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Posts Tagged ‘meals’

It’s not just about the calories

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, food, Health, life, work on April 22, 2013 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m intrigued by what we eat, why we choose it and how challenging it is to eat (and drink!) very differently if you’re trying to lose weight.

Here’s a link to a new book that explains how major food companies carefully engineer things like potato chips so they are quite literally irresistible.

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz...

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz-brand, grandma’s kettle-cooked style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2002, I gained 23 pounds in one year, stunning both my GP and ob-gyn.

I hadn’t done anything very differently, (no entire-cream-pie-eating-sessions, for example), but two major events had happened in the same six months — I’d started research, and lots of travel, on my first book and my mother (who survived) was found to have a very large brain tumor.

I went out to Vancouver, British Columbia, (I was in Dayton, Ohio doing book research when I learned I had a few days to get there) to see her through the surgery. Oh, and, I’d discovered some cysts in one breast (turned out to be nothing) that was scaring me shitless.

My point is this — if you’d commanded me, then, to count every calorie I was ingesting, I’d have laughed hysterically. Every ounce of my energy and wits was already in play.

Nor did I have much free time to go to a gym or be intentional about weight loss. I was writing a book about women and guns in America, a topic that was sometimes so dark and frightening I got secondary trauma. I’ve never owned a scale, nor am I the sort of person who stares at herself in the mirror every day pinching every excess inch with self-loathing.

But I do live and work in a wealthy suburb of New York City, where the alpha women are all ropy arms, size 2’s in sheath dresses, their calves the diameter of my forearms. And, in America, being productive trumps everything, so we’re all running reallyfastallthetime, tending to the endless needs of our bosses, clients and families, usually in that order.
Oh…..and our needs as well.

I think this skewed order is very much a part of why so many people are so fat. When the only source of real, cheap, accessible pleasure is something in a crinkly bag you can cram into your mouth while driving/commuting/sitting at your desk, you’re going to take the path of least resistance.

If the only thing that day (or week or month) that is going to make you 100 percent happy, (without a fight or eye-roll or endless negotiation with a whiny toddler), is a doughnut (dopamine hit alert!), odds are higher you’ll reach for the easy, quick and cheap holy trinity of sugar, salt and fat than a pious, low-cal apple or pile of celery sticks.

The Thai versions of Lay's Potato Chips. Most ...

The Thai versions of Lay’s Potato Chips. Most of the flavours are seafood oriented. Why can we not get these flavours in America? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our choices are also deeply cultural. I recently interviewed a senior manager who tried to call a lunch meeting of her staff in Montreal, a city with French values (food matters!) in a nation much more committed to life balance. No one came. I love that!

We are all deeply hungry, throughout our lives, for many things — silence, beauty, kindness, understanding, stimulation, leisure, pleasure, solace. Many of us simply do not have enough of these things in our days, or lives. We under-value them, or refuse to carve out time for them or have made too many commitments to many other people. We’re lonely or bored or overworked or underpaid. Possibly all of these miseries at once!

Food becomes proxy for so many other things we really want but can’t get, often in public moments when we most need comfort or joy: Fries instead of a hug. A Coke instead of a compliment. A bag of popcorn, with butter, instead of ten (six?) hours’ unbroken sleep. A 20-ounce latte instead of 20 minutes’ walk in fresh air with a lovely view.

I’m trying, still, to lose that weight, upping my exercise routine and being more careful about intake choices. So fucking tedious!

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like...

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like) vendors at side of church in Coyoacan, Mexico City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simply counting all those calories doesn’t address the fundamental and challenging issues of every single choice affected by our knowledge [or lack of] nutrition, our limits of self-discipline, our self-awareness, and the limited time many of us have to choose, prepare and consume affordably healthy food.

I did an eight-day silent retreat two years ago and when I re-emerged into the noisy chaotic world I was much more aware how noisy environments made me unconsciously eat more faster.

Food contains so much more than calories!

Here’s an interesting blog post about how we decide what to eat.

Do you enjoy cooking, and/or eating?

The Best Meals Of My Life

In family, food, travel on August 4, 2011 at 11:26 am
New Year's Eve fireworks in Paris

Oooh-la-la! This is how my tastebuds felt. Image via Wikipedia

Having just survived eight days of an all-vegetarian retreat — I may never eat field greens again! — it got me to thinking of the best meals (and, yes, drinks!) I’ve ever enjoyed.

The food we ate wasn’t bad at all, and in fact beautifully presented, healthy, full of vitamins. The cheese/fennel scones were perfect little pillows; the berry crumble lovely; the crispy green beans just the right color and texture…

But still.

Here are some of my favorite meals:

In a port-side cafe in Concarneau, Brittany, cold, fresh oysters, a baguette with sweet butter, tiny hot sausages and a crisp glass of Muscadet.

Street-vendor food in Bangkok.

My late granny’s Christmas goose.

My mom’s hamburger smash — ground meat, salt, pepper, carrots, potatoes — all mixed up in a frying pan.

The sweetie’s blueberry pancakes with, of course, real maple syrup.

A spectacular fish soup I ate on a frigidly cold winter’s day in Old Montreal — in 1987! It was that good.

The peach crumble with sour cream at Stash Cafe, also in Old Montreal.

On my first visit to England, when I was 12, eating clotted cream right from the bottle.

Some hellaciously good barbecue in Fort Worth.

At a rooftop party in Paris on New Year’s Eve, fistfuls of fresh oysters shucked right in front of us.

At Los Almendros, in Merida, a fish dish so good we went back the next night and ate it again.

The tiny perfect sweet mussels our friend Celia made for us for dinner when she lived in Paris, served on her rooftop.

The stew my Dad and I made in Ireland from mussels we picked ourselves from Galway Bay.

My friend Mary’s Brooklyn roof-top open-air feasts, with a bottomless tureen of lethal/delicious caipirinhas.

Hot, fresh churros with a melting chocolate center, bought from a Mexico City roadside stand our driver Gerardo took us to.

The spaghetti carbonara, eaten at the bar, at Morandi in New York City.

The tacos al pastor and homemade guacamole at Toloache, also in Manhattan.

My first pisco sour, at Carlin, in Lima.

At Casa de Piedra, a long-gone and lovely hotel in Cuernavaca, my first and unforgettable taste of sweet chestnut paste. Not to mention their enormous, salty home-made potato chips. (Here’s a link to a replacement every bit as lovely and charming, Casa Colonial.)

How about you?

Dish!

Come For Dinner

In behavior, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, food, journalism, life, Style on July 3, 2011 at 11:57 am
Thanksgiving dinner in Canada.

Image via Wikipedia

I love throwing dinner parties. If I were rich, and less busy, I’d have one almost every single week.

They combine all the things I love most:
creating and setting a pretty table; choosing recipes and shopping for good food and wine; cooking; making people happy — and spending quiet, uninterrupted time face to face with people I care about.

I use a collection of antique and colored plates and glasses, new and old linen napkins, and love to sit by candlelight as we all share stories.

As I write this, I’m sitting at our antique farm table, the one I bought in Montreal in 1985 and still use, layered with a blue and white vintage cotton tablecloth.

We sit on a bench my ex-husband made that stores all our hardware and tools, and top with custom-made cushions covered in lime green cotton with cobalt-blue piping. I turn the ugly glass balcony divider into a wall by throwing a pretty coverlet over it and lining up big, soft cushions covered in a variety of fabrics, from a 1930s floral print I found in a Paris flea market to a great blue and green check I found in Fredericksburg, Texas (where else?)

Instant outdoor restaurant!

My friend Tamara, whose fun cookbook is here, holds dinner parties in the backyard of her Queens, NY apartment. I attended the first one two summers ago and was instantly charmed — strangers pay $40 per person and sit at a motley array of tables, set with mismatched china and cutlery, and eat great food and get to know one another. It’s very un-New York to travel from one borough to another, let alone risk an evening with people you don’t know. But Tamara’s crowd is smart and fun and creative: I’ve met everyone from radio reporters to a dentist to attorneys.

I made a new friend there whose career as a singer of 1920s music is rocketing along; if you’re ever in New York, you’ve got to hear the Hot Sardines and Mme. Bougerol. The woman rocks a washboard! (Turned out her mom, also at that first dinner where we met, went to the same school and camp as I did. Small world.)

This is the whole point of dinner parties — unlikely combinations, the germination of new friendships with people you would never have met elsewhere. We held one, midwinter, about eight years ago that included our Maine-born minister and his wife; a war photographer, a British journalist and his girlfriend; an interior designer. Ages ranged from 30s to 60s. We ate chili and rice and salad — and a man and woman who met there that night have been happily married for years. Ka-ching!

I grew up in a family that loved to entertain, and eat well, so it all feels like a normal and lovely thing to do. We also don’t have kids, and so it’s easier for us than for those who do, especially little kids or lots of kids.

Here’s a gorgeous new magazine devoted to the art of small dinner parties.

And here’s a very odd French website selling Last Supper placemats with images of all the apostles’ hands.

Do you love to entertain? Tell me about one of your best parties!

The Pleasure Of A Four Hour Lunch

In behavior, business, cities, food, travel, urban life, work on November 13, 2010 at 1:04 pm
The Standard Grill - Meatpacking

The Standard Grill, NYC. Image by thms.nl via Flickr

I finally ate yesterday at the Standard Grill, one of Manhattan’s trendiest restaurants — the scene at the front door a dazzling blur of entitlement, of leopard coats and Goyard handbags and great jewelry and the set jaw of the people who expect everything now having to actually wait a few minutes for their pleasure.

But it was worth it. I’d made a reservation five days earlier, sitting on hold for 10 minutes, to meet a young friend there visiting from Ottawa. He’s a stylish guy and I knew this would be a good fit.

(One of the greatest pleasures of living in New York is deciding which bar or restaurant to take someone to who is visiting from elsewhere; tonight we’re heading to Toloache, our favorite midtown restaurant, which is a gorgeous room, serves amazing, fresh small margaritas and serves beautiful Mexican food.  Our guests tonight are friends from small-town Rhode Island, an artist and her professor husband.)

Our lunch was perfect, as much for the waiter’s patience as for the food and ambience — the penny tile on the floor actually was pennies. We had only met once before, last July in Vancouver, and we are still getting to know one another. Plus we’re both journos, both Canadian and love to read. I think we must have talked for at least half an hour before we even ordered.

The food was simple but good, and my martini blessedly powerful. We suddenly noticed the lights changing — and, having met at 1:00, it was now 4:40 and the sky outside was darkening.

My lunch companion was a young man half my age, someone (yay!) whom I recently found a job for through — who else? — a man who took over my Montreal apartment in 1988 and found me this summer on LinkedIn. We met on-line as bloggers for the same site, now defunct, and decided to have dinner when I visited B.C.

As someone self-employed, a long lunch and lazy afternoon are my best work-related “benefits”  — not a 401(k) match or paid sick days — but the ability, when and where possible, to savor a great leisurely meal in lovely surroundings with someone whose company and conversation I enjoy.

One new friend, who lost her job two months ago, meets me once a week at a local diner where we catch up. She is OK financially, if bored and restless, and only now — now that she has time to sit and relax and not rush off — are we finally getting to know another.

Time to enjoy one another has become the ultimate luxury.

Do you ever take long, lazy lunches? Who do you have them with, and where? What do you eat?

My Diet, Week Two: Dreaming Of Martinis

In behavior, food, Health on April 18, 2010 at 9:33 am
DSC_5327

1.500 calories. Yum! Image by sam sha-put-ski via Flickr

Sitting here drinking my coffee (skim milk, which it always was, no sugar, as usual.) Trying to work up an interest in eating — for the second week — a breakfast of two to three eggs, bacon, a vegetable and a piece of cheese. Eggs have never been a favorite food and after this week ends, I may not eat one for a long, long time.

Friday begins Phase II, with the (re) addition of a tiny amount of carbohydrates and, for the first time in two weeks, fruit. It will be four very long weeks before I am allowed to consume refined sugar in any form — maple syrup, sugar, honey. Thanks to the steroids I’m on for my arthritis, no alcohol has entered my body for weeks. I pass our decanters of Balvenie and Tanqueray with only a brief, pining glance.

Now I really know what food means to me and what its deprivation makes me feel.

Lousy. Angry. Miserable. Controlled. Infantilized.

Shut off from the simplest pleasures of eating out, making a great meal for my sweetie, throwing a dinner party, biting into a creamy piece of Brie or fresh hunk of sourdough. Food is not fuel, to me. By removing its pleasure, and turning it into the enemy, I have had to look food straight in the face and see what it looks like.

We don’t have kids or pets or, really, hobbies. We’re both workaholics, lucky to eat dinner together by 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. most nights. Weekends, as they are for many of us, have been a cherished break with some beloved rituals, whether the blueberry pancakes my sweetie makes for me before I go play softball or the cold Stella or Guinness (one) I drink after the game with all my friends or roast chicken (yes, with skin) I plan and make for us.

A cold, wet, sour 6 ounces of unsweetened Greek 0% fat yogurt is not going to do it for me. Sorry.

Three things sustain me in this world, without which I am not sure life is worth it: ideas, delicious sustenance and beauty. These have been consistent for decades.

I recently blogged here, and had op-eds in two major newspapers, about having been bullied for three years in high school. What I didn’t say was that, every day after school on my long walk home, lonely and battered emotionally, I passed two bakeries. I’d eat something sweet and delicious from the first one and also from the second. The long walk and a high metabolism saved me from gaining weight. Sweet, gooey food was very real, immediate, reliable comfort. (Sorry, not a piece of celery or a low-calorie, low-fat apple.)

As it is for millions.

Losing weight and re-thinking the role of food in one’s life means paying exquisite, unrelenting attention not just to the invisible and delicate chemical balances of leptin and ghrelin and cortisol (that regulate appetite and satiety) but how it tastes and how it makes you feel and how happy your kids or husband or girlfriends are when you cook and serve them something delicious. And drink, whether a creamy cappuccino (still  permissible, thank God, with skim milk) or a stiff G & T (not OK. Shriek.)

I went grocery shopping in a suburban supermarket this week, as I have for the past decade. Obstacle course! Nightmare! It felt like one of those “hellhouses” that evangelical Christians like to create to show sinners the wages of their behavior. Every single aisle was a minefield of easy, terrible choices: chips, cookies, ice cream, candy, soft drinks, fat-laden meats, sugar-added breads, “low fat” yogurts packed with sugar. You practically need a pair of blinders, like those worn by the carriage horses in Central Park that block out all those cars and buses and pedestrians from view, to maneuver through without submission to multiple temptations. Produce aisle, dairy case, lean meat — out!

Eat out, for  a break from those damn measuring cups and spoons,  and you have to keep repeating, over and over: “No rice, bread, corn, carrots, thanks!” Then they bring it to the table anyway.

We ate Indian last night, where they know me, and the waiter — bless him — asked “Gin and tonic?” , my regular. That was tough.

I am now painfully aware how minuscule a “portion” is — go try it — four ounces of wine (as if!); one cup of pasta; 12 almonds.

The only good thing is, yes,  I am already noticeably thinner. I refuse to get on a scale. I’ve had enough humiliation for one lifetime, thanks.

I know my own body and how my clothes fit. I’ve had terrific support and advice here (thanks!) and from friends who have handed me some foods that work for them (Dreamfields pasta) and other tools.

Only five more weeks to go. Then….?

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