Category Archives: food

I don’t regret a bite

I was talking with a work colleague last week at lunch and at some point it came up that I’d been a lot heavier (225 lbs) than I am now (currently 180 lbs and 5’7”, so, more or less a US size 12).  They expressed the usual amazement that I had lost all that weight, etc., and stated the usual platitudes about how I must feel better to be “healthier” now.

I didn’t get in to all the gory details of it with them except to say that what mattered more to me than the weight loss was the other changes I made that have made it possible to stay in a weight range that lets me do all the things I want to do— snow shoe, garden, give my niece piggy-back rides, hike, yoga, and otherwise shoulder the weight of taking care of a house and an aging parent who would prefer to avoid carrying laundry up and down cellar stairs.  I don’t care so much about fashion beyond a basic level of vanity in fitting in to a range of size 10-12 clothes where I don’t feel ashamed of my body; I am lumpy and I have the start of a wattle.  That is ok.

What I also didn’t get into was that for me, weight has always been NOT about food (which I love), it has been and always been about love, whether my life is feeling manageable, and whether I am practicing decent self-care.  It’s taken me 40 years, more or less, to figure it out.  I will never look like a supermodel. So what? I didn’t get into the details, because they were male, it was lunch, and I didn’t want to get heavy (hah).  But I’ve been thinking about it (again).

I love food.  I love eating.  I love the act of cooking and feeding myself and others. I love creating something from scratch.  I love growing food and coaxing things out of warm dirt and onto the plate.  I love the meditation of chopping.  I love the alchemy of how butter, eggs, and onion become an amazing perfume. And even though I have been both far heavier than I would choose, as well as skinnier than I would like between bulimia and other illnesses and medication reactions, I don’t ever regret any weight fluctuation that happened as a result of any food that I ate.  I don’t regret a bite of it, ever.

Weight, however, is not about food.  Weight is about weight— it’s about the world crushing you down, and no one around you doing anything to lift it off you.  Weight is about you being Atlas, and you not being told, either at all or effectively, so you can hear it from people who are supposed to care about you, that you don’t have to carry it all.  In my case, between being bipolar and being an Adult Child of two bipolar parents who tried but had their own stuff and just often were not successful, it took me a long time to figure out that I was eating to feel full in the middle and push out against the weight and anxiousness and chill pressing in from outside, and all the people who weren’t doing anything to lift the world off of me.  It took me a long time to push back and say I was not going to carry it all, and that I was also not going to finish everything on my plate just to make others happy.

It took me a long time to realize that in maintaining my weight, in finding my metaphorical and literal center and in feeding myself, that meant I should only eat what I wanted, and that this was both an enormous privilege (in having money and choice, both of which I have gone without) and a burden in that I’d have to speak up for myself and do the work.  I would eat— or not eat, if I wasn’t hungry— what I had prepared for myself, but I’d have to make it.  I would not have feel grateful for food I hadn’t asked for, or eat things I expressly disliked, or have to put up with something that someone plopped down on my plate and told me to finish or it would mean I didn’t love them. Because really, if they’d been paying attention, why would they shove that weighty glop on me in the first place?  But first I’d have to say– no thanks.  I’m full.

Button-pushing, compliments, feeling heard, body shaming & how to ask– how are you?

Trigger, kneejerk, hot-button– whatever you call it, we all have them, mental health diagnosis & crappy life experiences or not.  It’s our choice, once we become conscious of those hot topics, to decide how we react when other people start mashing those buttons, on purpose or not.

Sometimes it’s easier to control your reaction.  Sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes you can have a conversation with the person who’s pushing your buttons and ask them to stop, take another approach, whatever– fill them in, ask them to be mindful.  And sometimes your hot-button “do not want mentioned around me” topic is their “I have to talk about this all the time” issue, because for them, it’s a life-or-death issue they need to be active around.  And sometimes, they’re objectively reasonable, or just subjectively trying to keep their head above water.  In either case, if you’ve said your piece and they aren’t going to mute themselves, it’s time to start tuning them out.

It all comes down to making sure you feel heard, feel seen– and if you’re feeling ignored, you need to do what you can to protect yourself from feeling unworthy of being heard, of being seen.  You are visible.  You should be as loud as you want.  And you should distance yourself from whomever won’t let you be yourself on your terms.

Either the person you’ve talked to about respecting your own buttons is going to notice & back off, or they’ll get hurt, get angry, or leave you alone.  Maybe they’ll even be enraged that you don’t care about them.  But wait– didn’t you already have that conversation about how for you, the mention of their “have to mention it all the time” issue is hurtful to you?

Right.  That.

I give myself permission to walk away once I’ve had the conversation and the person continues in the problem behavior.  I’m not going to fight with them, but I am also not going to waste time trying to make people understand further.   If they’re someone I mostly deal with online, well, thank goodness for filters– I can interact with them about things other than the hot button where possible.  If they’re someone I work with or live with, well, I just walk away from that conversation. Excuse myself, every time.

Food & weight are something I have kneejerk reactions around.  Both my parents are emotional, unhealthy, really overweight eaters who eat whatever’s in front of them and directly contrary to their explicit medical diagnoses, even to the point of it landing them in the hospital, and their pathological “eat everything on your plate” and “eat your feelings” attitudes have made me really fucked up when it comes to not feeling like I have to finish everything, and making healthy eating choices.  At 39, they still criticize me for not finishing everything on my plate, or serving a meal that doesn’t have meat in it even if 7/8 of the other meals in the week have animal protein.

Add to that the fact that I was bulimic in junior high so that I could find a way to stop being the fat kid no one wanted to be friends with, and that none of my family or “friends” noticed except to say I looked “great” and that it took getting sick from Lyme disease and then uncontrollably losing weight as a result (and still being told I looked “great”), and I not only have a lifelong aversion to chef’s salad (my food of choice at the time, and it now tastes like vomit) but have a distrust of anyone who compliments my appearance, because it reads to me as only a surface read.

When I got fat again after law school and then lost weight through a combination of low-carb/PCOS diagnosis and then having no control over further weight loss because my anticonvulsant bipolar med made me anorexic and have active revulsions to most foods, a lot of people told me that I looked “great!”

I felt pretty shitty about it, to tell you the truth.  None of my clothes fit, and people who’d never paid me any attention were flirting with me as if I was some new magic person.  I wasn’t.  Just thinner. There was only one person who asked during all of that time if the weight loss was something I had intended, and listened sympathetically– thank goodness for her.

My sister-in-law, who was an objectively physically attractive lady no matter her weight & couldn’t hear that,  had her own self-identified weight problems and had never been sympathetic (or maybe willing to acknowledge the reality of) to my mental health issues.  She even joked that she was going to get antidepressants if getting skinny was the result.  Since at the time I was seeing a nutritionist to try to put weight back on, the comment wasn’t appreciated, but arguing with her was like bashing my head on a brick wall.  My husband was mostly non-committal along the lines of “mm-hmm, if you think it’s important,” when I tried to talk about it with him, though toward the end, when I’d moved out of the bedroom and into the back bedroom, almost a YEAR after I’d started having weight issues, he caught me wearing a towel coming out of the bathroom and said, offhand, distracted– “oh, you have lost a lot of weight, I guess.”

Talk about being invisible.

Living with my dad now is its own struggle because he’ll eat everything in the house, and if I bake a treat he will eat anything I don’t hide.  He is dismissive of anything that wasn’t a real thing when he was in college (food allergies, medical diagnoses, etc.) and we’ve had a few screaming matches, but at the end of the day he knows, at least, not to poke me because I will poke back even harder, and he at least knows that my tongue is sharp, because I learned it from him.

“Are you putting on weight?”
“I don’t know, I still fit my clothes, so I don’t really care.  What’s it to you?”

“You should finish everything on your plate.”
“I’m 39, I’ll leave leftovers if I fucking want, the refrigerator works and we still have tupperware unless you have something to tell me.” (Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t swear but sometimes I will.)

“Why isn’t there meat in this?”
“Because dozens of human societies manage to thrive without it.”

At work now, in my health-oriented (obsessed) natural foods & organics oriented grocery store, there tends to be an, ahem, bias, toward healthy eating and fitness among the leadership, even as we sell cookies, chips, cakes, desserts, all kinds of healthy junk food.  It’s a contradiction I find not funny at all.  There are certainly less than Olympic-level fit members of leadership at all levels of the company, but there is a definite thread of anti-fat, anti-meat, pro-veganism, anti-dairy, pro-youth, almost fat-shaming in peoples’ private hearts in the company, and at the store level, it’s a dangerous thing in one-on-one conversations– something I’ve tried to correct when I hear it, one “you know, I’m a fat kid on the inside” conversation at a time.  It usually works, and people are usually shocked to find out I’ve been fat, because at 5’6″ and 170 lbs for age 39, I look “normal” or “good,” or “hot” and they “never would have guessed” I was my age, much less had ever been “fat,” but that’s the point, it’s all that external judgment again.  I point out that it’s none of their goddamned business what I look like as long as I am 1) in dress code and 2) able to perform my job, and that they need to get out of the game of deciding whether or not someone looks “good,” because not only is it a violation of our harassment policy and going to get their asses sued one day or another when they can’t keep their traps shut, but it’s also just straight out psychologically scarring and hurtful.

Dear world.  No one else needs your validation.  Ever.  And if you feel compelled to give it, compulsively, I suggest you seek professional counseling because there is something wrong with you that makes you feel the need to go around handing out gold stars.  (Let your counselor give you yours, and stop assessing the goodness of others.  The world has enough problems getting through the day.  Leave everyone to their own messes, okay?)  None of my less than skinny colleagues need validation of their looks, either, because they come in and do awesome jobs, and to be judged for anything other than that is just crap.  Starting in on “but they’d be happier if…” and “they aren’t healthy when…” is infantilizing.  DID THEY ASK YOU FOR HELP?  No.  Did you offer it once and they said no?  Ok, then.  The conversation’s over.  Forever.  The end.

I have lots of curvy-and-proud ladies of non-white backgrounds and heavyset dudes from all over who love their mom’s/spouse’s/their own damn cooking, and one of these days one of my skinny (to me, malnourished-looking) vegans or musclehead Latino bois is going to put his or her foot in it because no matter what they might think, there is no one dietary right way.  There’s a lot of science out there.  The minute you start getting religious about it in the face of someone else’s disagreement, it’s time to shut up and reassess why you’re so angry about someone else’s disagreement.

When it comes to diets and “healthy” eating, there is what works for you and makes you feel happy.

“Good” is so laden a word– not just physical attractiveness but value as a person– stay wide of it. Be specific if you feel the need to make compliments as small talk.  “You did a great job today.”  “It’s nice to see you!”  “Have a great weekend!”  “Hey, I like the new t-shirt!”  Focus on the things people do, that come from their hearts and their brains– not from their shapes.

Bodies and the food we put in it should be about love and pleasure, not substitution for the love & pleasure you don’t get elsewhere.   Food should be an opportunity for creative expression and fun, for sharing and an outlet at the end of a day of paper pushing– it should be whatever you mindfully want it to be.  And your body should do all the things you want it to do.  If you don’t want it to run a marathon, then no one else should judge you for that.

On any given day you have NO IDEA why someone is the weight that they are, heavy or thin.  Maybe they’re heavy because they’re happy that way.  Or struggling with a medical condition.  Maybe they’re thin because they’re having a medical side effect and working hard to gain back the weight, and are feeling pretty out of control about their appearance & body.  Maybe they do NOT feel like they look good at all.  Offering your unsolicited opinion on their physical attractiveness is not the way to validate their existence as a human, and in fact may be a pretty shitty thing to do to that person because you’re just mashing their buttons about how they feel about their out-of-control body.

Do you really want to be helpful?

Say hello.  Smile.  Ask someone how they are, and mean it, and stop long enough to actually listen if they don’t just tell you they’re “fine.” Maybe they’ll even tell you.

And if you ask them to participate in something and they say no, please respect the fact that people don’t owe you their whole medical or personal history just because you have a cause you’re interested in that has some good reasons behind it.  Their no isn’t a rejection of you.  It’s an affirmation of them.

OIive Oil & Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

It was snowing like hell on Sunday and I needed CAKE.   I’d wanted to make this one from food52, but I didn’t have an orange or unsoured milk (I had the Grand Marnier though, hah, just not the real food staples), so I had to look elsewhere, because it was messy and I was in serious nesting-hermit mode. I also had a pound of strawberries frozen from a sale at the store over the summer so I said, hmm, strawberries & cake, and then started googling.

I found this recipe, a variation on ones from Chocolate & Zucchini as well as Smitten Kitchen, and then took inspiration from this recipe to add strawberries in. 

I tweaked the first recipes thusly:  I added an extra 1/2 tsp of vanilla, a 1/4 tsp cinnamon because I think cinnamon and strawberries go well together, and the cake took another 20 minutes to bake because the strawberries were still frozen when I stirred them into the finished batter.   I should have probably let them come to room temperature, but I was also afraid they’d bleed into the batter at room temperature and make the batter too soggy.

The cake still looked good, though, in a homely, craggy, fragrant, quick, brew some tea and cut into it NOW kind of way.  It’s moist as heck because of the olive oil, and could have stood another 5 minutes of baking, but olive oil cakes have a wonderful flavor in general, and I’ll be making this one again soon with the rest of the berries lying around in the freezer.  I didn’t bake this one gluten-free, because I wanted to try the recipe as written (ish) first– but next time, I’ll try it with the Bob’s GF blend and see how it goes.

An unsalted thanks

I’ve been cooking, and adapting my cooking, to deal with the new low-salt restriction in my dad’s diet.  Since it was just us two this year for Thanksgiving, I could experiment with something other than turkey (sacriligeous secret, I don’t like turkey) and try my hand at slight less salty, less fatty versions of our traditional dishes.  I ended up with a low sodium, mostly low-carb, low-sugar holiday meal that was really delicious.  (Even if I added some salt to my plate.  I can’t help it, my normal BP is 100/60, I need that NAO2.)

Weird flowers brought home from work, because I like weird things.

Duck marinated in red wine, smashed garlic, rosemary, sage, parsley & juniper berries with herbs, roasted according to Amanda Hesser’s method in The Cook & the Gardener.

Sliced & served with windowsill herbs.

Gluten-free stuffing– wild rice cooked in red wine (the rest of the Bogle Merlot used on the duck) and butter and water, 4 italian sausages browned in a saute pan with red onion, 2 gala apples, a handful of dried cranberries & walnuts, then baked in a 350F oven with a splash of low-salt (Whole Foods 365 Organic) chicken broth & butter until the rice is cooked through & everything’s hot.

Cippolini onions & peeled shallots, cooked according to the recipe for braised rutabaga in Nigel Slater’s Tender.  Unsalted butter, low sodium chicken stock, white pepper, a pinch of white organic sugar.  Dressed once the liquid was boiled almost all the way down with generous gratings of nutmeg & two tablespoons of heavy cream, cooked until thickened & glazed.

One half a red cabbage, cooked again according to the recipe for red cabbage braised with cider vinegar from Tender.  Vegetable oil, black pepper, juniper berries, cider vinegar, a teaspoon of agave nectar and vinegar to correct a little burning at the end.

Warm potato & cucumber salad, dressed with mustard, olive oil, cider vinegar, a teaspoon of dijon mustard, chopped fresh dill, a pinch of sugar, black pepper.  Nigel Slater’s Tender, again.

Pumpkin cheesecake.  Gluten free, low sugar, low salt pumpkin cheesecake.  It looks like this when you slice it.

The recipe is based off this one, except I used gluten-free gingersnaps sweetened with stevia I bought from work and walnuts plus unsalted butter and agave nectar in the crust, (otherwise following the directions) then used full-fat ricotta & agave nectar in the pie instead of honey/maple syrup and lowfat ricotta.  I used 1/2 cup more pumpkin and 1/2 cup less ricotta than called for, to level out the fat content.   It was better than any regular pumpkin pie I’ve had in a while– less sweet, which is often my problem with pumpkiny things, and the gingersnap crust was delicious & had a nice zing.

 

Buonanotte, Marcella

If you’re at all an aficionado of cooking, you know that the grand doyenne of Italian cooking passed away this week.  I will admit, freely, that I don’t page through Marcella Hazan for inspiration the way that I flip through Julia Child; I find her (husband’s) translation too authoritative & cranky, and while I appreciate clear direction in a cookbook, there was always something about the tone of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking that seemed to promise that what befell the denizens of Dante’s Inferno would only be the start if I dared deviate from the steps laid out, so painstaking, therein.  If I want some inspiration for something Italian-ish to cook for supper, I’ve been far more likely to pull out Elizabeth David, whose firm but friendly writing and combinations of flavors always appeal.  Plus, I can never disagree with a woman who tells you to serve prosciutto with the very best butter.

Still– back to Marcella (though I think she would prefer me to call her Signora Hazan).  The fact still remains; crank though she might have been, and absolute snob for nothing but the best imported Italian what-have-you (and yes, I understand, the insistence was valid, whereas the book was written back in the day before concepts like locavore, heirloom seeds/breeds, and CSA meat/vegetable/aquaculture share were ever a glint in any hipster foodie wordsmith’s eye), Marcella’s books still were and are the Bible when I was looking for the recipe to rule them all or to tell me which amalgam of flavors was most likely truest & best.  I look at Barbara Lynch, at Susan Hermann Loomis, at Elizabeth David, at Patricia Wells and a half dozen more, but Marcella’s recipes distill the essentials, just like she says on the cover.  And for all that the recipes can sometimes be time-consuming, they’re always worth it.

Her pork loin braised in milk (Essentials, 417-418) should never be attempted when the mercury hovers over 80F, but any other time, please– set aside the 6-8 hours and make it.  It ain’t just stunt cooking, that stuff is worth it.  And her tomato sauce with onion and butter (Essentials, 152) will make you wonder– why bother with anything else? Vodka sauce? Who needs it? Take a stick blender to this.)  Her spinach soup with rice (Essentials, 89, 90-2) can be varied with sausage or baby kale or lacinato kale or not and will freeze like nobody’s business, just the thing to warm you.

So tonight, I cooked a dinner to bid Marcella mille grazie, and buonanotte.   Even if she was cranky.  I guess I’d be cranky if people were screwing up good food, as well.

Backyard beefsteak tomato salad.  Salt.  Pepper.  Real balsamic.  Real Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. And back porch chopped italian parsley and basil.  It’s not a recipe, but it is fresh.  I think Marcella would have approved.

Veal scallopini, dredged in toasted hazelnut flour, salt and pepper, browned in butter and olive oil and set aside, then the brown nutty juices reduced with a balsamic vinegar and chicken stock/juice of 1 lemon substitute for the wine called for in this Molly O’Neill adaptation of a Marcella recipe from “Marcella’s Italian Kitchen.”

Broccolini, cooked until tender all the way through, then sauteed quickly in its saucepan with the rest of the fresh-chopped parsley, basil, olives, red pepper flakes and garlic called for in this adaptation of a sauce for oriecchette , which is a souped-up version of the Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce (Essentials, 173) that Marcella recommends for oriecchette.  I skipped the grated cheese, as well as the anchovies, and let the olives speak for themselves.

And finally, last but not least, maybe Marcella’s most famous dessert, and a cake that deserves to be up there with Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba.

Behold, the Walnut Cake (Essentials, 588-9).

This needs a springform, and I futzed the 8-inch requirement and used a 9-inch, cooking the recipe 10 minutes less.  I also used Bob’s Gluten-Free flour blend in place of the 1 cup of regular flour the recipe calls for.  Some day, I’ll use all walnuts instead to make up the volume.

It’s a light, fragile cake, musky and fragrant with rum and lemon zest, tender and nutty.  (She has you toast the raw walnuts.  Do it.  It makes a difference versus buying pre-roasted nuts.)

It’s awesome, warm, still a little soft in the middle, with some creme fraiche stirred into whipped cream.  (Somehow, I don’t think Marcella would have minded the creme fraiche all that much.)

(And also, for those playing at home, with the exception of the tomatoes and the fresh herbs, I did buy all the ingredients, especially the perfect, tender, excellent and humanely-raised veal, at my lovely employer, whose name rhymes with Shmole Foods.)

Sometimes the kale life chooses you.

It’s some sign of something (adulthood? hippiedom? DIY-freakshowness?) that I have come to a point in my life where not only are kale chips a thing that I eat, on the regular, even, but I have opinions about store-bought (dehydrated, raw) versus homemade (oven-baked, salt & vinegar or lemon juice, other seasonings too).

For the record: homemade, from lacinato, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, massaged & let to rest for 10 minutes, then roasted at 475 for 10 minutes on parchment, tossed halfway through.   (Cider vinegar will also do.)

That dehydrated curly kale stuff is fine, in a pinch, but nutritional yeast and miso and sesame seeds & all that other seasoning stuff is not really ranch flavor– not now, not ever.

What I can’t tell is what it means that I’m digging a whole other bed in the garden because I didn’t get enough of my own homegrown (lacinato, picked small and large) kale this summer & fall.

Maybe I should dig a well so people just think I’m a survivalist nut, and not simply crazy for mineral-rich greens.