Monday, January 4, 2010

F.o.t.D. Op-Ed, or, Happy New Year!

Christmas Eve-Eve Pappardelle, Chicken Leg Ragout

So. Everyone's outside jogging. I've always been amazed/amused (those words certainly are similar, aren't they?) by the amount of joggers in brand new gear struggling to breathe in the frigid Chicago/Boston/Colorado air, fighting away a New Year's Eve hangover and the newly formed layers of fat and guilt, taking the first step in what is surely the right direction on a new path. A new year. A new world. A new chance to avoid those major blunders of last year. The problem, though, is that these are the same thoughts we had precisely one year ago. And we kept imbibing too much. And we kept eating to much. And we kept watching too many episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And here we are again. Welcome to the new year.

Now, I'm not aiming to be a messenger of gloom teasing a dark view of the new year out of everyone. And I'm definitely not going to embarrass us all by quoting a Death Cab For Cutie song. What I'm getting after is the fact that after all of the end-of-year indulgence, all of the "I'll be good after the holidays" nonsense, all of the new year's resolutions, food somehow becomes the enemy. All of the butter we used in those cookies. Eggs and cream in the egg nog (people still make egg nog, don't they? If not, email me at and I will send you the best recipe ever--as written by my brother, who was, at most, barely in his teens when he wrote it.). Rich meats and sauces and heavy beers. Cheese balls (well, for those of us who were around cheese balls). It all lurks in the corner of our memories now, fangs exposed, and somehow, just somehow, we've got to banish it away for another year. Or at least until summer barbecues start up.
Fra' Mani Salametto and Fuji Apples

I, however, implore all out there who do, in fact, eat, to continue to embrace real food. There is a great little place in Vermont called The Farmer's Diner; they sell t-shirts and mugs with whimsical food-related sayings on them. And no matter how many times I went there, I had to settle for my second choice in the end: "Eating is an Agricultural Act". Which is a very true (if a bit smug when taken out of context and slapped on a t-shirt) quote from the great farmer and writer Wendell Barry. But the one I coveted, and was always denied, was the one reading "I prefer butter to margarine because I trust cows more than I trust scientists," a quote from the author Joan Gussow. The saying, in its simplicity, speaks volumes to what I believe about food. That real food, the food we've been eating for millennia, the food our bodies know how to process, the food our palattes know (or at least knew) how to identify is the food to embrace and eat. Now, I could post all sorts of opinion and conjecture and scientific facts (as I sort of did once before), but I think it is best summed up by Ren, the author of the simply and well presented site Edible Aria:
Margarine typically contains some combination of sterol esters, genetically modified liquid soybean oil, liquid canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, soy lecithin, vegetable mono- and diglycerides, potassium sorbate, calcium disodium EDTA, artificial flavors and synthetic vitamins.

Butter contains milk. From a cow.
So, to this end, I vote for eating smart by way of giving real food a chance. Let's eat well prepared, well seasoned whole food. Just yesterday I had the pleasure of cooking, with friends, a hearty winter meal of Coq au Vin that was homemade down to the wine that the host's uncle made. We used his (the host's) chicken stock as well; nibbled on olives from a friend's restaurant, as well as cassoulet he made a bit earlier in the week on little pieces of toast. We rolled out big fat pasta noodles and ate it all up with a salad dressed with our own vinaigrette. Everything was so simple, and everything was mind-blowingly good. Not only were these whole foods nourishing to our bodies and spirits; the time spent in the kitchen together was, equally.
Big Fat Pappardelle

So next time the temptation arises to label cooking as "too time-consuming" or "too hard to do", grab a bit of pasta (even if it isn't homemade, get a good box from a good source) and throw together a quick tomato sauce, made guessed it, tomatoes! Well-sourced canned tomatoes, this time of year, of course. Cook it all with someone you care about, or can at least tolerate, turn off the tv, and enjoy the food and the company.

What I'm saying is, throw those resolutions (at least the food-related ones) out the window. And next time you want a bag of Doritos? Head to The Hop Leaf and get some Frites instead. I promise they're way better for you. Or, at least, less bad.


  1. I could not agree more. That, in a nutshell, is what I am aiming for 2010 and, well, life in general. I like the idea of eating whole foods, natural foods, the way we were originally intended. For me, the biggest step has been getting rid of white sugar--but in a few weeks of this new lifestyle, I've already seen my tastes change, and that makes me so happy.

  2. Great post Hugh, and I could not agree more. Here's to food for the new year! Food has never been our enemy or god forbid should we reduce it to a resolution of guilt. Food is the nourishment our bodies need. And if the meal is really good our hearts and souls are fed as well.

  3. Thank you both. Shannalee, I agree--it's amazing how good whole sugar tastes in comparison to the standard white refined kind. Demera sugar has so much more flavor and body, and it's nice to allow our palates to sense that, if only now and then. And it's so much better for us.

    It's like when people ask me where I buy meat--Paulina Meat Market--and how it "costs" so much more than, say, the supermarket, or, God forbid, somewhere like Costco. In my view, I don't need a 32 ounce Rib Eye, so I'm not going to spend a ton on something like that. If we realize that bigger, better, more real flavors satisfy where the processed, fake flavors fall short, we spend less than one might think at a place like Paulina (not to mention we are supporting a real craft, and one that s disappearing fast). Likewise, Demera sugar costs much more than, say, a box of Domino sugar, but that only makes us use it more thoughtfully and, perhaps, "caringly", doesn't it?

    Thanks for reading!