Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Wanted Carrot Cake and A Few Bags of Lindt Truffles...Here's What I Did Instead

Here’s a longstanding myth that needs to be busted: just because someone loses the equivalent of three Victoria’s Secret models in body weight does not mean the passionate, sometimes dysfunctional tango with food is over. It never ends. No matter how low the numbers get on the scale. If you remember nothing else, promise me you’ll start to ponder the fact that shrinking in size doesn’t vaporize any pre-existing problems from your life. Hey, I LOVE being down 12 sizes, but I’m still me. I still wrestle with moments of wanting to gallop to the nearest supermarket and have my way with the potato chip aisle. So there may be no magic formula for dropping weight, but I hope the following helps in some way: Mood swings can strike without warning, physiological hunger is a regularly occurring fact of life, and so is a desire for food (which feels remarkably similar to hunger) that’s rooted insidiously in psychological yearnings. I experience all of the above much more acutely during winter, when my serotonin levels plunge in tandem with the mercury.

If it were as cut and dry as diet and exercise, I’d simply hand the baton to Jenny Craig and blog about pink lipstick. Going the distance with a new way of life can sound exciting on paper, but the unglamorous reality involves slogging through the mud of resistance and negotiating the tightrope of temptation. Depending on how well stocked with options my pantry is, sometimes I’m lucky enough to walk the high wire with a net.

So this afternoon, after doing a heart-thumping session with the YRG Double Black Diamond DVD, a craving for sweets came a-knocking. My strategy for managing sudden desires like this centers around a "know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em" philosophy. In other words, I’ve realized there’s a time for molasses cookies, pavlova drizzled in chocolate sauce, or one of Angella Cole’s astoundingly delicious gluten-free cupcakes (her cookbook is in the works)…and there’s a time to take a pass on the decadence. I weigh the severity of the craving against questions like, how stressed am I? Is this about emotional turmoil (big or small) that I'm trying to ignore? What does the rest of my day look like in terms of food intake? Or, is it art? Sometimes because of superior ingredients, presentation, or both, food qualifies as art and sometimes for that reason alone I dive in and enjoy it. But today, an honest look at the checklist had me falling with relief into the safety net instead. Since I always make sure my pantry is packing protection, I was able to assemble a little spontaneous gratification out of homemade cranberry sauce*, a one-ounce bag of pistachios, and some unsweetened coconut. The combination may seem odd, but it had a magical effect on the sugar craving.

That’s the other thing I’ve learned. When I’m craving something sweet, it doesn’t necessarily mean I want a banana split or glazed donuts. Yes, Virginia…sometimes something much lower on the food chain actually does it for me.

* See blog post: Unbelievably Easy Cranberry Sauce...Sans Sugar

Unbelievably Easy Cranberry Sauce...Sans Suger

Cosmopolitan magazine...circa 1988. It's the last place I ever thought I'd find a usable recipe. But I did. And it was so simple, I commmitted it to memory in the confines of that sweat bath of a studio apartment I rented on the upper west side that summer.

There's no sugar in this, which is amazing for a cranberry recipe. Use it any way you like: in yogurt, oatmeal, on ice cream, waffles. No rules. Except one: don't under any circumstances leave the stove while this is simmering. You haven't really cleaned until you've cleaned molten cranberry sauce off a burner.

I'm naming this concoction in honor of the woman who (on some level) must have given it the green light:

Cranberry Sauce A La Helen Gurley Brown

1 bag fresh cranberries
1 can frozen grape juice concentrate (100% juice)

Place both ingredients in a sauce pan on medium heat and cover. Cook about 5-10 minutes, or until it begins to simmer. Uncover and turn heat to medium-low. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool before serving or storing. Keeps for several weeks in the refrigerator. Months if frozen.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Better Than Chef Boyardi

A big part of the reason I've dropped 135 pounds in a year's time is the fact that I'm gluten-free...and I avoid cow dairy (notice I didn't commit to saying I never eat cheese?) This means I eat as though I'm celiac and lactose intolerant even though I'm neither. I adopted these changes at the urging of my fitness guru, Diamond Dallas Page ( There was some initial resistance on my part (especially where dairy was concerned). And yes, I still miss cheese sometimes. You know, little things like the way it oozes across my tongue when it's melted and warm. But the fact is, I'm down 12 sizes, so it's kind of a fair trade.

Spaghetti I crave occasionally, and when I do, I thank GOD for the creation of Rice Pasta, which is actually quite good if it's cooked properly. So when I get the urge for that canned semolina indulgence from childhood, I know exactly what to do. Did you know that unlike the fictitious Betty Crocker, there actually was a chef named for that line of cans filled with unspeakably mushy pasta? The guy's name was Ettore Boiardi. He emigrated from Italy at age 16 and immediately launched into a cooking career. According to his story, the spaghetti and sauce he served at his restaurants were legendary and demand eventually drove him into factory production (and the phonetic spelling of his name). And we all know how far south the quality went. I'm not saying the stuff didn't taste good. Man, some of my most memorable binges involved family sized cans of his ravioli, microwaved and blanketed with slices of American cheese and eaten in a semi-conscious state in front of a 'Bewitched' rerun. Those were the days.

But with the passage of time has come the evolution of my pallate. Which has resulted in a nouveau version of the stuff I grew up on.

Aside from using rice pasta, what makes this recipe different is cooking the pasta risotto-style. When you do this, the starch from the pasta doesn't leach out into the boiling water and eventually poured down the drain. Once you cook pasta this way you'll probably never want to go back to boiling. It's a little more time-consuming but worth it. I hope wherever Ettore Boiardi is now, he's proud:

Risotto-Style Rice Pasta with Marinara
1 pound rice spaghetti
1 large can of tomato juice
1 32-ounce can tomato sauce
2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
Grated sheep's milk peccorino cheese

Pour the tomato juice into a large sauce pan and cover, heating on medium heat until bubbling. While juice is heating, break spaghetti into 3-4 inch sections. (Cooking pasta risotto-style requires pasta that's already small, ie, penne, or made small by breaking. Too much stirring involved). Add the oil to the juice and stir, followed by the broken spaghetti. Continue stirring until the pasta softens. Eventually, most of the liquid will absorb into the pasta. If you like a generous backdrop of sauce, add all or part of the can of tomato sauce. Continue stirring often or else the pasta will stick together (I find rice pasta to be gummier than semolina). When thoroughly heated, serve and sprinkle with peccorino.

Bon Apetit!

By the way, I still can't hear Elizabeth Montgomery's voice without getting a Chef BoyArDee craving. Thank God ravioli was as hardcore as it got for me.