Friday, June 18, 2010

If You Love Food Half As Much As I Do...

...Here are a few things I've learned these past 15 months:

It's been just over 15 months I've been on the journey that began with watching Oprah confess she'd fallen off the wagon January 5, 2009. She snuck a via sattelite guest appearance by Carnie Wilson for a few brief moments, which alerted me to the existance of a man named Dallas who changed her Life. Dallas Page ended up changing mine too and naturally, I've learned a lot along the way. In the Spirit of paying forward, here are some of the things have gotten me to where I am today: 150 pounds lighter, unquantifiably freer emotionally, and immeasurably happier because I'm truly alive for the first time in my life. It's great to be lighter, but I spent the latter half of my 20's, entire 30's, and the first half of my 40's working on my self-esteem. Without it, life has no Magic...and all the skinny in the world won't help.
The biggest thing standing in the way of me making changes was food - and my overwhelming attraction to it. Easier said than done to simply eat less. For years I had no desire to give up the mass-quantities. No one was telling me what to do. In other words, there was no motivation. Thought motivation had left the building as far as I was concerned...and then I saw my genetic twin, Carnie Wilson looking breathtakingly happy and healthy and motivation was suddenly ringing my bell again. It's an essential element but it's also the wildcard. There's no explaining how or why it kicks in...or doesn't. Embarrassment, poor health, unhappiness weren't enough to get me motivated...for YEARS. But I kept working on self-acceptance and loving myself no matter what my size. I knew that was the key and one day, things came together. Doesn't make sense in today's world of dieting and quickie results. But that's my story and I'm sticking to it. If you're not in a place where you're motivated, trust me, you're well aware of it. All I can say is, ride it out with as much compassion as you can muster. Self-recrimination never got me anywhere.
I have decades of hardcore binge-eating under my belt. It's a tough tiger to tame...even when motivated, but absolutely possible. Here are a few suggestions if you feel like you want to end the cycle:

For the Love of God, don't make too many changes at once, it'll be overwhelming and you'll simply give up (who wouldn't?). I had an 'order of importance' list I adhered to when I started in January 2009. At the top were my most dangerous binge foods = the foods I had basically been existing on during the 6 months before I found YRG. Crossing them off was enough of a challenge. But I was ready to make the sacrifice. To get me through the withdrawls, I existed on lots of cheese (I needed the indulgence to get me through), but I made sure to ADD produce with it. Fruits and vegetables had not been a part of my food intake and I knew it was time to welcome them back into the fold.

At about month three is when I agreed to eliminate gluten and cow dairy. Dallas was adamant about it and I'm glad he was...probably wouldn't have done it without his strong-arming. The gluten wasn't really that hard because there are so many viable substitutes for bread, desserts, pasta, etc. The cow dairy hurt. Losing that emotional security blanket scared me. I thought it would be impossible since I was such a lifelong dairy-lover. But Dallas Page has this way of frightening people through the ethernet, and like I said, I was ready and willing, so I did it. Eliminating the dairy and gluten changed my body like nothing else I've done - and I'm a lifelong dieter who has tried just about everything.

And since I'm not dieting anymore, I don't play the 'never again' game. I have cheese when I really want it and I enjoy it and move on. When I use the word 'eliminate' I really mean, I don't exist on it like I once did. Cheese was doing me no favors...not even that longtime weight-loss tool cottage cheese. Just marketing malarkey. Cottage cheese really never helped me lose an ounce. Without cow dairy clogging my system, I feel SO much freer and more energetic. I noticed about 3 months into it my body actually felt like it was humming. And it probably was...with Gratitude.

If you're not ready to give something up, then ease back. Taper it a little...especially with the stuff you know is the most damaging. Try seltzer with lemon now and then instead of soda. Or gluten-free pasta instead of Chef Boyardee. You can even do macaroni and cheese with hard goat cheese and gluten-free pasta. Ditto for grilled cheese sandwiches. Check out Angella Cole's site and for FANTASTIC gluten-free recipes. And if you're not a cook, there are plenty of gluten-free cookies and sweets on the market - most supermarkets have them in the health food section. In the beginning I wouldn't worry too much about eliminating sweets - if that's your crutch you may need it for a while. And from personal experience, sugar has not been harmful to me - in moderate amounts. When I get the urge, I have g-free cookies, cakes, cinnamon buns, etc. and they all have sugar. Gluten and it's unhealthy, inflammatory effects are what really pollutes the body. Same with mucous-producing cow dairy.

Bottom line is, unless it's a serious thyroid issue, those of us who have more than 50 pounds to get rid of are madly in LOVE food. I still adore food. It's no crime. It's quite a lovely thing to love food...but now I love it in a conscious state, not in a trance. There's something about knowing there's a beginning and end that makes eating far more pleasurable than it ever has been. And for this to be a long-term way of life, pleasure is definitely along for the ride. There are so many options: gluten-free stuffing at Thanksgiving, cream soups made with chevre or coconut milk, goat yogurt and g-free granola for breakfast, coconut milk ice cream bars, brown rice pudding, flourless chocolate cake. There are lots of options. It's absolutely possible to eat ENJOYABLY and be Healthy and Release excess fat. How else could I have dropped 150 pounds while retaining my sanity?

Photo Credit:  Joan K. Lentini, Forward Vision Photography in Lake Luzerne, N.Y.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eggs, Glorious (American Masala) Eggs

This may be a tough one to believe, but chocolate really doesn’t do it for me. And neither does ice cream. To get to the core of my most hedonistic epicurean fantasies, all you have to do is crack an egg. And for God’s sake, don’t break the yolk. It’s creamy, cooked-just-till-warm egg yolks that send me into orbit every time. And preferably the deep-orange yolks of the elegant eggs laid at American Masala Farm in Washington County, N.Y.

For reasons that revolve around the ethical treatment of animals and better health, I buy local eggs. It’s the only way to fly. And when I really want to go flying high, I drive 30 miles due east to American Masala Farm, where gentleman farmers Charlie Burd and Suvir Saran preside lovingly over their flock of Heritage chickens.

How lovingly?

Consider that Charlie decided years ago that run of the mill chicken feed was, in a word, inadequate. Instead, he offers his flock of Araucanas, Lakenvelders and New Hampshires homemade vegetarian broth brewed at his Viking stove. How’s that for going above and beyond?

“Charlie feeds them soups and stews that we eat ourselves…and so do our friends: Lebanese Lentil Soup, Lettuce and Tomato Soup, Spinach and Cauliflower Soup, Dhaansaak Stew and any other leftover soups from our kitchen,” explained Suvir. “We never add any animal based stock into our soups, and so they are great for the chickens. Charlie also feeds them all vegetarian scraps from the kitchen, both cooked and raw foods. If it is free of meat and eggs, they get it…and they LOVE it.

“These are not production layers; the girls lay eggs every two to four days…some better than others,” Suvir continued. “But when they do lay these eggs, it is totally worth the wait and the feed.”

While Suvir is often pulled away from farm life with duties that involve lecturing around the country, book-signings, and running Devi restaurant in Manhattan, Charlie sees that all runs smoothly at American Masala. If the arias of praise over the eggs are any indication, Charlie has found the perfect formula for feeding and loving the 120 chickens that supply lucky visitors and customers with unparalled delight.

How’s this for an endorsement:

“I've a cosmic hunch that the eggs from American Masala don't really come from chickens----that their yolks drip from the sun and their creamy, buttery texture flow from the cow that jumped over the moon. I eat a dozen a week."
-- Michael London of Mrs. London's Bakery & Cafe, Saratoga Springs, New York

And he’s not alone.

New York City resident Vicki Haupt counts the eggs as one of the highlights of a weekend visit to Suvir and Charlie’s farm. “Suvir and Charlie’s eggs are simply beautiful to behold - white, large, curvaceous,” says Haupt. “You know how eggs inspire and inform great art and symbolism? These are surely worthy of the finest visual and minds eye contemplation. Such a shame then to crack, but WOW, one alone is a veritable feast and, in Suvir's skillet, the best I have ever partaken of.”

Kim Sunee, author of the best-selling memoir “Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and The Search for Home” writes in her blog: “Rich, creamy and highly addictive, I would eat one of these gorgeous eggs every day if I lived here…”

Frank Vollkommer and his wife Jessica own The Chocolate Mill in Glens Falls, N.Y. Frank is a certified master pastry chef who grew up raising chickens in rural Saratoga County. When Charlie and Suvir introduced Jessica and Frank to the wonders of the American Masala egg, The Chocolate Mill’s menu was forever transformed.

“Each egg has a different colorful motif with shades of brown, green, white and speckled…the shells are thick and well developed as these birds lay only one egg a day without the pressured existence of commercially raised chickens,” said Frank. “The whites are rich in protein, stay intact when cooked and soufflĂ© beautifully while the yolks are a rich deep yellow-orange with a velvet texture and incredible flavor.”

The Vollkommer’s have added the American Masala eggs to the a la carte menus as well as baking production. Frank was even inspired to create “The Charlie Burd Nest,” a mĂ©lange of scrambled American Masala eggs, fresh asparagus, red onion, and Nettle Meadow Goat Cheese in a house-made multi-grain bread nest, served with a roasted shallot-arugula salad. On a recent visit to The Chocolate Mill, I bypassed the pastries and ordered Eggs Boursin, a mound of scrambled American Masala Eggs topped with a velvety Boursin sauce and served with field greens. The kitchen staff was even sweet enough to toast the slice of gluten-free bread I brought with me. With their bright-gold color and sturdy texture, the Eggs Boursin were truly eggs the way they were meant to be enjoyed.

As much as I adore American Masala’s eggs, there’s something produced on the farm that gets my heart racing even faster: goose eggs. Every spring (tragically, this occurs only once a year) Suvir and Charlie’s snow white flock of geese lay white, voluptuous eggs the size of mini-footballs.

I thought I’d experienced every possible form of pleasure involving egg yolks. And then I made my first visit to the farm in 2007 to write a feature story on Suvir, and gasped as he fried me a goose egg. Even the sunny-side up version took nearly 15 minutes to complete and Suvir never broke his vigil over the cast iron skillet. I couldn’t take my eyes off the tangerine-sized yolk as the egg slowly sizzled in olive oil. Then he whipped out a microplane and block of Parmesan cheese and the giant egg was suddenly covered in a snowfall of pungent shavings. It’s no surprise that I report it to be the best egg of my life…leveraging the yolk alone into a single bite (that’s just how I roll with yolks) was worth the price of admission.

So when Goose Egg Season came this year, I called Charlie and Suvir and placed an order for a dozen American Masala Eggs, plus a few coveted goose eggs. True to their generous nature, they filled a Styrofoam box with as many goose eggs as would fit. Good thing. I was leaving for an out-of-state trip in three days and would need some seriously protective packaging.

First stop was a night at the Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania where I shooed the bellhop away from the Styrofoam package, informing him that I would be the only one charged with the task of handling it. After a night in the confines of a hotel room refrigerator, the duck and goose eggs made their way south with me to Richmond, Va., where I regaled my sister Dory with the joys of superior eggs every morning of my visit.

A plate full of jewels from American Masala

Squash blossoms and sunny-side-up American Masala Eggs - No better way to start the day

A soft-boiled goose egg

...on gluten-free toast

Dory was delighted. Almost enough to consider enduring upstate winters once again…but not quite. She misses American Masala Eggs, but is glad for the experience of them…Doesn’t the look of bliss say it all?