guacamole prepared's worth the trip just for that special bowl of goodness - this bowl really does fill the soul! Here's their recipe so you can make your own, though it will be hard to emulate the majestic open fire pit burning in the background, but go on and give it a try:

4 Ripe avocados
4 Chopped Heirloom tomatoes
1 Tbsp. of fresh minced garlic
1/4 Cup fresh sour cream
1/2 Fresh lemon
1 Tsp.medium sea salt
1 Tsp. fresh black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro

Simply half the avocados, remove the pits and scoop the perfectly ripened contents into a bowl and add the lemon. Use a large fork or whisk to smash the avocados together, removing a majority of the lumps. Add in the sour cream, chopped tomatoes, minced garlic and cilantro. Mix all ingredients until blended then add your salt and pepper. You may need to add more salt, depending upon your own personal taste preference.

A delicious and totally gluten free way to make your own tortilla chips is to buy fresh CORN tortillas (they sell these at Trader Joe's or your local Hispanic market)that you can cut into quarters, lightly brush with olive oil, then sprinkle with sea salt or garlic salt. Place them on a cookie sheet and pop them in your oven at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or until they are golden brown and crispy. Delicious, safe and gluten free without the added fat and calories you get from deep fried chips, not to mention eliminating the risk you take eating restaurant chips that were perhaps fried in the same oil as a chimichanga or sopapilla.

I'm still lingering over thoughts of the guacamole...Since we had eaten the entire bowl that night it was essential to get some exercise the next day. After a jog in the sun, it was time to take my nephew out for an afternoon of exploration around the resort and to let his little mind wander and his little feet take him there. What's most beautiful about watching a three year old explore the world is the subconscious pull that takes you right there with them ~ suddenly I'm three again and seeing the flowers in a whole new light and stopping to watch a bumble bee perform its very important job of pollinating a flower, while really taking that moment in. It's a beautiful thing. Along our journey, my nephew decided that he would pick flowers for everyone in his family - precious right? It was, except for the fact that the grounds are meticulous around that place and gardeners seemed to whiz past us in their golf carts just at the precise moment Alex decided to rip out not just one sun-ripened Pansy...but one of EVERY color!

I would be remiss if I forgot to mention another wonderful restaurant that's definitely worth visiting, a Celiac or not! The Cliffhouse in Palm Desert is built into a sheer rock wall that's complete with a meandering waterfall, and quite a dramatic entrance that's also very intriguing for kidletts. I was so impressed with our excellent server, Amanda, and her knowledge of gluten free food preparation. Evidently three employees of the restaurant are Celiacs and have educated the kitchen staff, so immediately I was very optimistic about the delicious dinner I was about to eat and come to find out, Amanda even recommended a scrumptious poached cinnamon pear dessert - it was my lucky night.

Our long weekend in the Desert was the perfect blend of fresh air, fresh ideas and most of all - deliciously fresh food shared by all, along with some new gardening skills my nephew picked up. Cheers to abundance!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Little History ~

I've written in journals, on pieces of scratch paper, on torn-out magazine pages while sitting in airports, just about anywhere I can put pen to paper when the moment strikes and inspires me to move the ink across the page...I suppose I have much to say...not that anyone has to listen - writing and expression are like breathing for me - essentials.

I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease on April 15, 2000 - the Millennium year proved to be quite significant for my life, minus any YK2 computer crashes. My diagnosis arrived sincerely just in the nick of time, because at the ripe old age of 30 I was on my out of this life, due to almost a decade of severe sickness, complications and misdiagnosis. There are still many a day when a flash of my pre-diagnosis past enters my mind and I remember glimpses of my life during those years of confusion, sickness, despair, and ultimate frustration. I don't recall ever feeling fearful of what was happening to me though, because the funny thing about the human spirit is - we fight to live; it's innate to our souls...and of our being. However, I can honestly say that my parents and brother would not concur with my last sentence because they were laden with the fear and uncertainty of my future more than I - my job was to fight through, research, keep living, keep filling up my soul with whatever joys and enjoyment I could still physically and emotionally take in...and I did just that.

I was a very healthy little girl; active and athletic, loving food of all kinds and full of life. I was a serious equestrian rider and horses were my passion. One of my Basque grandfathers was a true cowboy and taught me the gift of riding at age four and I have four concussions under my belt to prove it…or wait, was it five? It’s hard to remember such things when you’ve hit your head so many times! I have such wonderful memories of riding for hours on end every summer afternoon through the golden hills of northern California. Those days shaped the way I have lived my life as an adult in so many ways and were simply so joyful and rich. It was during those years of riding, in my early teens, when I first began experiencing debilitating migraine headaches - the kind where you loose your vision and your cookies, so to speak. I remember that wearing a riding helmet in the heat was the diagnosis for the headaches that would shut me in my room for an entire day, until my sight returned. It would be 15 years later, after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, that it became apparent the migraines were my first symptoms. Little did I know back then of the journey that ensued, leading me to a gluten free life of abundance.