As a woman of substantial size, I have a deep appreciation for food. There’s no escaping this love affair. I’ve tried for too many years. I’ve sampled every diet, nutrition fad, and philosophy I’ve ever come across…and nothing has helped me attain a perfect body–only fierce cravings and disappointment–so instead of suffering, restricting, and yo-yo dieting, Food and I have come to a truce. It continues being delicious, and I continue savoring it.
Before you laugh, consider this: when was the last time you enjoyed a cookie or other sweet dessert? Like REALLY enjoyed it, without telling yourself you were “bad” for giving in, or counting the calories, or planning your workout in the morning to rid yourself of the shame? For some of you, you’ll have no clue what I’m talking about. A cookie is a cookie. You want a cookie, you eat the cookie, you move on with life. My friend, you’ve discovered the secret to food freedom, and you don’t even know it! You are also probably at a reasonably healthy weight and have no food hang-ups. Congratulations! For the rest of us, the cookie isn’t just a cookie–it’s the enemy, and every meal is a battlefield.
My war is over. That isn’t to say that I’m not trying to eat healthy, because I am, but I discovered a secret recently. If I remove all the guilt, shame, and stigma I’ve associated with food my entire life and allow myself to eat whatever I want without restriction, I actually eat fewer calories, and more whole foods. Over the past 6 months, I’ve eaten more vegetables and fewer sweets than I have since I was 18. I’ve lost a few pounds, but that’s not the point. The point is that I feel better about myself, I feel healthier, and more freedom than I’ve felt in my entire life.
I’m sure I will bring up this topic more in the future, but I introduce it today in order to roll out “Food for Thought Friday.” Since I’m embracing my love of food, cooking, eating out, and nutrition, I’m going to share the love once a week with recipes, restaurant reviews, or personal food-related stories. I need to point out that this is HUGE for me. As a woman of size, my instinct is to minimize my appreciation for food in order to defy stereotypes about heavy people. In college, I went as far as to eat ALL of my food with a fork and knife–sandwiches, fries, cookies, everything–in order to avoid the stereotype that all fat people are slobs. I was terrified of dropping food in my lap or on my clothing for fear of judgment. What I know now is that what other people think of me is none of my business. I love my body, my life, and my food, and I’m no longer ashamed.
Today’s Food for Thought Friday is a writing sample I wrote when I applied for a job as a local food blogger. Wouldn’t that just be the best job in the world? I didn’t get it. I didn’t even get a call, but the sample was really fun to write, and I thought it would be a nice way to kick off this (hopefully) regular segment in my blog. So without further ado, I present to you:
From Cream to the Crop: A Culinary Transformation
When it comes to my relationship with food, I have always thought that richer is better. I love a heavy chocolate cake dripping with ganache, and I’ll pick a creamy artichoke enchilada over the more traditional version any day. That’s why I love carbonara. Pasta, typically spaghetti or linguini, with a rich bacon cream sauce, sometimes dappled with button mushrooms and bright green peas. What I didn’t realize, however, is that this version of carbonara…isn’t carbonara at all.
A few years ago, my husband and I took a 3-week trip to Europe. We started in Paris, ate our way down to Provence, and nibbled through Venice, Florence, and Rome. As a side note, if you’re making a trip to Europe for the food, I beg you, do your research! Read reviews online, or ask friends and co-workers for recommendations, but do NOT pick a random bistro or café, particularly in a touristy area. Every time my husband and I picked a place at random, we were sorry. Every time we researched a restaurant, we were greeted with the most heavenly, authentic food with brilliant service. In one of these amazing restaurants, I ordered a tagliatelle alla carbonara. What landed on my plate, however, looked nothing like the carbonara I was used to!
Instead of dry spaghetti from a box, I got a wide, fresh noodle, perfectly al dente and amazingly flavorful in its own right. In place of a cream sauce, the pasta had been lightly coated in a beautiful dark yellow egg yolk. Rather than bacon, I had a light sprinkling of tender, almost crackling guanciale. As for the peas and mushrooms…well…those were completely absent! There was maybe a sprinkle of cheese, and that was it. I felt like a transformed woman. I twirled and slurped, savoring every bite. My husband rolled his eyes at me, but had to agree that it was delicious. He had never liked carbonara at home.
A few weeks later, back in the earthy reality of Portland, my husband and I took a trip to the farmer’s market in the park blocks downtown. My in-laws came with us, and we were regaling them with stories of sights and tastes from our trip, when we came across a local vendor selling fresh pasta. The inspiration struck suddenly to recreate a version of my authentic Italian carbonara that would help my in-laws experience a small piece of our journey. I turned to my husband with a one-word question: “Carbonara?” A grin and a nod was all I needed to begin whirling my family through the farmer’s market like a typhoon.
Seeking local freshness over complete authenticity, I selected a few beautiful duck eggs from one local vendor, smoky tasso ham from another. To cut the richness with fresh spring vegetables, I selected some garlic leeks, and found some gorgeous pea sprout tendrils, neither of which I had ever used before. I was inspired by all the local produce to create something beautiful and unique, while still conjuring images of our recent gastronomic foray. This is my favorite way to shop for dinner—look at the seasonal produce that my local grocery has to offer, select something that looks fresh and beautiful, and turn it into comfort food.
My in-laws peered curiously into the kitchen as I began to cook. My hunch is that they sat down to the meal feeling a tad put-off by the barely-simmered egg yolk that constituted the sauce of my creation. That being said, one bite made them instant converts. I have to say that I had changed as well. My opinion of rich food had begun to crumble. Richer isn’t always better. Sometimes a meal needs only the simplicity of fresh ingredients, local produce, and a little bit of magic.
Photo shared from http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/spaghetti-alla-carbonara where, incidentally, you can find a wonderful recipe for authentic spaghetti alla carbonara.