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Wednesday, March 26, 2008 01:57 am

Abbey’s blog

Chicago lawyer takes her passion for food worldwide

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Untitled Document Thanks to the Internet, I’ve had the pleasure of watching some of my children’s contemporaries progress into adulthood, particularly friends of my older daughter, Anne. Even though they’re scattered everywhere, I get reports of major events — grad school! jobs! engagements! pregnancies! — and eventually photo series of new babies morphing into toddlers. The Internet and writing this column have also enabled me to reconnect with people I haven’t seen for a while. Several old friends with whom I’ve lost touch have e-mailed to say that they enjoy reading the column. Recently I had an e-mail from Nancy Gillespie that was especially fun because I not only got to hear from an old friend who’d moved to Wheaton years ago but also read this information about her daughters: “Abigail and Jennifer are both working and living in Chicago and Abbey has become a food fanatic. Thought you would enjoy her latest project (…) ”
Abbey a food fanatic? This was really news. I’d known both girls since they were infants. Anne used to babysit for them. Nancy also said that Jenny is performing in Chicago, but that wasn’t surprising: She’s been a talented singer/songwriter since high school. I’d never thought that Abbey was especially interested in food, though I’d known that Nancy, a wonderful artist and photographer, enjoyed cooking. Even so, what had made Abbey a “food fanatic”?
“It wasn’t an epiphany,” she tells me. “It’s just always been part of my life.” She says that much of the credit goes to her mother: “ It was so great to have a mom who cooked.” The 29-year-old’s interest in food isn’t professional; she’s a conflicts attorney at a law firm and also tutors students for the LSAT and bar exams. Instead, she is an amateur in the true sense of the word: someone does something for the sheer love of it.
“It lets me take hold of my creativity,” she says.
Abbey’s “project” is a food blog she started in February. It’s called “No Olives: Unraveling Culinary Cacophony.” Why did she choose that title? “I call the blog ‘No Olives’ because, honestly, I despise olives. They’re pretty much the one thing I don’t eat,” she explains. “People always can’t believe I don’t like them and I always have to explain that (1) no, olives are not like pickles, and (2) they’re just too briny and wrinkly! So ‘No Olives’!”
No Olives is a compendium of recipes, restaurant and book reviews (I’ve been to two of the restaurants that Abbey has critiqued and wholeheartedly agree with her comments on both), and an assortment of other food-related information and links, complete with excellent photographs. Obviously she learned photographic as well as culinary skills from her mother. Abbey’s writing is fresh, funny, and frank: “I was borderline anorexic and totally neurotic, halting all possibilities of pastries, cheeses, and decadence. A 12-year stint as a vegetarian was interrupted by divorce and bacon. . . . These days, I’m less restrictive but still avoid meat and dairy.” (She did tell me, “My new thing is, if I want meat I’ll have it!”) Her food memories of her Springfield childhood include not only her mother’s influence but also visits to my grandparents’ farm: “Trips to our favorite farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, for fresh tomatoes, corn, peas, and whatever else was in season helped develop my taste for locally grown, organic produce. When I was growing up, my mother threw lavish dinner parties, wowing her guests with puff pastry, soufflés, and intricate recipes.”
The latest No Olives entry offers a unique way to entertain on a budget. It’s titled “Chic on the cheap”: “I’ve always got a reason to throw a dinner party, but I don’t always have the cash. Don’t let a bourgeois obstacle like money interfere with one of life’s greatest pleasures: entertaining. Last weekend, while struggling to conjure up a cheap yet elegant dish that I could serve my nine guests, I decided to abandon my Martha Stewart complex for one night and ask for help. “The premise is simple: instead of asking a guest to bring their own dish, have them to bring an assigned gourmet ingredient. Then assemble the meal according to your own discriminating standards without revealing what it is you’re actually preparing. For my frugal festivities, I made whole roasted garlic with toasted baguettes as an appetizer, wild mushroom risotto and an asparagus and cucumber salad with homemade lemon and herb dressing [Recipes are on the No Olives Web site].”
Without the Internet, I might well never have known that Abbey Gillespie has matured from the somewhat shy teenager I knew years ago into a fellow foodie, as well as a responsible yet vibrant, fun-loving, and witty adult. Visit her blog, noolives.wordpress.com, to see for yourself.  

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
Abbey published this recipe in No Olives on March 3.
Swiss Chard and Cannellini Bean Soup

March is a bitter, deceptive, cranky-old-woman type of month. One day it’s balmy and breezy, and the urge for pedicures and flip-flops takes hold. But resist, dear readers! Hold off on all things spring! Soon there will be farmers’ markets, walks outside without stupid puffy coats and boots, and grilling out with friends and family. But as of now, Chicago is still cold and gray, and that means one thing . . . soup! At my house, Sunday is Soup Day. I find it so relaxing to spend time alone on a Sunday afternoon, chopping and doctoring up the perfect warming, soothing concoction. This particular soup brings together the buttery, rich flavor of Swiss chard and the smooth, silky texture of white cannellini beans. It will sustain you through these last 17 days until spring! Yes, I am counting . . .
Two large bunches Swiss chard, white stems removed,  
   chopped into ribbons Four cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained 1/4 cup basmati rice Two to four cloves garlic, depending on    your garlic preference, finely chopped One can fire-roasted diced tomatoes One red pepper, finely chopped Three stalks celery, finely chopped One medium red onion, finely chopped 9 ounces vegetable stock
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 teaspoon rosemary 1/4 teaspoon basil 1/4 teaspoon oregano 1/4 teaspoon thyme
Combine garlic, celery, onion, red pepper, and olive oil in large soup pan. Sauté at medium heat until vegetables are transparent. Add tomatoes, beans, spices (to taste), and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, simmering for about 45 minutes. Add Swiss chard ribbons and rice, keeping heat on low for another 30 minutes or so. Stir frequently and adjust spices to taste. Serve with warm, crusty bread and enjoy!
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