…the party’s over, for now.
In grade school I fell in love with a book that I swear I must have checked out once a month – d’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Mythology. The descriptions of the gods and their escapades were fantastically romantic, but it was the follies of demi-gods and mortals that I found most intriguing. Along with Prometheus, Oedipus and Theseus, I learned about the master architect Daedalus and his son Icarus. The two were held captive by King Minos (of labyrinth fame) and brilliantly devised wax and feather wings to soar away from their island prison. But Icarus was foolish and brazen, and despite his father’s warnings he flew boldly toward the sun. He paid dearly for his conceit – the wax melted, the feathers failed and he fell to his death in the sea.
It was a long, hard drop.
That has always been one of my signature parables, having been cursed by a few bouts of somewhat unfounded self confidence over the years. I, too, always seem to fall back to Earth and begin again. Speaking of falling and failing…apparently when you walk 8.5 miles a day you can pretty much eat and drink without consequence, even in your 50s – calories in, calories out, as they say. For most of 2020 and 2021 fitness and cooking co-existed in a sort of unlikely self-fulfilling prophesy realm where somehow I found portion control a breeze. But last September I was hit with severe plantar fasciitis and the walking ended. I don’t mean fewer miles or less frequently, but full stop. The catch was, I made no adjustments on the intake side and I happily gobbled my way down a very familiar path.
Here’s my little secret: I’m a part-time fat girl and I knew exactly what I was doing. I’m well acquainted with of the downstream effects of a reckless relationship with food, so there was no amount of nutritional counseling, skinny clothes or scorn that was going to stop me. Even Mother’s maternally-couched “suggestions” fell on deaf ears. Nearly one year later I am finally walking again but it’s painfully evident that my dalliance with sugar and carbs has finally caught up with me. Yes, it’s a shame and a drag, but I have gained and lost the same damn 25 pounds almost a dozen times in my life, so I’ll fix it. Again. It’s what I do.
Goodbye sugar and carbs; I promise it’s not forever, but you’ve become toxic and I can’t be near you right now. And no, we can’t be just friends. While I am rarely a quitter, sometimes you just have to cut and run. Down the road I know my beloved suitors will inevitably drift back into my life, but hopefully I’ll be more mature (snort) and better equipped to set some boundaries for a healthy, appropriate relationship.
But there’s good news too: butter, cheese and olive oil are not carbs. Nor are fish, beef, chicken, lamb, eggs, pork and most green vegetables. To be clear I’m not a fad diet fool, but I have learned that my metabolism does not do well with a surplus of useless carbohydrates. When I stick to ancient and whole grains in small portions that little switch we all have that signals “I’m full” works just fine. Under the influence of white sugar and refined carbohydrates there is only one gear, full-steam ahead. It’s as if I become that embarrassing friend at the party who thinks she can dance (and sing) after a few pops of tequila. Addiction is not pretty on any level and food is my weapon of choice. This is what I’ve learned about myself over 50 years so I’m not preaching, merely confessing. This week I eased into repair mode with three meals of reasonably healthy carb loads. I can’t say much about the cheese or cream, but there was no pasta, rice, bread or potatoes.
Monday night was my first “new” dinner attempt since I spent all day Sunday driving home from Pennsylvania. It really was all day, but I P.R.’ed with a time of 11:55, door to door. Anyway I chose Salmon Stuffed with Pesto Ricotta because I needed a rich, flavorful anchor protein rather than than a feeble imposter. In my experience the worst way to start a new diet is a plate of tasteless steamed fish and a grove of under-cooked broccoli. As for ricotta with fish, I think the key here is the pesto – I chose a classic basil and cheese version, but I suspect some great work could be done with sun dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers. The recipe is from a video by Tasty.com, which has been accused of being a little liberal with “sourcing” recipes. I couldn’t find anything similar online so hopefully I’m not promoting intellectual property theft.
I’m sorry that Charred Eggplant with Burrata and Fried Capers is locked behind a paywall, but it’s a simple notion, once you wrap your head around the irresistibly crispy surprise of fried capers. All you do is drain and thoroughly dry a few tablespoons of capers and sauté them in about 1/4 cup of olive oil on medium-high heat. After 2-3 minutes they will turn golden and transform into crunchy flavor bombs. Honestly, that chicken with fresh tomato jam in the photo ended up being a B-player to the grilled, marinated eggplant, said capers and a pillow of burrata. It wasn’t until our trip to Rome in ’19 that I began to appreciate burrata cheese, not just as a foil, but also as a stand-alone delicacy – think fresh mozzarella encasing a goldmine of buttery fresh cream. Despite the fancy ingredients and dramatic appearance, it draws punch from just red pepper flakes, olive oil and lemon. I’ll skip the chicken next time.
I call this little weeknight creation Stuffed Portobellos with Two Nuts. Don’t worry, it’s vegetarian. The idea was born from some succulent portobello mushroom caps which I seared and buried under quinoa, shallots and toasted cashews. Since it’s a meatless main course, I took a few precautions, having been fooled by plenty of revolting and tasteless grains before. I cooked the quinoa in mushroom stock to create a fairly punctuated umami foundation, shallots replaced my typical onion/garlic duet and I threw in some cashews (nut #1) for crunch. Plus a mere dusting of panko. Alongside my grilled zucchini I charred a red pepper and pulverized it with oil, vinegar and toasted almonds (nut #2) to make a proper landing pad for a drizzle of crème fraîche, which was the point. Without any heartbeat protein I needed a creamy, fatty zinger.
It can be difficult, stressful and downright heartbreaking to really own your bad choices, especially when they brought you so much delight in the moment. But the sum of those fleeting moments is never anything good and the reward for overindulgence is penance, one way or the other. Moderation just might be the universal truth for much of our earthly foolery and indiscretions, but it sure is fun to be naughty sometimes. As for Icarus, maybe if he’d eaten a just few more carbs he’d have had a little cushion. After all, I always bounce back just fine.