Yesterday in between my bike ride and my snorkel trip, I watched Food Network for a while. I’ve said before that I’m mildly addicted to watching cooking shows. Some would wonder if this is a good idea for me to so often watch shows that focus on food. I wonder that sometimes myself. However, in my defense, I think that I’ve learned more about preparing good, healthy food of greater variety from watching than I would have otherwise. I think I’m also discerning enough to know when a recipe is something that would be good for me to try or a meal I should stay far, far away from.
I have noticed that most of the shows aren’t focused on cooking healthy. The chefs like their butter, oil, heavy cream and frying. Nothing goes unsalted. It’s all about building flavors, unctuous mouth feel, velvety sauces (more cream and butter), and so on. Seriously, I get this. Gastronomes R Us.
So what’s my takeaway as someone who is on a quest to lose weight and change my eating lifestyle from totally unhealthy to healthier? Well, amid the butter/cream/frying/salting are the wonderful nuggets of information and technique that teach me how to build flavor into my food in ways that don’t require the extra calories.
And, often enough, I find a show where someone does something really cool and tasty with a new vegetable or demonstrates a completely different dish in a way that makes me realize that it wouldn’t be all that difficult for me to try. There are a few simple truths. If healthy food doesn’t taste good, nobody wants to eat it. Good food can still be healthy.
I love watching Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. On her show, she makes the most wonderful dishes look like they’re easy to prepare. I won’t pretend that everything she produces on her show falls in the healthy category, but every once in a while she scores for me. Yesterday, she made kale chips. Kale chips! Easy as anything to do and so tasty. Since I have lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale in my fridge, this was an easy dish to replicate for lunch. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread out a few whole kale leaves on a pan. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and ground black pepper. Bake for about ten minutes until crisping up. Sprinkle with a little parmesan and return to oven until cheese melts.
Kale is a healthy, leafy, dark green vegetable. Olive oil is a healthier fat. There wasn’t enough oil used to be bad either. Same thing with the salt and cheese. It was a very tasty snack and, since I had a late lunch, more than enough. Thank you, Barefoot Contessa.
While I was munching on my crispy kale, Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives aired on Food Network. I heard that one of the restaurants he would visit is in my home area up in South Jersey so, of course, I was interested. This restaurant must have opened since I moved down to Florida because I’d never heard of it. While Guy and I watched, the owner prepared a Pork Belly Reuben sandwich. (Disclaimer: I love a good, traditional Reuben. I don’t eat them very often and when I do, I end up having it over at least two meals because they’re huge. This helps me keep from feeling guilty over eating them at all.)
(Further disclaimer: I’ve had pork belly sandwiches (aka porchetta) before, too. They can be very good.)
Today’s show, however, totally grossed me out. Pork belly is very fatty. Ok, so is bacon, but at least it’s crisp fat on bacon and you’re eating it in mostly thin slices. For this sandwich, the chef cut off four thick — 3/4 of an inch thick at the very minimum — slices of cooked pork belly and grilled them on a flat top. The camera zoomed in on the meat. I swear there was a border of uncrisp fat on each slice that was the width of one of my fingernails.
He also slathered butter on the bread and slapped that down to grill. I think he grilled the kraut too. He then assembled the sandwich with the fatty bread, melted cheese, grilled kraut, and the thick slices of fatty meat and served it up.
As Guy was eating it, he made a reference to the sandwich requiring a health certificate. I looked at the sandwich and thought, “Heart attack on a plate.” I wondered how the hell Guy or anybody could eat it; how anybody could want to. Then I had a flashback. I used to be the person who would not only want to, but would devour it in a single meal with a big side of fries, too, please. The same person who would order a Quarterpounder with cheese, large fries, giant soda and a couple of apple pies.
I’m not judging. I’m just inexplicably angry right now. I’m angry that I spent a lot of years eating like that. I remember when the first McDs opened in our area. We thought it was fascinating to see burgers coming down a conveyor belt. Same thing with KFC. Chicken as the delivery system for eleven deep fried herbs and spices. I’m royally pissed off for all of the times I binged on overloaded foods of any type and washed them don by guzzling corn syrup-sweetened soda.
My brother went off to college and came back for the holidays with a greater awareness of food and healthy eating. He gave up eating meat when he was 18. (He eats seafood, eggs and dairy products but all in moderation.) He chose to prepare meals with more vegetables, lower fat, greater variety. He loves ice cream but never overindulges. I don’t think he puts melted butter on his popcorn.
I wish I’d done the same. I wish that the effort for me to eat healthier choices in healthier ways without overindulging and being compulsive wasn’t such a damned struggle all the freaking time. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. If wishes were pounds lost, I’d be lower than goal weight.
I can’t get there by wishing. It takes work, effort. It takes the damned struggle. It takes not giving up. Even when you follow a great day by a not-so-stellar day. It takes being willing to put the non-stellar days behind you and recommit that the next choice will be a healthy one.
It takes ignoring the unhealthy-for-me food that might taste decadent and delicious like a pork belly reuben, and enjoying the flavor, texture and crunch of a kale chip.
It means making this happen for me. Every day.
As you were reading this post did it seem like I switched topics along the way and that the post did not wind up where you thought it might be going in the beginning.
Yeah, me, too.
This is a great example of why I do this blog. The writing process puts me in touch with things that I might not even be aware that I’m feeling because they’re buried. I had no idea that when I started writing today I would end up tapping into some deep resentment and anger, but that’s what happened, so I went with it. To go back and rework the post from the beginning feels like it would be less-than-authentic, so I left it as was.