Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Life in Food

I read a beautiful article recently written by a woman who was accounting her life in food experiences. I had of course heard the phrase “You are what you eat,” but I had never really put much thought into my life being a number of food-related experiences which shaped who I am and who I am becoming. So below is a partial list of the foods that I associate with certain people and experiences of my life. Please note the people listed have been singled out because they are particularly food-related in my mind. I love all my friends (and readers)!!!

My brother: Teddy Graham sandwiches (I tried to play an April Fools Day trick on him by replacing the frosting of some of the cookie sandwiches with tooth paste but he called my bluff and said “You eat one.” Knowing that if I didn’t, I’d blow my cover, I thrust my hand in the bag, hoping to grab an unadulterated one. Of course it wasn’t. He still wouldn’t eat one...), Clown ice cream cones from Baskin Robbins (with a gumball for a nose and frosting for hair) after trips to the zoo, hot chocolate with marshmallows after building forts in the thick Wisconsin snow, Raspberry pie (when he was smelling his pie, my mom pushed his face in just a little, and a raspberry stuck on his cute little nose. So adorable and hilarious and perfect.)

My father: Famous Amos cookies he keeps in his office, Chuckles (he’d always share), Wisconsin brats on the grill, helping him make Pina Coladas (and he’d let me have a little sip...don’t tell Mom), boiled hot dogs in a piece of whole wheat bread (when my mom was not home and he had to feed us kids), apple pie (his favorite), my lunch at the 95th in Chicago when he took me out of school for a special father-daughter day....I still remember they molded the butter. I thought it was the fanciest place in the world. I had filet mignon.

My mother: Rosemary Chicken, Potato Chip Chicken, Chicken Chop Suey, Chicken Noodle Soup (it’s no wonder I think of chicken as comfort food), Vegetable sandwiches from the Groundskeeper Cafe, French Dip, Bacon-wrapped anything, Fruit paired with savory (you’ll notice a lot of these types of recipes in this blog. I love this combo--her influence for sure). I smile when I read this list--she has that affect on people.

My husband: Pesto pasta, fried calamari (our first date), sushi sushi sushi (he’s a little obsessed), taco night gluttony, Emeril’s Birthday lasagna, rum milkshakes by the pool in Hawaii, Il Cantinori date nights in New York, Piccolo date nights in L.A., Cuban Corn and Huevos Rancheros every weekend in New York, Hefeweizen and giant pretzels on the beach, Father’s Office regrets (yet we keep going back....BEST burger in LA...), Farmer’s Market omelets, Valentine’s Day disasters (one year, the grill caught on fire...the next he cooked the scallops and lamb to near-eraser toughness. I still liked it cause he made it.)

College: Pita Pocket, Patti’s salty beef cubes over instant rice, Easy Mac, Lauren’s guacamole, Brownies, Phish Food, endless turkey sandwiches at the food halls, hungover waffles with whipped cream and strawberries, hungover greasy deli breakfasts (Bagel Diner), hungover toast, being too hungover to eat....

Johanna: Rice and beans, Rose wine, pork of any kinds, steak taco nights, lots and lots of salads (we are the ladies who lunch...and occasionally drink)

Emily: apples with cheese, sausage strata with cheese, more cheese, wine, some more cheese (everyone should have this friend...well, pretty much everyone is friends with this girl, actually.)

My Grandma: Saltines with Butter. Black olives (I’d put one on each finger...)

Mona: Golumpki, boiled carrots, mixed nuts, Asti Spumante

Dziadzia: Swiss steak (his specialty), carrot cake

I could go on and on....but I won’t....this is probably only interesting to me. :)

But as I look over the list, it’s so funny what things stick out in my mind. I mean, boiled carrots from my Grandma (Mona)? But I won’t judge it. I love her boiled carrots. They remind me of Thanksgiving dinners and her orange apron and ‘wild goose hunts’ the other kids and I would make up for each other while the adults did boring stuff.

I hope that some of my readers have food memories of me. I would love to know what they are!

This reminds me how important it is to try to make an event of each meal instead of eating over the sink or a Power bar in the car. Sometimes when I think of the number of meals I have left in my life, I get depressed! I’ll NEVER get to eat all the things I want to eat! Don’t worry--I won’t let you down, readers. I will eat and eat and eat. And eat. And work out. Then eat some more.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Gift of Love

I always called her Grandma. Never Granny or Nana or any other repeated syllable. She was just Grandma, plain and simple. I loved going to Grandma’s house. She was the best. She’d serve me 7up in a wine glass and let me prance around in her high heeled shoes. She smelled like Aquanet and Certs and Revlon lipstick. She had curly, short, thin blonde hair and wore shiny track suits in bright colors. I liked to touch them because they felt silky.

I’d go to Grandma’s house for the whole day if I was sick. She’d let me watch as much Sesame Street as I wanted. She also let me dip my finger in the sugar bowl. And she made me the dish which elicits more warm and fuzzy feelings than any other food that I ever have or ever will eat.

She was known for her skills in the kitchen. She was the mother of three boys and my mother, the wife of a hard-working doctor, and worked part-time in his doctors’ office, too. Yet somehow she always got the standard 1950’s meal of meat, potatoes, and vegetable on the table every...single....night.

Yet I don’t remember her famous pot roast. I don’t actually remember ever having a proper meal at Grandma’s house. What I remember is Saltine Crackers with Butter.

Oh, Saltine Crackers with Butter. Crispy, salty, flaky crackers topped with a good schmear of soft Wisconsin butter. Boy, that was love on a plate. I’d eat my crackers with butter and we’d play cooties on the card table. All we needed was a couple dice, a pad of paper, and a pencil. I think she let me win. And I knew she loved me as much as a person could.

As an adult, I once wondered to myself why, if she was such a good cook, would she make me crackers with butter? Couldn’t she have whipped me up a nice homemade hummus with crudite or a little homemade granola? No, I realized. She couldn’t. She had had a grand mal seizure when I was four which left her with little dexterity. The only thing that meant to me at that age was that there was silly putty to play with in the little red plastic egg on the kitchen counter. She made for me what she could, and somehow I knew it was special.

It makes me wonder if my cooking as of late has been a little bit too much about pomp and show, eliciting ooh’s and ah’s as I bring out the hand-cranked pasta or homemade Valrhona chocolate souffles. I’m still at the age where my contemporaries are not really into cooking so I am often called the ‘Martha Stewart’ among my group of friends. Hey, I admit to really enjoying that reputation. Honestly, I think that in and of itself, it’s not bad. I like to cook. I’m pretty good at it and I like to be recognized for it. But I think what would really please Grandma is if I presented each dish as a gift. A gift of time, a gift of effort, a gift of love from me to my guests. Epicurus said, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.” After all, why cook for people at all? Surely, they can get enough sustenance, enough fuel to make it till their next meal without any effort on my part. The point is not to fill bellies. The point is not to show off some fancy sauce I learned in cooking school. The point is to show people that I love them.

Some people’s favorite food memories are their Grandpa’s famous homemade sausages or their mother’s grand Sunday feasts of succulent roast chickens and fresh biscuits. I’d hear these stories and sometimes be envious of those amazing dining experiences they had growing up. But now, I don’t think I’d trade those Saltines with Butter for the world.

Hey, maybe I’ll serve them as an appetizer at my next dinner party. And I hope that Grandma, wherever she is, will see that and know that she touched my heart with that snack at the card table in her kitchen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


When walking through Whole Foods in January, you might find a whole display dedicated to the 'Master Cleanse.' If you've never heard of this, here's what it is: Mix a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper--then drink this (and only this...no food) for 10 days, or more if you can stand it. Angelinos just rave about how amazing it is and how well it works. It boggles my mind that people find this amazing. You're stressing out and starving your body...of course you lose weight!!! There are several problems with this: 1) You are not actually changing the habits that caused you to gain weight in the first place, so you'll get fat again (and probably even fatter than where you started) ; 2) Combine this with exercise and it gets pretty dangerous (since, again, you are starving your body); 3) it's nonsense. (More on that here).

OK, so we've ruled out the Master Cleanse. There are still hundreds of other detox programs out there. I believe that some can be great and some are just scams. So how do you know how to judge a detox? Use common sense. First of all, I believe you should be eating food. Second of all, you should be eating food with nutritional value (think fruits, vegetables, etc.). That's really it. There may be some detoxes out there which require you to drink juices made from fresh fruits and vegetables instead of eating them...I think these are probably fine as well.

I do think that there is great value in detoxing. Detoxing, for me, is getting the sugar, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners out of my body...and then eating only whole, natural foods. When I do this, I feel great. My skin changes within a week. Cellulite vanishes. My whole body starts to shrink within a couple days. Maybe this is due to flushing out of excess water I've been holding onto...maybe this has to do with minor food allergies to gluten, wheat, or dairy that cause me to bloat....maybe I'm just eating less calories than when I am eating processed foods. Whatever the reason, I always feel great and lose excess weight super fast.

My first cleanse was the Fat Flush 11-day program. It's 10 days of eating very strictly and a one-day fast of a mixture of water, fruit juices, and spices. I always felt really faint and got really pale during the one-day fast. I did not feel that it did anything for me other than reduce my calories for the day (much like the Master Cleanse). So now, when I detox, I just eat super clean. I generally set out to do it for two weeks but end up continuing it because I love the results and how I feel when I'm eating this way.

So I'm going to take you through a few days of typical eating when on my cleanse. This is not perfectly in line with any one diet/detox I've tried or have read about. It is the method that I use based on trial and error and that I have found the most realistic and effective. Please note that I am not a Doctor, a Dietician, or a Nutritionist. Always consult with a doctor before beginning any diet/exercise regimen. That being said, I've tried a lot of diets and believe this to be the healthiest, most efficient, and most effective diet/detox out there.

Breakfast Options:
Always 1 cup of hot water with lemon
-3 egg whites with 1 cup spinach and a couple spoonfuls salsa
-2 eggs, any style
-Chopped vegetables of any kind, cooked in water or broth until soft, then add 2 eggs, scramble
-3 egg whites and 1 vegetarian breakfast patty, scrambled
-1 cup plain, fat-free yogurt with berries

-1 piece fruit (or 1 cup chopped fruit)

Lunch Options:
-Any kind of salad green with 4-5 oz lean protein (chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc),
as many vegetables as you want on top. Top with a combination of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and either flax or olive oil
-Soup (homemade) with reduced-sodium broth--with as many vegetables as you want, combined with a lean protein like chicken or lean beef

Snack Options:
-Another piece of fruit
-1/2 cup quinoa with lemon juice and a drizzle of flax or olive oil
-1/4 cup hummus with fresh vegetables

-4-5 oz lean protein with as many steamed green vegetables as desired

Drink all day:
Combine a large bottle of water with a splash of 100% cranberry juice (NOT Cranberry Juice Cocktail)

After dinner drink:
Hot herbal tea with lemon

Avoid: Sugar (in any form), sweeteners (except Stevia), Alcohol, Nuts, Cheese, Milk, Bread, and any processed foods.

I am starting this way of eating tomorrow. I encourage you to try it (adjusting for more calories if you need them by adding whole grains/more food in general) if you feel like you have already blown your resolutions or just want to see what it feels like to eat 'clean.' The first few days might be hard, but I suspect you will grow to think that the plan is easy after the first week. Please let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I'm not sure what to think of New Years Resolutions. I generally believe that any effort to grow better is good--in fact, that is yoga--and I admire anyone who efforts to do so, no matter where the starting place. But Resolutions seem like they set us up to fail. "I will not..." or "I will do such and such 5 days a week..." or what have you--we raise the bar from the floor (where it has landed after our Holiday indulgences-- which required one hand to hold the martini and the other hand to shovel cookies into our mouths-- leaving no hand for holding that damned bar up!) to way above our heads. And what does it do? Drop on our heads and make us feel bad. And now we have a bigger but and a sore noggin. Not so fabulous. No more, I say. Do something reasonable! That's what I'm going to do and I hope that is what you will do. Here is something that has helped me in the past: Instead of thinking about the giant task ahead (lose twenty pounds, stop smoking, work out so many days a week, etc), think about one choice at a time. So let's take a morning--instead of thinking "Today, I will be perfect," take it little choice by little choice. When the alarm sounds, will I choose to hit snooze or just get up? Once I'm up, will I dawdle or will I put on my tennis shoes? When I have my shoes on, will I drink some water and go for my run or will I look at the paper, make the coffee, and dawdle? When I'm back from my run, will I make myself the egg white omelette or will I just pour a bowl of cereal? With my coffee, will I have skim or half and half? ETC ETC ETC....No one choice is all that difficult. It's what we build up in our heads that is difficult. It is the pressure that is difficult. It is the fear of disappointment that is difficult. So let's try this together--this week, try letting go of the pressure of the promises, the resolutions, the expectations, and just concentrate on the small choice after small choice. I'll report to you next weekend and I hope that you will share your experiences with me, too. Now, I am going to make the small choice to go get some more ice cream. Just kidding. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't Fight the Farmer's Market

Everyone has their inane idiosyncrasies. Mine is that I work out 5 or 6 days a week, working out with a trainer, running, spinning, yoga, etc...yet for some reason, it seems like a giant task to walk half a mile to the Farmer's Market on Sundays. It's just so easy to stay in my plush, warm robe, sip on my coffee, and read my New York Times Magazine while my husband reads the business section...fry up a couple of eggs with some toast, and just lounge. I reminded myself, however, on Sunday, that I live in beautiful sunny Santa Monica, that I have abundant produce all year long, and that I believe I have a responsibility to support local farmers, especially in the current economy. These farmers drive out from their farms every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday in order to provide us with organic, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables--and if it wasn't for the people who actually come out and shop at these markets, we would eventually not have any access to foods that have been farmed sustainably and eco-consciously.

So, I put on my black khakis and a red ruffly tank, threw on my little velour coat, and started walking down Main Street. There's a great energy on the street on Sundays--people out having brunch, getting manis and pedis, riding their beach cruisers, getting a steaming cup of coffee...the walk itself is pretty pleasant. But as I arrived, my experience surprised me. I honestly hadn't been there in a while, and so seeing it all again took me back to the first time I visited the Santa Monica Farmer's Market...

It was six years ago in May...I had just moved to Santa Monica from New York City, and was loving waking up to the sound of the waves of the ocean instead of sirens off the Brooklyn Bridge. My boyfriend and I (husband now!) just moved in together, and I was definitely "nesting." I was constantly looking through design magazines, trying to come up with inexpensive ways to decorate our new apartment, and wanting badly to create a more "homey" atmosphere. I thought that a home-cooked Sunday meal might contribute to that feeling. So, the first Sunday that we were there, I ventured across the street (we moved about a half mile South since then) to the market. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Spring's abundance in California was awe-inspiring. I tasted a tangelo, not having heard of one before, and when I bit into it, its tangy, sweet juices burst into my mouth. I bought a bag full. And then there were the creamy avocados, the freshly-picked lettuces, the farm-fresh eggs, the right-off-the-tree walnuts...I ended up coming home with more food than we could eat in two weeks...and with a huge smile on my face. From then on, we visited the farmer's market every week, indulging in omelets the size of the plate, baby coconuts hacked open right there for the slurping, and the biggest, fluffiest croissants I have ever seen in the States. Every week I'd say, "I love California" as I watched the children on the pony rides and the hipster parents with their long-haired hipster toddlers, eating raw food and listening to the live music.

And then I moved. Maybe 8 blocks away! And I, well, sort of...stopped! I know, it's so pathetic I am considering not even posting this confession...but after my trip yesterday, I am committed to reinstating these trips as a weekly ritual. I use the word "ritual" because it is impossible to visit the market and not experience at least some sense of gratitude for the experience of living here, of the cornucopia of edibles to choose from, and for the community that values the market at least as much as I do.

At the market yesterday, I bought two kinds of fresh pesto--one your typical basil with pine nut, and one pistachio. I will have a ball inventing ways to use them. (One of my favorites is to combine it with a little bit of champagne vinegar for a knock-out and super-easy salad dressing). Then I made my way to the meat guy, and bought a frozen sirloin from him. I'd heard from a friend that their meats are really delicious, and I feel good buying meat from cows that were organic, free-range, and grass-fed. I also bought a pomegranate from him...odd selection, I know. Then I moseyed over to the root vegetable stand, where I bought big white parsnips for a soup recipe that my mother-in-law sent me, some beautiful mixed carrots (marigold, deep orange, and purple), and some cute little purple potatoes that I thought I'd slice thinly and use to "re-scale" a fish. Then I hit up the apple stand and bought a few big, crisp Fijis, for snacking. Next was leafy greens--a head of tightly-curled kale for a salad with the pomegranate, the hugest bunch of celery I've ever seen (I ended up making a salad with the leaves alone), some cute little brussel sprouts, and a beautiful, fragrant bunch of dill for a pasta dish I'll be creating today, with shrimp and meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are not like normal lemons--they are almost a combination of lemon and orange...if you haven't tried one, ask your grocer to order some. And finally, some soft and candy-sweet dates to sautee up with the brussel sprouts.

I had to carry the bag back to my house as if it was a small child, it was so heavy...but again, I had a big smile on my face like the very first time I set foot at the market, my mind reeling with plans of how to use this beautiful produce before next week's harvest.

If you'd like to learn more about farmer's markets and eco-conscious food shopping, I highly suggest reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. She is one of my favorite authors--she wrote Poisonwood Bible, Bean Trees, and Prodigal Summer. She is one of very few authors out there who can capture in words the experience of nature, and it is a subject about which she cares deeply.

So, if you have a farmer's market available to you, I encourage you to check it out, meet your local farmers, and experience the difference in the taste experience between fresh-from-the-farm foods and the foods in your grocery store that have been flown in from South America, for instance, and picked a week ago.

We are indeed much more than we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are. -Adelle Davis