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Caroline’s No Nightshade Kitchen

Caroline Thompson, author of Caroline’s No Nightshade Kitchen Arthritis Diet: Living without Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, and Eggplant, is a generous and savory soul.

Our conversation should have been easy and natural given our rare and mutual interest in cooking without nightshades. But in my dual role as journalist and website builder I knew I had a potential conflict of interest.

Specifically, I really wanted that name. I’d purchased The No Nightshade Kitchen domain name before I heard of her book. I’d been working on this site, sporadically, for years. My colleagues and friends knew it. My family—and especially my kids—knew it.

Then, a routine web search turned up Caroline Thompson’s No Nightshade Kitchen.

Oops. I purchased a copy from an online retailer, but left it in its mailer for more than a year, afraid to discover that I was duplicating her effort. I slowly chipped away at the nightshade science—my peculiar obsession—while my new culinary sensibilities evolved.

In the back of my mind I was vaguely uneasy: She had the book title, I had the domain name. As I got closer to the finish line I booked an hour with an intellectual property lawyer. Not because I planned any kind of battle, but because I had standard business questions about how to copyright a website, something that’s going to matter more for future projects.

But I also wanted the lawyer’s take on the name. Websites and books are not the same thing, and as I understood the law I probably could use the domain. And the lawyer said I could. She also advised against it. So for $100 I got a good primer on copyright law, and both sides of the coin.

And that was it, I figured. I was sad, but on the way home my brain started spinning through other options: pantry, potluck, spice kit, larder. I was not prepared for the pushback I got from my kids. For more years than I care to count, they have been anxiously awaiting The No Nightshade Kitchen.

I was also unprepared for Caroline Thompson‘s generosity, because when I laid out this emotional investment, she didn’t see a big problem. She may have another cookbook stewing, but if so she’s planning on another title. She also thought it was fair to warn me against the wild notion that I would be “making any money off this.” She still sells a few dozen books every quarter, but this passion is not exactly a golden goose.

I laughed, because I suspected as much. Of course, money would be nice. But this site is about passion for food, and love for family and friends. And so we arranged a trade: I’d use the name, and feature her work here.

Discovering a Nightshade Problem

Business out of the way, Caroline and I could now really connect, talking about what motivates us both in the kitchen: The unique challenge of making flavorful food without access to three of the most justifiably popular foods on the planet: potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. Yes, there are other nightshades, but these are giants, culinary cornerstones.

Like almost everybody who has identified themselves as nightshade intolerant, Thompson has her own saga of pain, frustration, and trial-and-error.

She first began to notice problems with her hands in 1997, when she found herself struggling to pack her household for a move. Her swollen hands couldn’t be trusted to safely wrap the finery. But her bigger concern was her art: a painter with pained and weakened hands was at a creative disadvantage.

For three years she messed with over-the-counter remedies and saw a succession of doctors. Then a visiting friend asked if Caroline had ever heard of nightshades. Did she know that some people cured arthritic pain by eliminating these vegetables from their diet? Skeptical, the very next morning she resolved to give it a try.

“What have I got to lose? Nothing else has worked,” she says. The turnaround was quick; inside of a week her hands were pain-free. “I just felt so good. I could paint, I could cook, I could garden.”

She started to adapt in the kitchen, changing recipes, and also some of her own expectations. That part was hard. She loves an extra spicy Bloody Mary, and smothering her eggs with Thai chili paste in the morning. “I was wicked!” she laughs. And so she played around for about a year, trying to find a middle ground: could she indulge her spicy side every now and then?

It turned out she couldn’t; the pain always returned. Just a little bite, an accidental exposure at a restaurant or in a friend’s home, and she’d be in agony for a few days.

“I can’t play with this anymore,” she finally decided. “This is fire. That’s when I really got serious and started writing recipes down.”

And so, a new culinary vision began emerging: Caroline Thompson’s No Nightshade Kitchen.

Growing into the Kitchen

There was a time in her life when the notion of her writing a cookbook was preposterous. “I got married the first time at 18 and I really couldn’t boil an egg,” she recalls. Soon she was pregnant, her education on hold. When her brother came for a visit Thompson decided it was time to hold her first dinner party. The menu: spaghetti, with sauce from a can.

When I sent Caroline Thompson an early draft of my beetuto recipe, she wasted no time making a Bloody Mary. (photo courtesy of Caroline Thompson)

Pasta was simple enough, but too late she realized she had no way to drain the spaghetti. On her way to the table a watery mess sloshed out of the pot and into her brother’s lap.

Clearly undeterred by disaster, she started mastering the basics. But it wasn’t until her second marriage that cooking became a passion. Her husband, George Thompson, loved to cook and she loved to give parties. “Still do,” she says. “I really got serious about cooking.”

She acquired “gobs” of cookbooks and enrolled in classes. She even spent two weeks in Lyons at a French cooking school. “It just became a passion. The more I did it the more I wanted it.”

And she loved to experiment. “I always changed the recipe,” she says. But she never imagined it was a prelude to decades of no nightshade cooking.

New Culinary Directions

When I finally open the mailer containing Caroline’s No Nightshade Kitchen the best possible thing happened. I discovered that Thompson’s culinary wellspring was so deep and so divergent from my own that the wait had been both justified and beneficial. Justified, because I’d been able to continue to develop my own palette. And beneficial because her recipes opened a whole new universe of ideas.

For example, I had a jar of preserved lemons in my fridge, purchased when I began to play with my first Ottolenghi cookbook. But I had never actually used them, and still hadn’t figured out how to orient them in my personal flavor atlas. It wasn’t until I made her Green Pea and Roasted Walnut Hummus that I crossed into understanding preserved lemons.

And then, as she encouraged me to do, I started experimenting. I’m still working on that recipe, but in the meantime we’ve grown to love another Caroline Thompson inspired dish, African Peanut Soup. And you can find Caroline’s No Nightshade Kitchen Arthritis Diet: Living without Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, and Eggplant at the link.


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