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Archive for December, 2010

Middle Ground?

Christmas Eve Chinese feast of all the yummy fried stuff!

It’s the day after Christmas and I somehow suspect that I’m not the only one who’s suffering the after effects of over indulgence. Some folks have cleaned out the fridge, sent all the leftovers home with the guests, and are running to the gym to work off those extra treats. These are probably the same people who have cleaned up all the wrapping paper, put the new gifts away in their proper places, and will start their next year’s Christmas shopping during the after holiday sales.

There are also those in the camp of waiting until the New Year to attack those extra pounds, letting the relief that the crazy Christmas stress is over be an excuse to just relax into enjoying the rest of the Christmas cookies and various other holiday goodies. After all, there’s a whole week to muster up the energy to clean up the house and get prepared to go on a diet. What else is the New Year for but to resolve to lose weight, exercise regularly, and be more organized?

Christmas morning breakfast of cinnamon French toast and bacon

And then there are those of us who opt for something resembling a middle ground. I have always looked for my middle ground with food and weight by being what I call a weekend warrior: I go a little crazy with food on the weekends and rarely exercise but then buckle down during the week. Given that this is my usual strategy (granted I’m not always totally successful!) Christmas falling on the weekend this year was perfect. I went hog wild Friday night and Saturday and still have an extra day to enjoy the leftovers before Monday hits and I’m back on the wagon again.

The only problem with this approach is that it isn’t really middle ground. True middle ground would be everything in moderation all the time. Something I have always found next to impossible. My “middle ground” is actually a see-saw between over-indulgence and restriction and pretty much guarantees that every Monday morning will be hell. I’ll feel fat from the weekend of rich food and depressed at the prospect of depriving myself of all things delicious for the next 4 ½ days. Yet I, and almost every woman I know, (and quite a few men too!) live out some form of this torture regularly in our attempts to be thin.

Christmas dinner of rack of lamb, potato gallette, and creamed spinach

This is where I usually break into a rant about our thin-loving culture and the insanity it breeds, but I’ll save that for another post. It will recur in my mind (and come out of my mouth to anyone who will listen) almost every Monday morning so there will be plenty of opportunity for me to share it here. Today, I’ll just say that I’m glad it’s only Sunday. There’s a snowstorm raging and I plan to hunker down on the couch in my wrapping paper strewn living room, tucked into my brand new Snuggy, and enjoy the Christmas leftovers. As one of my favorite heroines Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day!”

Merry Christmas Everyone!

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When my kids were young, baking Christmas cookies was part of our holiday ritual. Everyone had their favorites, and I’d bake 4 or 5 varieties, but the sugar cookies were the ones that kept us all in the kitchen together. I’d make and roll out the dough and we’d each have a turn choosing a holiday cookie cutter to create treats shaped like trees, or Santa, or candy canes. I’d lift the tender cutouts onto the baking sheets and my girls would get to work artfully (or not so artfully!) decorating the cookies with brightly colored sugar while I rolled out the next batch. A lot of work for a cookie that I never loved eating but the joy was in the family activity of creating.

Those days are long past and the kids are now grown and have their own lives with their own homes and partners and are busy creating their own holiday rituals. Now adays Christmas usually finds me without my family around to bake and eat all those cookies so it’s been a number of years since I’ve made them. I resist because I know if I bake them I’ll eat them all, many long before they’ve even cooled. There’s nothing as delicious a warm cookie straight from the oven! And they’re small, right? It’s only a cookie…or 2… or 3… or a dozen. Yes, I will eat homemade cookies by the dozen if given the opportunity so it’s safest to just not bake them.

But after several years with no Christmas cookies I was itching for a reason to bake (and eat) them and I had the ideal solution! After years of resisting, this year I would be a good wife and attend my husband’s holiday work party, a potluck at his boss’s house. I’d bake cookies, giving me the chance to devour some of my favorites but bring the lion’s share somewhere else where they’d be “oohed” and “ahhed” over and I wouldn’t have them around my house tempting me for days. The perfect way to have my cookies and eat them too!

Almond Crescent Cookies

Making small talk with a bunch of drunken computer nerds wasn’t my idea of fun but the cookies were delcious!

Here are a few recipes for some of my favorites:

ALMOND CRESCENT COOKIES (rich, buttery, crumbly cookies great with hot chocolate or eggnog)
¼ C softened butter (1 stick) 1 C flour
1/8 C sugar ½ tsp almond extract (or vanilla)
heaping ½ C almonds Confectioners sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 300˚. In food processor, process almonds with sugar until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and process until smooth. Add extract and flour and process until dough forms. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using about 1 heaping TBSP of dough, form crescent shaped cookies and place about 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes, until just beginning to color around edges. While still hot, dust with powdered sugar. When almost cooled, coat well with more powdered sugar.

WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA NUT COOKIES (and variations)

This basic cookie dough makes great basic chocolate chip cookies as well many other variations. Use you imagination!

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

¾ cup butter, melted 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup packed light brown sugar 2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup white sugar ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg ½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325˚. Beat well (in food processor or with electric mixer) the butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla mixing well. Combine dry ingredients and then add them to the butter mixture and beat until well combined. Then add extras:

1 C very coarsely chopped toasted macadamia nuts and 1 C white chocolate chunks or chips
or
1 C very coarsely chopped toasted pecans and 1 C milk chocolate chunks or chips
or
1C coarsely chopped toasted walnuts and 1 C chopped dried cranberries
or
1C chopped dried cherries and 1C dark chocolate chunks or chips

Place 2 inches apart on parchment lined or greased baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.

PISTACHIO DARK CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

Pistachio Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

¾ C pistachio paste ½ tsp baking soda
¾ C sugar ½ C flour
2 TBSP butter ¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla 1 C dark chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 325˚. In food processor, process pistachio paste, butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Combine dry ingredients and then add to processor. Mix until dough forms. Roll into balls and press down into cookie shape 2 inches apart on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes.

CLASSIC SUGAR COOKIES

¼ c butter (1 stick) 1 TBS milk
¾ C sugar 2 C flour
1 egg ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

Chill dough well wrapped for at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350˚. For shaped cookies, roll out on lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Gently transfer to sheets and decorate w/ brushed egg white and colored sugar or bake plain and after cooling, decorate with decorators icing. OR for simple round cookies: Before chilling divide dough in half and form into 2 inch thick logs, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours. Slice logs into 1/8 inch thick cookies and decorate. Bake until just beginning to color on the edges 10-12 minutes.

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Back on the Wagon

It’s Monday and people everywhere are starting their diets, although at this time of the year I imagine a good portion of the regular Monday restrictors are simply waiting for the New Year to get back on any kind of serious wagon. I have to admit that my own wagon has fairly rickety wheels and is likely to stall at even a glimpse of anything chocolate. Something about these cold, dark days make watching my weight particularly onerous. The survival instinct drives me to put on a few pounds to help me keep warm through the winter but Victoria’s Secret doesn’t stop running their ads at this time of year, ever reminding me that thin is still in.

Of course I intellectually understand that only about 2% of all women look anything like those models and that for most of them a decadent meal means putting a little dressing on their salad. But like many women, I still fall into the trap of thinking that I have to look something like them in my underwear (albeit cotton Fruit of the Looms) to be considered attractive. Even though I know better than to let that myth of perfection drive me, most Mondays I still find myself attempting to start up the old wagon and taking it for a spin to the market for a load of non-fat, non-sugar groceries.

I’m not one to get creative with low cal food. I won’t be posting recipes or pictures of any fabulous diet meals. When I’m on the food wagon I tend to eat the same stuff every day. For me, low fat and low sugar means low taste. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of vegetables but I love them best “au gratin” or well coated in some kind of creamy dressing. A good piece of fresh broiled fish is fine but without a generous dollop of lemony hollandaise it just isn’t sublime. And a meal without dessert? I’m one of those people who crave something sweet the moment the last bite of savory goes down. Yes, a nice piece of fruit can offer a bit of sweetness but it’s never going to compare to a wedge of chocolate banana cream pie.

However, it’s Monday so I will be eating scrambled egg whites and a whole wheat English muffin with pure fruit spread for breakfast every day this week. Steamed or roasted veggies with brown rice and plenty of fruit will round out the menu. But you better believe that I’ll be thinking a lot about what treats I’ll be making when the weekend rolls around. Come Friday night I know my wagon will have run out of gas and I’ll be parking it for at least a couple of days. I can’t wait!

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Christmakah Strikes Again!

What to make for a great meal when you’re celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, and a birthday with someone who is also allergic to gluten? That was my challenge this past weekend and I rose to it spectacularly if I may say so myself.  The Chanukah portion was of course covered by a mountain of golden potato latkes made simply with potatoes, onion, 1 egg, a handful of cornstarch and salt and pepper. The trick is to fry them golden brown in a pool of oil any good Maccabee would covet. My mother always used Crisco and while not considered kosher by most foodies, I think it still makes the crispiest latkes.

Frying in crisco!

Golden Fried latkes

 To cover the Christmas portion of the meal, I replaced the classic standing rib roast with dry aged prime rib steaks, generously seasoned with salt and pepper seared crisp on the outside, and deliciously rare inside. Creamed spinach rounded out the meal.

Dry aged rare rib-eye steak

We finished with the pièce de résistance, a chocolate swirl cheesecake. The crust was made from Pamela’s gluten free chocolate/vanilla shortbread cookies and butter, providing a crisp and tasty base for all that cream cheese and dark chocolate. Decorated with fresh raspberries and served with my special tart raspberry sauce it made the perfect gluten free birthday cake.

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

Cheesecake with raspberry sauce

  It was a lovely, if slightly confusing, moment when we lit the Chanukah candles with Christmas music playing in the background. But that’s the nature of Christmakah. At least we waited until the carols were over to sing happy birthday!

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Let the Craziness Begin!

 Welcome to my split personality blog. I love food. I’m obsessed with all things food related. I’m a fabulous cook, I travel to eat in the best restaurants, I read cookbooks and food blogs constantly, and I spend hours and hours thinking about what I’ve eaten and what I will eat. I’m also the product of a culture that has drilled into my head that being thin is the most important thing for my happiness and well being and the quickest way to insure that I will be liked and respected. As a psychotherapist and the mother of daughters, I’ve seen first hand the damage that can result from that message about the value of thinness but I still live the drama of the constant war between my love for eating decadently and my desire to stay trim. Join me on my roller coaster ride as I post about my fabulous culinary adventures along with my musings about the battles between food and fat.

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