Monthly Archives: August 2010

Foodie Friday: A Shakespearean Tragedy Part II

Last week you heard all about our fabulous feast at Helmand in Cambridge followed by a night with the Moor, or Othello in the park. What great timing for me to see Paul Levy’s post on the Running A Hospital blog about gazpacho without tomatoes! I never did like gazpacho much. Tastes like V-8, which I also don’t like. But no tomatoes? THIS I could try. I soaked bread in water and threw the soggy mess into the food processor. I blanched almonds and stood at the counter for what seemed like FOREVER peeling them. Note my pile of almond skins! I blended, I seasoned, I tasted. I had to transfer it out and use my immersion blender. And . . . and . . . and . . . EWWW. I was so disappointed. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it tasted kind of like almond milk with garlic. Which is what it is, I guess. I think I could envision this served as an amuse bouche or starter, maybe served in a shot glass. But it wasn’t what I was expecting when I made it as “soup” for dinner.

Well, at least I still had the eggplant side dish I had made. From Bon Appetit – Israeli couscous with roasted eggplant and cinnamon-cumin dressing. It is available online.

July 2010


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 3/4-pound unpeeled eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (8 to 9 cups)
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

    Israeli couscous (used in the couscous with roasted eggplant) is sold at specialty markets like Whole Foods. If unavailable, substitute an Italian soup pasta like acini di pepe or orzo, which can be found in supermarkets, and cook the pasta according to the directions.


  • Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Place eggplant cubes on sheet; drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast until tender, turning occasionally, about 40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook couscous in boiling salted water until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water until cool; drain again. Place in large bowl.
  • Toast cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until slightly darkened, about 4 minutes. Grind seeds in spice mill; place in small bowl. Add vinegar, cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons oil. Whisk to blend; season with salt and pepper. Mix in onion.
  • Add raisins, cilantro, eggplant cubes, and dressing to couscous. Toss to coat.

My advice: Go VERY VERY light on the cinnamon. I don’t know what I did wrong. In theory this recipe would be an absolute winner in my book. I’ve been making various Israeli couscous dishes over the past month since buying a huge bulk bin bag of it. So far the best was with caramelized onions, diced dried apricots and feta. Anyway – in this particular attempt the eggplant was bitter, the cinnamon was overpowering and it just didn’t work. Maybe it was the mood set by the gazpacho. Anyway, the night ended with a trip to the dairy stand for a double scoop. I might make this again and tweak it somehow. I’ll let you know. Your input is welcome!


I’ll take my gin without raisins, please.

Did you read my recent post on use of cherries as a gout treatment? Let’s continue the theme of wacky food treatments with the good old “gin-soaked raisins” treatment. Just do an internet search and you’ll find many sites that discuss this. Apparently you’re supposed to soak golden raisins in good gin (one post debated good gin vs cheap gin, though I know some people who’d say any gin is good gin) and eat 9 a day. No one knows why this helps with arthritis pain. There are no scholarly articles. I could not find any discussion on the science behind it. I don’t think that 9 gin-soaked raisins a day is enough to give you much of an alcohol effect, but I guess that depends on how plumped up they get. I wonder what one’s blood alcohol level would be after eating these raisins. I’m not recommending this. I just wanted to see if I could find out a little more info regarding something patients continually ask me about. It’s right up there with the idea that putting a bar of soap under your sheets will help with night time leg cramps. I don’t really feel like commenting on that one. Have you used the gin raisins? Have patients asked you about it? What do you think?

Gout: A bowl of cherries?

Did you know that I write a health blog for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette? The latest one was about patients asking me about cherry juice as a gout treatment. Keep in mind these are short, general purpose blog entries for the newspaper site.  Here is a reprint:

Maybe it is because the grocery stores are fully stocked with beautiful cherries this time of year, but several patients in the last few weeks have come in touting the merits of cherries as a gout treatment. Yes, I’d heard this before and no, I didn’t really know why. Some patients eat cherries, some drink the juice and some take special cherry juice extract pills they purchase through a vitamin store. My first reaction to the patient who claimed eating a pound of cherries a day cured his gout was, “wow, you must spend a lot of time in the bathroom!” But I digress . . .

Why cherries? I searched good old google and found mainly advertisements or websites trying to sell juice or extracts. I turned to google scholar and to PubMed, which is an internet database of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, or a site where you can search for what we call “scholarly articles” or scientific research printed in medical journals. I did find some articles talking more specifically about the chemicals in cherries. Some of them were sports-medicine related and discussed cherry juice for post-workout recovery following intense exercise, like marathons. There is an article loaded with very “science-y” words in a journal called Plant Foods for Human Nutrition called “Improved antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Potential in Mice Consuming Sour Cherry Juice.” I wonder how well the mice liked the cherry juice?? (According to the article the food pellets incorporated the juice). An article in the Journal of Nutrition was titled “Consumption of Bing Sweet Cherries Lowers Circulating Concentrations of Inflammation Markers in Healthy Men and Women.”

I did skim a few more articles and overall it seems there are some anti-inflammatory chemicals in cherries that may have a benefit in inflammatory conditions, like gout. Bottom line? If your gout isn’t that bad and you find eating cherries or drinking juice daily prevents attacks, great! If you feel cherries can prevent a gout attack when you feel one coming on, also great! Remember that cherries and especially juices have calories and sugar. Overdoing it can lead to weight gain or high blood sugars for diabetics. Also, we’re talking tart cherries, bing cherries or dark sweet cherries. Stay away from the bright red ones in the jar! Remember that uncontrolled gout can lead to a chronic and deforming arthritis, so be sure to discuss your condition and what you’re doing for it with your doctor. It is possible your condition may require a prescription gout medication.

RA Update

This is a nice article highlighting various experts’ opinions.

Foodie Friday: A Shakespearean Tragedy, Part I

A cool, clear Saturday night was the perfect time to watch the closing weekend performance of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello. How great it felt, in the midst of such a hot and humid summer, to be sitting outside in jeans and a jacket and still feel cold! Oh, I’m happy for it now, but remind me about this when that same ground I was sitting upon is buried under feet of snow. This year’s production was set in what seemed to be WWII era, with men in military uniforms and tall boots and women in chic suits and/or “saloon wear.” Overall it was a beautiful evening, a FREE yearly event and a wonderful performance. However, this is Foodie Friday afterall, so I must discuss the nourishment.

Prior to traipsing across town to Boston Common, we dined at Helmand in Cambridge. A-MA-ZING! I had been wanting to try this restaurant for a while now and it did not disappoint. Sadly, the menu is not on the website but my husband did snag a printed menu about a year ago (he had been once before) – the older menu seems a bit but not too different. The descriptions are from the older menu. Loved watching the action at the wood-burning brick oven, where freshly baked flatbread was kneaded, shaped, cooked and cut before our eyes. Delivered piping hot, there was a selection of dipping sauces. One was yogurt, one like a coriander chutney and a 3rd was spicy and red – I didn’t try that one. For a party of 3, we had 3 starters and 2 entrees. The shared plates included KADDO (pan-fried then baked baby pumpkin seasoned with sugar and served on yogurt garlic sauce), AUSHAK (ravioli filled with leeks and scallions served on a sauce of yogurt, mint and garlic) and MANTWO (homemade pastry shells filled with onions and beef, served on yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split peas and beef sauce). One of the specials was a trout, which had some type of spice rub with a little kick and was perfectly cooked. We also had a rice entree, QABELEE (pallow rice baked with chunks of lamb shanks and raisins). PALLOW rice is described as rice boiled then drained, seasoned with canola oil, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin seed and black pepper then baked. We finished the meal by sharing a slice of pineapple cake.

I didn’t take any pictures. We didn’t really even speak but to say, “This is so good!” “This is awesome!” “I’m so full and I can’t stop eating!” In fact, upon leaving I wondered when I could come back. I’m not really a huge lamb fan but it was incredible. The pumpkin starter I probably could eat daily. It was that good!

Why is this part I? Well, next week come back to learn how I tried to recreate some similar flavor profiles at home.

(This was 100% my opinion, we paid for the meal in full, there was no discussion of reviews or blogs. I just wanted to talk about a restaurant meal I loved and if you’re in the Boston area, you might like to check it out too).

Dr. Fix-It

A few months ago at my house, as the oil burner kicked on, black smoke started billowing out of the chimney and the smell of burning oil permeated the house. CRAP! What’s going on? Is my oil burner going to explode? Do I have a leak worthy of the BP engineers? Should I gather my valuables (i.e. dog, laptop and eyeglasses) and vacate? Will my vacation budget get blown on a new furnace? Will I even have a house left???

I make the early morning call to the emergency answering service. “Someone will call you back,” I’m told. I wait a while, thinking the worst, then get the call, “Someone will be with you today.” Several anxious hours later the repair man shows up. “Soot,” he says immediately, as he looks at the furnace, “Something’s clogged. I’ll have to sweep this out.” He didn’t seem too concerned, quickly got to work and all I heard was a lot of banging and vacuuming. Problem solved.

Now, what does this have to do with medicine?

I don’t know a thing about oil burners and heating systems but I know a lot about the human body. When I didn’t know what was wrong with my furnace, aside from alarming symptoms of oil smell and black smoke, I panicked. I had myself thinking the house was going to imminently explode. However, two seconds and the technician knew what to do. Similarly, when my patients come in with back pain or a swollen knee or fatigue and joint pain, in their minds their “house,” or body, is going to explode. Is it cancer? Are my bones collapsing? Will I be in a wheelchair by the time I’m 50? Will I be able to work? Will I die? Sometimes medical conditions take a while to diagnose, but sometimes I know in two seconds, “Oh, that’s just osteoarthritis of the knee,” just like my heating technician knew “Oh, that’s just a clog.”  However, just like I did, my patient has other concerns.

One of the challenges of medicine, especially in the outpatient setting where time can often run short, is balancing the wants and needs of doctor and patient. It may only take a few minutes to inject an arthritic knee and in the doctor’s mind the problem is solved. However, the patient may still leave with fears about why he or she has this scary condition called “degenerative arthritis” and what that means in the scheme of his or her life.  Always useful is this reminder that everyone has a backstory, an agenda, fears and expectations. Usually when rushed and stressed is the time we need to remember this the most.

Foodie Friday: Quiz Answer

Do you remember the last Foodie Friday? I asked you to identify this mystery produce:

Did you figure it out? Chances are you eat it all the time. I know I do! But usually it is in blended form, maybe with a little tahini and lemon. Did you guess? It’s the CHICK PEA or GARBANZO BEAN!

They come in these little pods and I happened to see a bin of them at Whole Foods. It was fun to offer a pod to friends and family members for their guesses. I don’t think anyone had seen one in its “pure” state. Lately I’m a little obsessed with the lemon and dill flavors of store-bought hummus. I do like to make my own but its just so darn convenient and it comes in so many flavors now to buy it at the store. Here’s a favorite: take a large tortilla/wrap and spread with a couple tablespoons hummus. Throw in some chopped drained marinated artichoke hearts, some feta maybe, some olives, lettuce, shredded carrots, pickles, sundried tomatoes, whatever. It’s a great sandwich!