Why We’re So Fat

January 30, 2012

Fat. Now there’s an ugly word. The truth is one in three Americans is considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control. 17% of all U.S. children are too. It’s an astounding number. How has it come to this?

According to FastCompany, our brains aren’t prepared to handle the all-you-can-eat variety of food intake. Based on the primordial need to stuff our faces while we can, we often do. Our brains, apparently, are designed to prepare for rough winters and starvation. So we gorge ourselves, thinking it’s normal.

It’s not. We just don’t realize when to stop because our brains say it’s somehow okay.

Portion control is a term I learned while working on a campaign for Yum Yum Dishes, a fabulous company that creates ceramic dishes to provide acceptable food portions for weight control. We are not only what we eat; but how we eat it too.

So if you’re tempted to belly up to the next buffet and scarf a bit more than you should, think again. Eat a little less than you normally do and see how it feels. Eat slowly. Enjoy your food. If you do, you might notice that less is actually more. Let’s bring down that national statistic with a little more mindfulness.

Courtesy of FastCoExist.com

Ecological food production is typically viewed as a local family run-type enterprise, nothing matching the grand scale of a multinational corporation. So it seemed dubious when I received an invitation to a February 2nd event sponsored by the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York on slow food and big business. Were they for real?

Apparently, yes. The location of the event is PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 300 Madison Avenue, PwC Auditorium, SW Corner of42nd Street.

That got my attention for sure.

Their flyer states: “In an era of destructive agribusiness, a growing number of committed sustainable food leaders are defying the odds. Join us as our panel explores the challenges and future trends in ecological food production and shares their stories from small beginnings to achieving scale.”

Now since I won’t be in New York for the event itself, I am curious as to what they have to say. The mere fact that these food leaders are getting together says a lot about the public dialogue today. They are listening. My hope is that it’s not just lip service to a very severe problem: climate change and dwindling ecological resources because we just have to have that exotic fruit that was shipped from one hemisphere to the next. Sustainability, folks. Now there’s a concept!

The event will be moderated by David Barber, Co-Owner Blue Hill, Board Member, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. The panelists themselves include:

  • Gary Hirshberg, Chairman, President and CE-Yo, Stonyfield Farm
  • Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA
  • Mark Crumpacker, Chief Marketing Officer, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.

Don’t you just love Gary’s description. He’s not an acronym. He’s the CE-YO!  If Josh Viertel is there, it feels more credible. Like we really do want to eat according to the seasons, not according to what’s en vogue.

Other Exclusive Extras

  • Experienced executive coaches for valuable ideas and advice, featuring Win Sheffield
  • Gary Hirshberg will sign his book Stirring it Up: How to Make Money and Save the World

You can register here

If you go, will you let me know what it was like? I’m curious.

Slow food is the ultimate comfort. I’m not just talking about the comfort it brings when all you want to do is pull the cover over your head and secretly eat homemade brownies, but the kind of comfort that reminds you when you first tried the flavor that you’re enjoying now.

At this time of year, I get, shall we say, cranky. I miss my US family, the days are shorter on light than Lady Gaga’s long on design ideas, and it seems I’m the one to “do Christmas” while everyone else enjoys the fruit (and cookies) of my labor.

So when my mama and I were Skyping (and laughing a lot ~we were both at work respectively, but we faked it for an hour!), she shared her famous choco-macaroon recipe that I’ve known since a child. Filled with a new sense of purpose, I put down the headphones and went straight to work.

I tried, people. Really I did. But substituting shredded coconut with coconut chips was a. bad. idea. Or using diet condensed milk instead of Carnation’s.

And let’s not even talk about the English versus the metric system or the fact that the homemade vanilla extract I made (thanks Make the Bread, Buy the Butter) won’t be ready until March 2012.

Notice the vodka bottle. I hate vodka, but the recipe for making said vanilla extract that will be ready next spring calls for it. I swear I felt like a bum buying it at the grocery store, but I smothered it with the vanilla beans at checkout and slipped it into my purse before anyone could see it.

Do you want to see what choco-macaroon cookie fail really looks like? Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Sensitive viewers may need to look away while scrolling to the next picture.

Coconut carnage here…

…and here.

Look at the hope! Those neatly positioned ingredients and the patient hand (not pictured) that scraped those coconut carcasses from the parchment paper!

Alas, there will be no choco-macaroons for Christmas this year.

You think I would have known it was coming. A week prior I had attempted to make cinnamon stars that turned into stockings really quickly. My husband, who is not the demanding or quick-to-respond type, was the source of that inspiration. When asked which type of Christmas cookie he wanted, “Cinnamon stars!” shot out of his mouth like a bat out of hell. I’d never heard the man answer me so quickly! Later I found out why. His mother revealed to me that she refused to bake them.

Forty years of pent up cookie yearning. “These are great, hon,” he smiled as he chewed, then swallowed them like a wad of bubble gum.

Whoever said love goes solely through the stomach? Maybe it’s the intention that counts.

What’s your favorite holiday cookie recipe? Share it and I may just try it. Maybe I won’t fail with yours!

Life can be a Piece of Cake!

December 10, 2011


With Husband gone for a week to the States, I’ve had ample opportunity to occupy the kitchen in his absence. Thanks to Robert Rose, the Canadian publisher of, can we  say, Capital A-mazing recipe books, I have once again astounded myself.

I am a culinary warrior now, thanks to Camilla V. Saulsbury’s Piece of Cake!  One-Bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes.  But before you shriek and hug your hips, she’s got healthy recipes in there too.

I opted for the hedonist Hot Fudge Brownie Cake first. My daughter had mentioned something in her all-too-quick-adolescent-speech-cadence that she needed brownies for English class. She bat her eyes at me and said: “So. I volunteered you.”

The very same day Piece of Cake! arrived in my mailbox and I knew we were destined to become fast friends. In a jiffy, I whipped out six brownie muffin creations that would have made Jesus genuflect. I’m not trying to be blasphemous here, people. But the amazing part was it was so easy I couldn’t believe what got created with my very own hands.

My daughter promptly criticized it, challenging that she could do better.

Okay, Missy. I whipped out the recipe book again today, and she tried her hand at the Chocolate Wacky Cake. Believe it or not, it’s under “Health-Conscious”. I think it’s because it calls for non-Dutch process cocoa powder. You know, the real kind. Daughter quickly handed the scepter spatula back to me when she realized she’d actually have to follow instructions to make the thing work. We team-tagged it thereafter and I must say, hers did turn out better.

There is room at the top, indeed.

Oh how I love this recipe book! It makes me feel smart. And, unlike many recipe books that I’ve received in the past, it actually uses both the English and metric systems. For an American expat as myself, I am grateful for that small gesture. It makes baking so much easier.

Another great aspect of the book is the great background information such as why baking soda is four times stronger than baking power and how baking is really a science (that pulled Daughter in. Like Husband, she’s into it), which was why we had to make three separate holes in the dry ingredient mix when adding the vinegar, vanilla extract and oil.

As I nudged today’s cake out of its mini-pans (I still need to get the size pans that the book often calls for), I felt my self-confidence bloom to the level of  kitchen goddess.

Thanks, Camilla. I owe you one for making baking a true piece of cake!

As we enter yet another holiday this week, remember that everyone has expectations; but that doesn’t mean you have to fulfil them! Enjoy the slow everywhere you go. You’ll get there faster. Trust me. You will!

Please share this wisdom with others. How will you say ‘no’ today?

My husband’s cooking is legendary. So whenever I get the chance to try out a new cookbook, I know he’ll start to pour over it before I can even crack the cover.

Last night he topped himself with a Chicken in Thai Green Curry that nearly made me weep. It was that good. Thanks to Wandee Young and Byron Ayanoglu’s Simply Thai Cooking cookbook, I will be able to repeat my husband’s laudable culinary finesse. Although I have a hard time following directions, this cookbook is so easy even I can do it!

If you’re looking for a different kind of Thanksgiving feast this week, consider delving into Moroccan cooking with Pat Crocker’s 150 Best Tagine Recipes. The cover alone will make your mouth water, not to mention the spice descriptions and helpful photos.

Take your Thanksgiving to the next level with one or two ‘exotic’ nontraditional dishes. Remember: diversity is the spice of life. If spice is what you need, you’ll get it with these two cookbooks!

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you may recall my post on Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that recounts the author’s year-long foray into the Slow Food movement with helpful recipes and daunting tales of raising heritage turkeys, making her own pasta and eating only food born, raised and slaughtered within a 50-mile radius of her house.

It promptly made me want to plant my own veggies, raise my own chickens and never, ever buy another loaf of bread again.

I lasted about a week, then reverted to most of my former buying habits: organic, store-bought with an occasional jaunt to the farmer’s market if I happened to be in the area.

Feeling like a complete failure, I was certain I could never measure up to the Kingsolver clan and was about to abandon all hope of ever feeding my children something that didn’t come from a box when Jennifer Reese came along.

Jennifer is my culinary hero.

Her cookbook, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of bed the first night I picked it up.  A cookbook that is funny? Let’s just say Jennifer is Barbara Kingsolver meets Erma Bombeck. She is seriously funny. Or funnily serious about food and what you can do to make your lives a little easier…and tastier!

For a delicious week, I savored every page as she unhooked me from my own First World guilt about Industrial Food and the harmful things we’re doing to the planet.

The book arose out of Jennifer’s own desperation. A victim of the 2008 recession, she suddenly found herself a formerly employed book critic for Entertainment Weekly. Watching the apple tree cast off its final fruit onto her Northern California lawn, Jennifer wondered if making apple sauce and living off the suburban land could save her. She set out to experiment with homemade food, starting her own silent from-scratch revolution.

But she is no proselytizer like some of her foodie contemporaries. Her side-splitting humor and distinct honesty about what is easier to make and what is easier to buy is extremely empowering and liberating.  For Jennifer, food is not political. Food is food.

Her expression about buying ducks, then selling them because of their gang-ish, bullying treatment of the other suburban-yard foul, reveals a truly authentic voice. Just listen to her description of the turkey farm where she bought what she called a Frankenbird with a bad boob job whom she didn’t have the heart to kill for her Thanksgiving meal:

“[The] farm was strewn with rusted car parts, overturned boxes of trash, empty,2-liter soda bottles, crushed cans, and downed trees, and through this WALL-E wasteland wandered dozens of chickens, cats, dogs, and three bloated, broad-breasted white turkeys – the standard factory-breed…the turkey may well have ingested STP,  Mountain Dew, and crystal meth, but I remained confident that she was never polluted by an antibiotic. We loved her instantly…”

She tried it. It failed. Onward!

Unlike Martha Stewart’s exotic list of ingredients for virtually every recipe she provides, Jennifer’s book is chock full of easy-to-make items whose components are in everyone’s kitchen. Flour, eggs, milk, salt, sugar. She brings food back to the basics. I will say, however, that some of the appliances may not be of your average variety. I, for one, don’t have, or plan on having, an ice cream maker. I did go out and buy a food processor/blender hybrid for the Nutella recipe. Yes! You can make Nutella from scratch. I still have to refine the amount of cocoa my kids can handle, but my daughter, the Nutella connoisseur, highly approved of the healthier version. No transfats. No aromas. Just plain and simple ingredients that came from the Earth.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is a doable look at how we can embrace slow food with humor, grace and a pinch of kosher salt. I bet even Barbara Kingsolver would approve.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 150 other followers