The Perfect Sandwich
It’s hard to be a GI-challenged foodie and food writer. Dear Reader, I have Crohn’s disease, an inflammation of the small bowel characterized by pain, fever and diarrhea. There, I’ve outed myself and with such unsavory details, too. But I think it’s important you know that it can sometimes be a struggle for me to enthuse about food when eating it can make me over familiar with the reading material in my bathroom (I need a new crossword puzzle book dammit!) or when I have to think twice about putting yet another morsel from a skeevey-looking food cart in my mouth.
Crohn’s Disease has periods of remission and flare-up, and this summer a scan of my gut revealed I’m in the latter. Now I’m on oral steroids while waiting for the new biologic medicine infused in my veins to work its magic, but in the meantime I’m still coping with pain and a just-not-right feeling in my lower right quadrant. Times like these calls for comfort foods, and luckily the Chef complies. I have an oddly specific memory of him making me a dinner back when I was having a Crohn’s flare in 1990, a dinner that has become my go-to comfort dish and couldn’t be more simple to prepare: pollo al limone (chicken with lemon). And I asked for it again the other day, thrilled to see the Chef refer to his first composition book collection of recipes. It is the first of three books the Chef keeps of his recipes, written in his elegant script. Here are selections that show his evolution from simple tweaks of Marcella Hazan recipes to his branching out into Chinese foods with Shanghai Noodles. I sometimes annotated and illustrated important meals. All relationships have their documents—their letters, notes—and we are lucky to have these as well as the notebooks that stand as a testament to one of the strongest bonds we share: a passion for eating well.
The writing is faint, ghostly, so I’ll print out the recipe for Pollo al Limone here:
Melt two tbsp of butter with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil.
When foam begins to subside sauté 4chicken breasts that have been sliced lengthwise in half so that they
are a 1/4 inch thick.
Sauté the breasts for 1.5 minutes one side and 1 minute on the other side only. Longer and they’ll get tough.
Add to pan 10oz sliced mushrooms and cook over medium heat until juice begins to run.
Add 2 tbsp parsley and stir. Add juice of one lemon and bring to simmer.
Put chicken back in pan and turn over 2 or 3 times. Serve.
The Chef doesn’t EVER cook enough for us to have a repeat dinner of leftovers the next night, something I sometimes rue, but thankfully he makes enough for my lunch. With gut still tender and tight as a drum, I looked forward to packing the pollo al limone into two small Trader Joe’s ciabattas the following day. I topped it with two garden-fresh tomatoes from his colleague who is giving us small handfuls of summer bounty each week. Comfort squared.
…And Put AN Egg on It
I have always been intrigued by the hipster food publication on green paper, Put a Egg on It, but too bothered by the ungrammatical title to buy one or read it. Still, it’s a good rule for comfort. One of my favorite soul-satisfying “put AN egg on it” recipes is this Korean-inflected Perfect Instant Ramen Recipe from the New York Times, which not only has an egg poached in the salty broth but also incorporates one slice of Kraft American cheese. Recently, I had a high-end opportunity to enjoy putting AN egg on my leftovers. With a steroid-induced respite from my Crohn’s symptoms, we were able to go on an Ithaca, NY rendezvous with good friends of over 30 years. While there we introduced them to the Stonecat Cafe, a Fingerlakes farm to table restaurant in Hector, NY, started by Chef Scott Signori in 1999. I ordered their wild mushroom risotto with a twist—no Italian rice but spelt and barley. I was enjoying it immensely until nausea and pain kicked in halfway through our meal. I was sad to have to take it home in a compostable clam shell but secretly looking forward to having it for breakfast the next morning. Which I did, sitting on the table in front of our renovated farm house in the full summer sunshine with a slightly oozy sunny size egg draped over it. I was pain free in that moment and enjoyed every bite.
If there is any silver lining to living with a chronic disease, though, it’s in those moments when there is relief from pain, as when I sat out on the patio, inhaling the woodsy smell of chanterelles and other local ‘shrooms, savoring the eggy goo. Life reduces down to a simple equation at such moments: Body - Pain = Happiness, and food tastes better than ever.