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Posts Tagged ‘weight’

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I’ve always been crap at making pie crusts. Fillings, I’m good. Like the above. It has organic apples and pears in it, plus I threw in some brown sugar (didn’t measure), cinnamon (ditto), and gooshed the whole thing with some of the crab apple liqueur I made last fall. It all went into a really wide pan and got sauteed for something like five minutes—long enough for everything to get juiced up and friendly but not so long that the fruit would start to fall apart.

When I make crust, I usually ease back on the fat because I used to have a weight problem, and even though I know in my brain that I don’t have one now,* an old self-image is not something a  person shakes off easily. So even when life’s going just swimmingly, when it comes to cooking for myself, I carefully measure and am all organized and I skim back on the butter. Like a lot. And I use the pat-in-the-pan method, pressing the pie dough into the pan instead of rolling it out. If I didn’t, it would crack like the Mojave in August.

Last week, though, I was chilly, exhausted, and generally fed up with life. Life was going sinkingly. I cook when I need normalcy, so enter pie. And I broke out a new recipe: Martha’s pate brisee, which calls for two sticks of butter—a goodly amount, as Martha would say. Please know I did not use two sticks on a pie I was going to eat myself. But I did dump in a bunch, and fairly indiscriminately. Into the Cuisinart went the flour and salt, then in went the butter. Plop, plop, plop. Blitz, blitz, blitz. Ice water, more blitzing.

I thought not. I simply did. It needs this, and it needs that, make a mess, well done, into the fridge to firm up.

Suddenly this…I was able to roll out.

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I didn’t say I was any good at it, but I WAS able to roll it out.

I pricked the crust with a fork (what pastry chefs call “docking,” to keep the crust from puffing up in the oven) and then I spread a raw egg white across the bottom. I read somewhere that that keeps the bottom of the crust from getting goopy from the filling and not cooking. Call it the barrier method.

The recipe said I could split the dough in half and make a top crust, too, but I only have one pie pan: deep dish. So I sort of folded the upper part of the bottom crust over the fruit, brushed it with an egg wash, sprinkled it with sanding sugar, and put it in the oven.

It was tender and flaky and lovely—the best crust I have ever made, the bouncing baby of enough fed-up-ness and enough experience to let my hands do the thinking. And enough butter.

Go Martha, and go me.

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*A weight problem, not a brain.**

**Well. Depends on the day.

 

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Hot pastrami on rye, Ben’s Best, Queens.

It’s not like it ever stops, but lately it seems societal angst about food has been escalating, spinning off madly into illogic. It’s worrisome, and it’s not necessary.

Here’s the thing, and I’m speaking as someone who knows from illness (most of my 30s) that kept me from eating a lot of foods, and from being overweight (through high school and college). I learned a lot from being fat and from being sick. The answers are actually pretty simple, so let’s not make it any harder than it has to be.

1) Food is about balance. It’s not about eliminating entire food groups, or about denouncing natural ingredients, or about imposing senseless deprivation upon ourselves. Let’s keep sugar, fats, and carbs off the cosmic dartboard. That’s no way to live.

The body can manage short bouts of overdoing the fat and calories. While in Scotland for a week I watched my ex eat a classic UK breakfast: bangers, buttered toast, eggs, the works. This meal was for centuries the rich but wholesome foundation of a working farmer’s day, and that farmer needed every calorie. My ex is not a farmer. Yet he survived. For a week, the body can handle almost anything.

Historically, the human race has more or less structured their lives around eating moderate portions of wholesome foods plus the odd treat during the week, and blowing the lid off a bit on weekends (Sunday dinner) and holidays (eggnog). This system worked pretty well. It’s when we started to eat as if every day was a weekend, as if every day was a holiday, that we got ourselves into trouble.

Now a lot of people hand out stickers on Halloween instead of candy. This is a tragedy and a travesty, an adulterated—and I use that word deliberately—slam in the face of tradition. Part of the euphoria kids feel on Halloween is based on indulging in treats—treats that, during the year, they’re only allowed on occasion. Adults need to act like adults again. We need to re-establish moderation, to maintain balance in everyday eating. Lose the damn stickers. For one night a year, bring back the Milky Ways.

2) Food is pleasure. There is nothing quite like experience of eating the first slurpy peach of the season, or a warm fat heirloom tomato pulled off the vine. But neither is there anything quite like Aunt Rosemary’s lasagna fresh from the oven, or Mom’s sour cream coffee cake. These foods deserve honor, not our projected castigation and reproach. Too much of anything is no good, be it Pop-Tarts or fresh blueberries. Enjoy rich foods, every single mouthful. Eat them slowly. Appreciate them. Write about it and describe it passionately, if you’re as nutty as I am. Treat them like the treats they are. 

3) Food is connection. Food is not just for silencing hunger. Other hungers are fed as well: our need to express love and to feel loved, to protect and to feel safe, to share memories and to remember. I love cooking for people, and I love tasting other people’s gifts of food. Everybody gets so excited. It’s powerful. I love sharing what I’m eating and being offered bits of my friends’ food. Some people hate that, but not me. It’s a sign of intimacy. When you go out a lot to eat with actors, food gets passed around. I have one friend who never wants his pickle, so I take it. Recently I picked all of the peaches out of his fruit cocktail with my fingers. It’s not classy, but it’s home—even if you’re away from it.

Go easy on yourselves, everybody. Keep balance in your eating. Enjoy everything. We’re supposed to be happy on this planet.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get a peanut butter moose tracks cone. And I’ll live.

 

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I love to make treats for the casts and crews of my shows, and to give as holiday gifts and thank-yous. 99.44%* of the time people love it. But that itty bitty percentage** left over gets all judgmental on me.

‘How can you make these things knowing there’s such an obesity problem in this country?’ they ask. I’ve even had people ask how I can live with myself, as if baking with butter and sugar is akin to mooning a Gymboree. Here’s my thinking.

Yes, a massive pile of Americans are obese. But they didn’t get that way from having a brownie at a Saturday night barbecue, or a couple of Bubbe’s latkes at Chanukah, or Cadbury eggs on Easter. And goodness knows I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. But I have mambo’ed with weight gain and loss my whole life. As my ninth grade biology teacher said, if you consistently eat more than you burn off, you gain weight. That’s how it works. So with a few exceptions, I’m pretty sure those suffering with serious weight issues got that way from consuming too much, or consuming rich foods too often—foods that are meant to be once-in-a-while treats.

Your Great Anye’s German stollen, that wonderful buttery dried-fruity holiday bread—that’s a treat. You’re not supposed to live on it. It’s a Christmastime joy, along with goodwill and empty parking places. The problem comes when the line between treats and everyday healthy foods becomes so blurred that for breakfast we grab a doughnut made with shortening and fake colored sprinkles instead of scrambled egg whites and whole wheat toast, or for lunch we choose Cool Ranch Doritos instead of a turkey sandwich. Many of us have forgotten the difference, forgotten to be discerning.

And so we get fat, and we judge ourselves and others for it. We forget that eating, like most things in life, is about balance. We’re supposed to make healthy food choices most of the time. And we’re supposed to celebrate with indulgent foods at special times. Yes, supposed to. If we can decide to live by that tenet, maybe we’ll work out this obesity epidemic (or at least come closer to doing so). And I can’t think of a better time than now, holiday time, to emphasize balance in eating.

Please, have some of your mom’s killer lasagna bolognese and your best friend’s oatmeal cookies this holiday season. Just go easy the rest of the time. Get your veggies in there. Drink lots of water. Take care of yourself.

The really good news is when we choose to live this way, choose to eat healthy foods*** most of the time and blow it out a little on the weekends and on holidays, we’ll look forward to those special treats that much more. Remember anticipation? We’ll feel like kids again.

Full disclosure:

1) Last week I overdid it: I drank hot chocolate every single day without fail. Even with 1% milk, that’s a lot. This week I have to do better with balance.

2) I’m totally in the mood to make my mom’s sour cream coffee cake, but it’s something that we kids grew up eating on Christmas morning. I am making myself wait, just like I did last year, and I know I’ll be glad I did.

I’m so excited for that cake. It’s something, like the stollen, that says yesterday is gone, tomorrow is later, and I am living for this flavor, this texture—this luxury—right now. And there’s no crime in that.

*With apologies to Ivory soap. You’re doing a fine job.

**Don’t make me do the math.

***Which doesn’t mean it should taste like a loofah sponge, by the way. Find recipes that use spices, herbs, garlic, the good stuff, and you will not deprive yourself.

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There’s a cyclone of ambivalence going on within and between women these days. I don’t even know why it started, but that’s beside the point. The media started it, though.

Should women be skinny, what half of the media (who must have been car salesmen in another life) calls ‘slender’ or ‘willowy’, like knobby-kneed Victoria’s Secret models or that beautiful misguided 84-pound Romanian model, Ioana Spangenberg, who says it’s impossible to be too thin? Or should women be what the other half of the media calls ‘healthy’ (what my mom would call ’round’) like the women in the Dove soap campaign? Whatever is a girl to do?

Now, the media dictating what women ought to look like is no new box of Jolly Ranchers. Every generation has a different arbitrary (so it seems) set of requirements when it comes to women and size. Curvy Marilyn and Elizabeth in the 50s. Skinny Twiggy and Audrey in the 60s. If you happened to be born looking the way the media said you should, hooray. If not, you took it in the shorts, because the media Harpies (your newspapers, magazines, tabloids, glimmering girls at the cool table in the cafeteria) were going to remind you of it at every turn, every day of your life.

In case you’re wondering if I’m speaking in generalities—no. I was a size-14 teenager (back then that was pretty chubby). I secretly loathed girls who had flat stomachs and depressed myself looking at photos in Seventeen magazine (regrettably, before airbrushing was publicized). I stuffed myself full of Heavenly Hash, the most delicious ice cream on the planet at the time, and then wrote in my diary, ‘I did it again 😦 now what?’ Once I was late to a wedding because I thought my arms looked fat in the dress I had on (for real). I had drunk the Kool-Aid just like old Ioana did. It was bad.

Except.

And this is The Whole Point.

It would be very easy to say it’s all the media’s fault, that they’re mean and we’re victims. But we are the ones who decide to drink the Kool-Aid or not. And we have to remember: they can’t sell it if we’re not drinking it.

To wit: I remember reading about women and corsets in the late 1800s in the Little House books. The goal of this almost-24/7 torment with corsets was to make your waist teensy (and thus make you more likely to snag a man). You were even supposed to wear it to sleep every night. You’d put this thing on, made of fabric, laces and actual whalebone—and you can bet that was plenty comfy—and your sister would take the laces in her hands, brace herself with one foot on the floor and one foot on the edge of the bed, and pull within an inch of your lungs. Laura Ingalls’s mother, Caroline, proudly tells her daughters that her waist was so small when she married that her husband could span it with his hands. Laura, heroic girl, wouldn’t wear her corset to bed, causing her mother untold distress. But she wouldn’t back down. There are others as well, I am sure, who wouldn’t have any of that—100 years before the women’s movement, I might add. If they can tell the Harpies where to stick it, we can too. We choose what works for us and what’s a crock.

I’m not a size 14 anymore, but I will never be skinny skinny 1) because I’m not supposed to be; I am small and round by nature 2) I love food way too much. Yes, for sure, sometimes I still worry that I look fat (old habits die harder than cockroaches). But most of the time I’m able to shake it off. It didn’t just hit me that I look fine out of nowhere last Thursday at 6:30 or anything. It took me most of my life to get that through my head. I balance eating and moving and get on with my life. Usually.

Food isn’t just supposed to be something that you put in your mouth and chew and swallow so you don’t die. And you’re not supposed to be afraid of it, the way I was. It’s supposed to be a joy, and a solace. It’s supposed to evoke, in different turns, nostalgia, pride, celebration. We shouldn’t overdo it or underdo it. Balance is key.

We women need to remind ourselves that we aren’t victims. I need to decide for myself what’s the right weight for me, and so you do. If we have that squared away, it won’t bloody well matter what anyone else says.

The same idea: when you hear about women who take offense at men who hold open doors for them, calling it sexist and getting all worked up, saying men are trying to keep women down. But it doesn’t even matter what his intention is. Why? Because any woman who knows her own power is not going to be threatened by a man holding a door.

So while the media started this nonsense, I won’t say that’s where it ends. You know as well as I do that it ends with us. All we have to do is say so.

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