Thursday December 22, 2016
The aromas of prime rib with roasted garlic and rosemary permeate the air with just a whiff of baking bread fighting for its space in the nostril. Freshly plucked oysters from the sea rest in a bowl of ice next to the kitchen sink. A just smoked trout lays flatly on the cutting board just ripe for shredding next to a butter lettuce salad dotted with California avocado, ruby red sliced onions with a companion of cherry tomatoes. A light bath of buttermilk dressing awaits its arrival. Red berries of holly catch the eye in individual vases lining the recently set table. Opening the refrigerator door reveals freshly piped deviled eggs, a must for me at any meal, occupying their designated space on the second shelf. A glass pitcher provides a window to slices of fresh fruit that have been working since yesterday to infuse their essence into the ideal red sangria, just the normal planning of details for our typical family get togethers.
Planning starts weeks ahead of the event. Phone calls are exchanged across the country, we start our research and the grand tradition begins. “What veggies are in season? Is that local guy still making goat cheese? Can we break out the indoor rotisserie oven? Don’t get me started on the rotisserie oven. I have an unhealthy obsession with this thing. Common questions that might seem strange to normal families but our family revolves around food. Yes, my Dad might have a few extra pounds but he’s a Dad and those are Dad pounds. Who trusts a skinny father and who would play a convincing Santa during Christmas? Think of the children! My brother would have nothing to do in January if he were not hitting the gym to work off those happily earned holiday lbs. So yes, I’m not sure if it’s because I live in California and we are shamed to be rabbits eating grass but I’m coming out…for food.
First things first, we are not an obese family. For us, we eat for the enjoyment of food not because we are hungry. In my life, I have run into these rare beings that eat just to survive. Food, they state is “just a thing they put into their body for energy”. As far as I’m concerned they might as well be explaining quantum physics in Chinese to me. It just doesn’t compute and I never trust these people. Love them but never trust them. Our family eats great food, some not so “in the rules” but generally we eat lots of plant based healthy foods with a side of rack of lamb. I cook quite frequently for one particular neighbor whom I will call “Dan”, that’s his real name. It is my pleasure to announce many an evening that our meal is mostly vegetarian. He loves to point out that short ribs that accompany the veggies do not fall under the vegetarian classification. He never buys my argument that those ribs came from cows that were vegetarian so ergo vegetarian meal. I make sure to pour him another martini and quietly comfort myself that I tried. There is no getting through to some people.
Recently I suffered through a cleanse. New Years came and went and we decided that a break from our normal eating and imbibing was in order. While not portly, at least not in my mind, we could afford to lose a few pounds. Unfortunately one byproduct of our love affair with food is the extra weight it provides. Of course this “cleanse” was under the false pretense of “cleansing” our body not losing weight. This was the false BS that we told ourselves. So I did it. I cut out sugar, dairy, complex carbohydrates, processed foods, alcohol and limited my meat protein intake. We set a date for our return to happiness, exit from hell and began.
I’m not sure how normal people work but once I tell my body that I’m “dieting”, I crave everything that I would never eat in daily life. Sugar coated jelly doughnuts you say? How about that whole chocolate bar that is mocking me from the grocery shelf? I didn’t even know what Ho Hos were when they invaded my dreams one night. The worst, and I’m so embarrassed to admit this, were those Golden Arches of my youth, Yup, McDonalds. The desire was like some sleeping dragon deep in my soul just waiting to awaken. Do you have any idea how many of those things pepper the highway with their “You deserve a break today”? But, I resisted.
I lost 6 pounds the first week and my pants stopped whining about fighting with my belly. I made the mistake of telling one health conscious shake-replacing meal friend of mine about the change. She exclaimed, “Wow, don’t you feel great? Don’t you have so much more energy”? She beamed like she had finally convinced Darth Vader to leave the dark side. The reality was no and I told her. I have always felt great and have had tons of energy. There was one change that I gladly shared with her and that was depression. My life no longer contained the joy it once had. Images of pasta scented with white truffle and fresh baked tarts with raspberries picked fresh from the garden danced constantly in my head. These once pleasant pictures now caused me pain. I longed for good food, the one pure enjoyment in life! Yes I did feel lighter but at what mental cost? The truth is I basically am a whole foods eater with pockets of decadents peppered throughout. I eat lots of fruits and veggies with smaller portions of meat proteins and the required chocolate to survive. (Chocolate is a required food right?) Although cliché, everything in moderation actually works for the diet. My “cleanse” did focus my attention more on what I was putting into my body and I can say I have made some minor adjustments.
I can still recall memorable dinners from 10 years ago in every detail better than what I learned in college. I have come to the realization that we just view food differently. Meals are an experience best enjoyed communally from preparation to consumption, although I have had some amazing alone time with food. We still dream about the roasted garlic horseradish cream sauce that accompanied that prime rib years ago that our friend Kenny made. We always stand around my mother’s Italian stuffed artichokes as if gathering by a nighttime campfire, ripping at the leaves, telling stories and laughing as the pure artichoke flavor dives deeper into our bellies. Homemade raviolis remind us of Sunday dinners at grandma’s meticulously polished mahogany table and a pot of just steamed clams always brings us seaside to New Jersey feeling the sand between our toes with the sound of the waves crashing in the background. That’s just what happens with our family, life revolves around food and I could not be happier about it.