Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cornish Game Hens in Wine Sauce: A Video Recipe

Here is a recipe I produced 4 years ago, and which I may make again soon, because it is so yummy.  If you can't find the little cans of wine, you can use the small-size cans of V-8 or clam juice, rinsed thoroughly and filled with wine.

In Defense of Comfort Food

Last night, I ended up not going to bed until 2 a.m.  This morning, I had to get up and trudge to work, sit in a horrid office with out of control AC and cantankerous software, and curse out the stupid database writers who have no comprehension of what a classical music lover needs when organizing a large CD collection. I had very little sleep, woke up late and in a hurry, and was generally unsettled most of the day.  I knew it would be a short day at work, so I didn't bother with lunch.  Plus, I had a slight tickle in my throat.

Last night's blog entry, Food Is Not Your Dog, was all about how it's not a good idea to turn to food to address emotional issues.  I am of the firm opinion that the only time when it's really appropriate to eat is when your body is in need of fuel, although I'm not above engaging in my occasional bouts of inappropriateness in this and other areas of life.

"Don't comfort yourself with food" is one of the maxims by which I am endeavoring to live.  "Eat only when hungry," as expounded on another entry.  But although I am firmly against comforting oneself with food, this does not mean at all that I am against the concept of comfort food.

There are those times when we are both emotionally or situationally unsettled AND in need of food.  A household move.  Exam time.  A family bereavement.  A fight with your spouse.  At times such as these is when what we think as "comfort food" comes in.

Chicken soup, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches with cream of tomato.  Chicken pot pie, beef stew, scrambled eggs and toast, or even a bowl of plain white rice or mashed potatoes.  When our minds and hearts are feeling too taxed by life, that is what we crave as fuel.  Food that is undemanding of our senses or effort.  Easy to eat, easy to digest, without much complication in the way of flavor, texture, or even color.  Food that is easy on the mind as well as on the gut.  Food that will gently nourish your body when you are hungry, so that you can get on with the business of facing whatever troubles you when you are not.

Food is Not Your Dog

I've had a seriously crappy evening.  Even though it wasn't necessarily up there vying for first place with some other craptacular days of my life, it's the kind of day that makes you want to run for the hills and never come back.

For starters, I seem to have misplaced a crucial piece of paperwork, which would have apprised me of a very important deadline--which I may or may not have missed.  Then, Husband came home in a foul mood, which was compounded by the issue of the missing paperwork and the uncertainty over the deadline.  I got a repeat invoice for some home repair work I already paid, and it looks like it's going to rain for the next three days, which will cut into my dog walking time...

To top it all off, I was made aware of the fact that I had become the object of unprovoked vitriol and personal attacks by people with whom I had parted ways some time ago...

How can so many crappy things come crashing down in such a short time?

I was actually quite upset and rattled, especially when I learned of the attacks against me.  Who made them and what they said is frankly immaterial, and relevant only insofar as it upset me.

In the past, I would have considered this kind of a day as a valid reason to order a large pizza, and eat it by myself, washed down with a bottle of wine.  I would have used my emotional upset as an excuse to eat a whole bag of cookies and at least two quarts of milk.  Or, at the very least, I would have made myself one very large, strong, and sugary girly drink to "settle my nerves."

I did nothing of the sort.  Not that the thought of the bottle of wine or the strong girly drink didn't cross my mind, but I got distracted and never got around to it.  As for eating?  Well, I wasn't hungry.  I had already had dinner.  Yes, all this crap came down in the space of about an hour, after I had already had a long and frustrating day dealing with poorly designed, glitchy data editing software.

I chatted with friends, I worked on this blog, I folded laundry and listened to a book on my iPod, I made peace with Husband, and I hugged my dog.  After a while, I felt much better.  If I had followed through on the pizza or the cookies or a myriad other similar options, I would have been just as upset as before, plus I'd be feeling the effects of abusing my body with an excess of unnecessary food.  I am so done with that.

Food is not your friend to listen to you.  That pizza will not join you in being angry at those who wronged you.  That gallon of ice cream won't tell you that stupid joke that's sure to make you smile.  Those cookies will not put their arms around you and let you cry it out, nor will that bag of chocolate candies lick the tears off your face.

Food is not your dog.  And I bet your dog is glad that he is not your food.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eat Only When Hungry

So, at the start of this summer (2010, for the record), I lifted all eating restrictions on myself.  I would from this moment forward face all food as equally valuable in its nourishing qualities.  I would remove the judgments of "good for me" or "bad for me."  I would eat when I liked, what I liked, however much I liked.

This isn't the first time I've attempted this.  Between 1995 and 2001, I adopted a "fat-accepting" and "no-diet" stance on life.  It netted me a gain of 10 pounds per year (that's 60 pounds of pure fat, for those of you who are math challenged).  I was sure fat-accepting.  I was accepting fat to settle itself upon my hips and belly like there was no tomorrow.  I became a firm supporter of the plus-size store cause... to the tune of a new, larger size every single year.  I would try to tell myself that this was "natural fallout" from "quitting dieting."  But I knew deep down that something was seriously wrong if I was doing that to myself when I wasn't restricting what I ate.

Enter low-carb in 2001.  It did help me shed most of the gains from the previous 6 years, but I sure as heck ain't skinny from it.  Upping the ante and going all the way down to zero carb did NOTHING to help me in the size reduction department, as I already mentioned.  To preserve my sanity, I was going to have to do something else, and I decided that this time, it would involve embracing all foods as worthy partners in my self-care efforts.

But, this time, I realized I needed to approach the no-diet mindset with caution if I wanted to avoid ending up in disaster like the last time.  At first, the only logical answer seemed to be to keep tabs on my eating, using a nutritional tracking website.  Of course, it's impossible to keep track of such matters if you don't use a kitchen scale and measuring tools.  At first it seemed like I was working on a puzzle, where I could fit whatever kind of piece (food) I wanted, as long as I stayed within a certain range.  I was having fun.  But it quickly turned into an exercise in OCD, where I fixated on the numbers more and more, and was feeling hungrier and more deprived, regardless of what or how much I actually ate.

So, I ditched the measuring tools and tracking website.  I was going to have to learn to trust myself.


Seriously, the prospect of this had me cowering in fear.  The notion that I would have to learn to navigate the world of eating without training wheels made me shake in my Converse hi-tops. But I also realized that learning to balance was PRECISELY about moving forward without the training wheels.  And I also realized that I was not entirely without tools.

One of the good things I got from my time as a zero carber was the habit of eating only when hungry, and of being genuinely disinterested in food when I wasn't hungry.  When you're eating only meat, this is actually easy.  You have to be goddamn hungry in order to be willing to eat a naked steak with no sides.  Still, I noticed that this habit carried over, even as I added more variety to my daily menu.

There is the common-sense dictum: "eat when hungry, stop when full."  Seems simple enough, no?  Not really.  A large number of people (and a number of large people) have NO CLUE what hunger is, much less fullness. I felt that I had an advantage having learned genuine hunger during my year as an exclusive carnivore.

Fullness?  A bit trickier.  When I ate only meat, I would keep eating until the next bite seemed a disgusting impossibility.  This never left me feeling uncomfortably stuffed.  Only unable to face another bite (of meat).  However, it is now obvious to me that this was an inadequate way to gauge when it was time to stop eating.

The only logical thing to do was to stop eating when I was no longer hungry.  Note that this doesn't mean "full."  It simply means "not hungry."  In a hunger scale of 1-10, in which 1 is "passed out from low blood glucose" and 10 means "can't breathe or I'll puke," "not hungry" is right there between 5 and 6.  It's that neutral state between meals, in which you wouldn't stop what you are doing in order to stuff your face.

Most of us don't stop eating until we've reached a 7 or 8.  When I was a kid, I'd push it all the way to 10.5 if I could get away with it...

But it struck me that, if I was no longer hungry, I shouldn't continue eating.

Shit.  I don't want to stop eating when I'm just "not hungry."

"But it tastes so good."  Get over it, there'll be something just as awesome if not better in front of you next time you actually ARE hungry.

"But what if I get hungry again?"  Then eat again when you are hungry.  It's that simple.

"But I've already paid for it, and if I don't eat it it will go to waste."  It can go to waste, or it can go to waist.  Your choice.  Or would you prefer to do the job of the trash can?

So, here is what I have been practicing recently: eat until no longer hungry (5 or 6 on the hunger scale), and wait 10-15 minutes.  If, during that time, hunger returns. eat some more.  If it doesn't return, then I don't eat again.   Usually, I remain satiated for at least 6 hours after I do this.

If hunger returns an hour or two after dinner, then it's time for dessert.

I have to admit that the hardest part of this for me is to cease the consumption of delicious food (because I make sure everything I eat is fucking awesome) while I am still capable of enjoying it.  The only thing that helps me is the knowledge that, if I get hungry again, I can eat again, whatever I like, without feeling any fear or guilt.

And, I can say that it is working.  I can eat when I am hungry, and I can eat whatever I like.  In the few months that I have been doing this, I have been slowly digging clothes out of the "too small" box, rather than enduring the misery of ever tighter clothing, holding out until the blubber was spilling over my waistband, like the last time I tried "not dieting."

A freakin' miracle.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Life's Too Short to Live Without Chocolate

The little box below my Facebook profile photo says:
I've been down many a culinary and dietary road, and, in the final analysis, I've decided that life's too short to live without chocolate.
It would appear as if chocolate itself was my gateway drug back into the world of carbohydrate consumption.  Actually, it was sushi.  But, I digress.

Life IS too short to live without chocolate.  

There are people who claim not to like chocolate.  Generally, I think they are total freaks, but I try not to say it to their face.  All I can say is that they are missing out in some seriously delicious stuff.  Their loss.

I used to be all about sweet, creamy, milk chocolate, and I would gobble it in very large quantities.  Somehow, the older I get, the darker I like it.  My preference right now runs in the 72-75% range.  I think it has much to do with the fact that I no longer eat chocolate in large amounts, but rather I take the time to savor one small piece at a time.  When I do this, the sweeter confections taste excessively sugary, with not enough of the important stuff: chocolate.

Since my return to omnivory in late May of 2010, I have explored many varieties of chocolate: bars, truffles, dipped Oreo cookies, peanut butter cups, flourless chocolate torte, ice cream, even a Snickers bar after a strenuous hike up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.  Hot chocolate, brownies, pain au chocolat, and, most recently, dulce de leche brownies.  Oh, yeah, and Nutella.  

Contrary to what one may be led to believe from the above list, I do not consume chocolate every day.  But when I do, I make sure it's worth the experience.  Actually, I do that with 95% of the food I choose to eat these days (I estimate that 5% of the time, I will settle for a less-than-stellar gastronomic experience in favor of not passing out).  

Since chocolate, indispensable as it is, usually does not find its way into my body as primary fuel, I can afford to be picky about it 100% of the time.  If the first bite doesn't meet my standards for awesomeness,  the second bite usually doesn't happen.  Even if that means throwing away 9/10 of a $6 pastry.  I'd rather throw out five bucks in the trash than have my body do the job of the trash can.  I don't even see it as throwing money out.  I see it as a $6 lesson in which pastry not to buy again.  And, as lessons go, that's a pretty inexpensive one.

A month ago, Husband and I went to an Argentinian restaurant, where I bought a jar of authentic dulce de leche.  For a month, the jar sat in the cupboard, waiting for me to get inspired to use it in something.  So, I decided to use it in brownies.  For the brownie base, I used an adaptation of the Ghirardelli brownie recipe that I developed in grad school, when I was out of Ghirardelli powder and had only plain Hershey's cocoa. You can use any kind of cocoa powder.  If you use Dutch cocoa, such as Droste, you will have a deeper, richer flavor, but plain Hershey's cocoa will yield a perfectly scrumptious brownie.

I use a round pan for more even cooking.  

Here is the recipe:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 oz butter, melted (I use salted butter.  If using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt)
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (DO NOT SIFT)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350ยบ Fahrenheit.

Line a the bottom of a 9" pan (round or square, whatever you have) with nonstick foil or parchment

In a large bowl, mix eggs, sugar and vanilla.  Add melted butter.  In a separate bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder.  Slowly add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing thoroughly.  Add the chocolate chips and mix well.  Pour half the batter into pan.  Scatter spoonfuls of dulce de leche into the batter, until you have used about half a cup.  Use a knife to swirl the dulce slightly into the batter.  Pour the second half of the batter, and repeat the dulce de leche application.  

Put pan in the oven and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until it is slightly set in the center.  Cool thoroughly before serving.

This is a very rich dessert, best consumed in small quantities, alongside a glass of cold milk.  I tried it with vanilla ice cream.  Too much.

And, because I'm a picture ho:

Welcome Back to the World of the Eating

After 15 months eating only meat, occasional eggs, a bit of butter, and altogether too much coffee with heavy whipping cream, the large majority of my friends were most delighted when I announced that I was returning to the world of omnivory.

But this wasn't even a "return."  I NEVER was allowed (or allowed myself) to consume all foods without judgment.  Food was always "good" or "bad."  If it tasted too good, it couldn't possibly be good for you.  So, whenever I was "off my diet," I was indiscriminately inhaling anything that crossed my path, as long as I could breathe.  Whether I was hungry didn't matter.  Whether it was what I really wanted was of no import.  Whether it even tasted any good was no concern of mine.  If I wasn't "on my diet" and it was in front of me, I ate it.  Furthermore, there was never a bite eaten that wasn't judged for its value in contributing to or detracting from my "health" (read = assfatness).  Enjoyment was less a part of the equation than playing the role of obedient soldier or recalcitrant rebel by my eating choices.  Jekyll/Hyde.  And who was which depended on whether I was "on" or "off" whatever "eating plan" I was pursuing or not.

I see this period of my life as my initial entry into the world of guilt-free gastronomic delectation.  Because never before in my life have I approached food, all food, as a vehicle for nourishing myself in an integral fashion.

As a housewarming gift into my new "home" of culinary and gastronomic freedom, my friend Dorene sent me a lovely collection of cookbooks.  The centerpiece of this most awesome gift is the 1973 printing of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1."  Seeing as Julie Powell already did the blogging about Julia thing, I'll let that one lie on its own merits.  All I can say about Julia is that any recipe of hers that I have ever tried actually worked very well.

I am looking forward to puttering around in this new playground that is the marvelous world of freedom in feeding myself.

Not Just Another Foodie Blog

Foodie blogs abound all over the Internet.  There are blogs about cooking, about restaurants, about gross packaged scary foods.  If you can eat it, someone's written about it.  So, why do another one?  Why am I so special?

I'm a fat girl.  I've been a fat girl since puberty.  I've been an overeater since I can remember.  There doesn't seem to have been a time in my life in which I haven't fought with my weight and my size and my eating.

Until now.

After a 15-month stint on a very strict, all-meat regimen, which, when I am honest with myself, I was following in a desperate hope to become magically lean, I was still just as fat when I started.  In that year and a quarter of eschewing all carbohydrate consumption, my net loss of body fat was a big fat zero.  I lost a bit at first, and then it all came back when I tried to speed things up by eating only one meal a day.  Craziness.

Zero carb had promised me the miracle of absolution from calorie math.  It did not deliver on this promise.

I realized one very simple fact that I was refusing to see: if you eat too much, it has to go somewhere.  In my case, that somewhere was my gut, thighs, and ass.  If you want those bulky appendages to become more streamlined, you have to reduce the sheer volume of what you stuff down your gullet.

Despite the fact that I did have tons of fun eating assloads of meat at a sitting, I stared with dismay at the simple reality of life.  I was not one of the lucky ones who can be absolved from calorie math simply by restricting intake to only one kind of substance.

And, since keeping tabs on the volume of food I was snarfing was now a requirement, choosing my food from only 0.0005% of edible matter completely ceased to make any sense whatsoever.  If I have to manage the amounts I eat anyway, I might as well eat what I like.

But this is not another diet blog.  Quite the opposite.  After the year-plus on zero carb, the last thing I want to do is diet.

Neither do I want to abuse myself with gratuitous excess.

And here is where I am at: seeking to find internal balance while acknowledging and embracing my consuming passion for food (or is that my passion for consuming food?).  In fact, I am seeking this internal balance BY MEANS of my enjoyment in food, cooking, and eating.

In her most recent book, "Women, Food, and God," Geneen Roth says that basically everything about how you relate to the Universe can be elucidated from the way you relate to the food on your plate.  It seems a little simplistic at first glance, but, when you examine the statement, she hits the nail right on the head.  Eating is the most basic way in which we avail ourselves of the resources from the Universe.  When this relationship is out of balance, we find ourselves out of balance, too.

In this blog, I will be writing primarily about food and eating, but this, of course, relates to everything else I do in life.  Recipes, restaurants, reflections, ponderings, and a bit of this and that thrown in.

One bite at a time.