Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

The difference


Is one of attitude.

My mother was fond of repeating a, somewhat trite, platitude, which she both believed, and tried to follow:  The difference between American parents, and European parents is American parents say, “Eat this, it’s good for you,” and European parents say, “Eat this, it’s good”.

I somehow manage to be attracted to people who have allergies.  I like to cook for people.  As a result I have gotten pretty good at finding ways to cope with restricted food sources.  My Beloved Fiancée (MBF) has a relatively short list of allergies, which have an inordinate effect on what I can do.

Raw Onions

This means I have learned to do a lot of “Pre-Columbian, Old World Cooking”.  As one might imagine, restaurants are a real problem (exacerbated by her keeping kosher).  Mostly they treat her as a child, and offer her plain food, with no spicing.

Which is offensive.  Not just because she is treated dismissively (as if her allergies are just a plea for attention), but because I know (from personal experience) that it’s a failure imagination on the part of the chef.

Yes, I have more time to ponder the issues.  Yes, it means one is cooking a la minute, and the sauces one is used to are all off the table (because garlic, fruits, and nightshades: fruit means no wine). But if one is demanding $60 a plate, one ought to be interested in the challenge.


One of the things which is hardest is the loss of the “hot” elements one gets used to.  I try to do things with mustard, and I use a lot of vinegar, but she didn’t have an awareness of all these allergies until recently (and some may have been late onset).  So she is familiar with things like curry.  She likes them.

Tonight’s supper, salmon over salad with “curried” cous-cous.

Take 2qts water.  Bring to a boil with 10-12 curry leaves (I used 10), ¾ Tbls garam masala, 2/3 tsp turmeric.  Boil furiously for 30 mins.

In a shallow skillet braise an onion in oil and garam masala.

Make cous-cous in the “curry tea”.  Drain, toss with the braised onions, and oil.

For the salad, quarter ¾ cup cornichon, longitudinally.  Dice ½ can beets.  Grill (in a pan) a quantity of bite-sized asparagus (let the tips of the buds char, just a bit).

Pan fry salmon: cook it almost all the way through from the flesh side.  A hard, deep, sear is the idea.  Finish on the skin; rest it.

Toss with mixed greens, place a mound of the cous-cous mix, and top with the salmon, after the skin has been peeled.

I dressed it with a horseradish mustard and rice vinegar vinagrette; to which I’d added a bit of powdered lemongrass.  (I’d made it the night before).

The best part was the cous-cous.  It had some curry bite.  If I’d added some mustard oil, it might have even been, “hot”.

There are pictures (though I need to work on color balance when editing them on my phone).

From Above

Lower Angle

11 thoughts on “The difference

  1. That’s a challenging list of ingredients to avoid. Have you looked at some of the Chinese vegetarian dishes for ideas? Not only are they vegan but they prohibit the use of allium, so no garlic or onion anywhere (the fructose, peanuts & nightshades from your list are allowable though).

  2. “Which is offensive. Not just because she is treated dismissively (as if her allergies are just a plea for attention), but because I know (from personal experience) that it’s a failure imagination on the part of the chef.”

    This is a remarkably silly and stupid remark. It implies you know pretty much nothing about how restaurant cooking MUST be done in order to run a solvent and profitable business. To profitably run a restaurant you need to maintain a limited menu and do a lot of the necessary prep in advance of the start of business so that getting meals cooked and out to customers can happen FAST, by rote, with a limited number of variations available. A restaurant chef in the midst of making dozens of meals at once does not have the latitude to pause to contemplate the larder, invent a completely new, untried dish every time someone comes in with an allergy or dietary limitation. Time and leisure for “imagination” are simply not a luxury that chef has. If he takes them, chances are, the other 11 patrons will be unhappy with the delay to their own meals. If someone comes in and cannot eat something on the menu you offer them a variant of the nearest thing that *is* on the menu, with the offending ingredient(s) left out. If too many adult dishes won’t work, you wind up on the kids’ menu. A restauranteur that does otherwise won’t be in business long.

  3. No. I do. I know that a restaurant does do off the menu to please people. They do it to please people they think are important. I also know that coming out and telling large parties, which have ordered for everyone but the allergic person (whom the maitre d’ has been told of, and waited until after the order was sent in to come and speak to) and having them leave; with the attendant loss of word of mouth (and in this day and age, social media reviews), is also a problem.

    It’s a problem too when the response is, “have some steamed vegetables, and a plain piece of meat (or a plate of lettuce) and be charged the market rate for a plate with all the trimmings of the dish which was stripped of all the things that justified charging $45 a serving.

    I know that restaurants can do it, because I’ve seen them do it. I’ve seen them piss off people by going much more over the top than dealing with one plate; but rather an entire table, because they thought the “friend of the restaurant” was more important than the rest of the room. As you say, it’s a business decision. Being patronising, and telling me I’m stupid, or silly, to have opinions about which business decisions they make is offensive. Assuming that I don’t have any idea about the restaurant trade (when I’ve spent the past three years working with chefs in teaching kitchens, as well as selling them equipment) is either ignorance, or arrogance.

  4. If you go to Denny’s and they can’t work something out, that’s to be expected. But the whole conceit of a fancy restaurant is that everything is done specifically to serve you. Back when I had kiddie food allergies, I had some fantastic experiences with restaurants that accommodated my needs.

  5. When going out to dine with vegetarian friends, we make a point of doing research first & also telling the restaurant about specific dietary requirements when making a reservation. In general, the response is fantastic; I’ve had meals where I got envious because the vegetarian options served up to friends looked more attractive than my (normal) a la carte items.

    I can see from the restaurant’s PoV that if a patron tells them of specific requirements only once seated, it puts extra pressure on the kitchen, so as part of our dining contract, we do our bit to give the restaurant plenty of time to accommodate our needs. In a “no reservations” establishment, we would check out their menu online first to see if any items are a fit (or are a near fit). If it’s a spontaneous dining decision, one of my first questions would be whether they could cater to our dietary needs. If not, we go elsewhere.

  6. We warn the restaurant when making reservations. We also don’t reserve for the rush, nor on peak nights. Most vegetarian restaurants try to work with us. Restaurants which serve meat tend to be,”here, have a salad, that will be $20″. Kosher places have been, in general, less than helpful. I think they assume we are a captive audience, and what can we do.

    The one which had the manager come and say, “young lady, all sauces have wine or garlic” was not happy with the review they got.

  7. i haven’t found mustard oil since i left tel aviv…if you think you can do it without ending up with a suitcase of oiled clothing, could you bring me some when you visit in march? or maybe i should just ask you ‘how do i make this?’ =)

    regarding restaurants, i’ve had a few good experiences and enough bad ones that i’d rather cook for myself than go to a fancy / expensive place. but you knew that already =)

  8. Where we are, there appears to have been a sea change in the last five years, with vegetarian options becoming more common in the higher end of the market (including degustations). The economy is still tough, and establishments that treat their patrons poorly would not stay in business long in this climate.

    The practice you just describe (“here, have a salad…”) would result in us never going back (there are so many other options out there) and telling *everyone* we know about our experience. The contrasting experience was a restaurant that assembled something that fit dietary requirements from ingredients already to hand in an imaginative way. But then, this particular place has been getting a reputation for innovation, with a menu that changes weekly.

  9. I have very few restrictions myself (though I try to eat more healthy stuff regardless), but both my parents are vegan, so yeah, I hear you about restaurants and dietary issues. Even more trouble is that my mom is trying to be gluten-free.

    Does your MBF like sushi or wasabi?

  10. Amnesia: Yes, but she eats rather a lot of it, esp. on days she doesn’t pack a lunch.

  11. “No. I do. I know that a restaurant does do off the menu to please people. They do it to please people they think are important. ”

    Whether some restaurants sometimes go off menu with things they already have, actually has nothing to do with whether it’s part of a good business model to a) do it in the say you are essentially suggesting, which is for them to invent new dishes on the fly, and b) make a general practice of making exceptions. If you want to go hunting for excuses to be offended, be my guest, but recognize that that is what you’re doing.

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