Food in Oxford

Oxford is a city I will always associate strongly with its food. It’s not a culinary capital, but its food was important for me.

It’s where I learned to cook.

It’s where I learned to cook meat, even.

It’s where I learned that I like to cook.

It’s where I learned that it’s okay to take on crazy, adventurous recipes…in a dorm kitchen.

It’s where I learned how to feed myself, on my own, without relying on a dining hall or my parents’ kitchen for every meal.

It’s where I learned that rubber gloves can be really handy when pan frying chicken.

It’s where I learned that you probably shouldn’t wear rubber gloves when you’re latex sensitive. (Goodbye strawberries.)

It’s where I learned that you really can throw pasta up against the wall to see if it’s cooked.

We called Janosz the master of cooking times for a reason.

It’s where I learned that there is a substitute for every food, no matter how seemingly essential.

And every piece of kitchen equipment.

It’s where I learned about the history of coffee, a great topic even though I don’t drink it.

It’s where I learned that I have a great nose for wine, even though the smell alone makes me too sick to ever contemplate drinking.

It’s where I learned that Food Gawker can be addictive, and inspiring.

It’s where I learned about chocolate.

It’s where I learned that even free scallops aren’t always the best deal.

Even though it’s where I suffered frightening food reactions, where I had to pay attention to how much I ate in a way I hadn’t before, and where I ultimately got sick, food in Oxford is still a marvelous thing. It formed a new interest for me, it exposed me to new tastes, and it brought me closer to some amazing friends.

I’ll write about restaurants and cafes some other time, since I get asked for recommendations every so often. And I’ll write about the food “in hall” (at Teddy Hall’s dining hall) as well, and fulfill my long-ago promise to my Uncle Steve to blog about British food. (Though I’m sorry, but I never did attempt bangers and mash.) For now, I’d like to talk a little about the stores and markets that helped my friends and me indulge in our culinary tendencies as we embarked on adventures such as osso bucco, paella, a thousand risottos, chicken cacciatore, the perfect Bolognese, coconut curry, homemade chocolate, and crepe cake, all in ill-equipped dorm kitchens. (As well as a thousand simpler pleasures.)

Boswell’s for kitchen equipment.

The East Oxford Farmer’s Market. Sandy Lane Organic Farm for winter vegetables. Roz’s Breads from around the World for challah and the most delicious bagels – because I might not have set foot in a service the entire time I was there, but I could still stay connected, in my own way. (Being Jewish in the UK is a topic I should, but in all honestly most likely won’t, write about.) The Natural Bread Co. for savory pumpkin bread. (+ the used book stand for one pound books.)

The Tesco on Cowley Road for most of my weekly shop. (I forgive you for the initially confusing, chaotic, and bill-raising redesign, I swear. You stocked hazelnut milk thereafter, which had the double benefit of being delicious and unappealing to my kitchen-mates.)

Sainsbury at the Plain for quick stops on the way home, fresh-baked croissants, and those weeks when I couldn’t contemplate walking any further than necessary to get my blue-flavored Powerade and Ritz crackers.

Uhuru for things more specialized, and the times when I needed to pretend Cowleyfornia actually was and step foot in a natural foods store.

Mr. Simms, that candy shop on the High Street near the late gate to Teddy Hall, for chocolate bars with Mucha’s pictures on them.

The Covered Market for fresh, inexpensive produce, real butcher’s shops, and a fishmonger’s.

Hotel Chocolat for thank you gifts and window shopping.

Whittard’s for tea, naturally…though to be honest, I mostly preferred my Good Earth from home and apple tea from Turkey. The loose-leaf chais were lovely.

Marks & Spencer’s on Queen Street for some more specialized ingredients and a change of pace, though the place had the tendency to put me into sensory overload and the strawberries (before my sensitivity set in) were more expensive.

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Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

After a few rounds of testing, more testing, trials, and more trials, I don’t seem to be gluten intolerant. Blood tests and biopsies from my endoscopy cleared me for celiac’s disease and if I have any kind of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it is both not what is causing my current problems and much less than any number of other sensitivities I have. For the most part, my stomach seems to do best with rice, then wheat and buckwheat, and then not so well with other grains/starches/carbs. I’m eating some wheat again, but I have a few recipes and products from my experience of going gluten free that I love and plan to keep in my diet.

These cookies are definitely one of them. Provided I can eat chocolate again, which I currently can’t. (I’d better be able to eat chocolate again. I mean, it’s chocolate.)

Personally, I think these are the perfect allergy-friendly cookie. They’re not just gluten free, but also egg free, soy free, dairy free, casein free, and lactose free. As far as I understand – always do your own research if you have allergies and sensitivities – they should be appropriate for a gluten free, casein free (gfcf) diet. They’re nut free and peanut free and low in refined sugars. I think you could make them (cane) sugar free as well pretty easily, a la Kelsi, if you used a chocolate otherwise sweetened. (Trader Joe’s carries one made with honey!) They’re actually grain free, of all things – buckwheat is a seed and a pseudo-grain, not a true seed. (Hmm, I wonder if they could potentially be kosher for Passover, then? They sure taste a lot better than the Kosher for Passover cookies I’ve had from packages!) Plus, they’re made with buckwheat, which packs quite the nutritional punch. I think this is a great recipe to introduce people to buckwheat with, as the cookies don’t have as strong of a buckwheat flavor (some love it, some hate it) as crepes or pizza dough.

This basically a de-glutened version of Live. Learn. Love. Eat’s  cookie dough recipe here.  She calls them mini cookies, but I think of them as pretty standard home-made cookies in terms of size – of course, I didn’t eat just one.

Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 36 cookies.

Dry ingredients:

2 cups buckwheat flour (I used Arrowhead Mills organic)

1.5 teaspoons baking soda

½ Teaspoon sea salt

¾ cup vegan chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I used Trader Joe’s chocolate chips)

Wet ingredients:

¾ cup maple syrup

2/3 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix the buckwheat flour, baking soda, and salt. I used a silicone spoon (good for avoiding gluten cross contamination!) but a wooden spoon would work as well; this recipe mixes easily without an electric mixer, if you’re short on one. Mix in the canola oil, maple syrup, and vanilla until combined. Add the chocolate chips. The dough will be darker than typical chocolate chip cookie dough.

Drop 36 portions onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. A melon baller makes for the perfect size. These cookies do not naturally flatten as much cookies with wheat flour; either press down or enjoy puffier.

Bake for 6-8 minutes or until done. Color is less of a guide than with wheat, as buckwheat is darker, so consider checking with a tooth pick. Allow to cool and enjoy!

(I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of the completed cookies. I didn’t take any when I made these before and I’m not going to torture myself with chocolate chips to get some.)

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Finished American Studies. Almost finished with An Infamous Army. Started reading Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return. Had quite the day today — there’ll be a story tomorrow or the next day.