Small plates are all the rage. Sometimes just a taste is all you need to get a picture of what’s going on. Here are a few Tastings – from the magic of seasonal foods to eating well in the season of losing weight.
Seasons of Food
First there’s the long winter. Here in Chicago it tends to be interminably grey, damp and cold. Some years a snow comes down overnight that can only be measured in feet. It is not a sweet, picturesque Martha Stewart Christmas snow that makes everything look pretty. It buries cars and walkways and can sit there, for weeks getting harder and greyer. Folks call the sharp damp wind off the lake “The Hawk” for good reason. People here walk around with their shoulders up by their ears a lot.
It’s a good time for soups and braised meats that cook slowly and turn tightly closed-up houses into vessels of fragrance for hours. Osso bucco or short ribs 16 different ways: served with polenta or noodles. Hearty soups (or soups with heart) come out. They are satisfyingly meaty or feature rich, chewy legumes. They are hot and filling and are designed to warm everything as they go down.
And then there is a break. The icy snow begins to melt, leaving puddles and mud in its path. Snow boots and gloves come off. Scarves loosen. Shoulders drop back into place.
And then there is that magical day, usually in early March, when you walk outside and notice the not-quite-yet-green tips of the first crocuses poking out of the snow. And pretty soon — “Look! It’s the first robin!”
Everything begins to lighten up. Our clothing. Our thoughts. Our moods. Even our food. The charcoal grill comes out.
And the first big change is when ramps, wild leeks, appear in the market. They look like scallions gone wild with their wide Kelly green wings. Their flavor is a little oniony, a little garlicky and, just a little wild. Grab ‘em when you see ‘em, Fellow FoodBeest, ‘cause they won’t be around long.
This year we got only one bunch, by pure luck. They come and go even before the farmers markets open. This year the FoodBeest chopped them up and sautéed them with potatoes in a little bacon fat [Hey, I heard that Fellow FoodBeest! A tablespoon of bacon fat has no more "points" than a tablespoon of olive oil]. They were a side dish for dinner, but if we had more we would have made a batch topped with fried eggs for breakfast.
After ramps come pea shoots. Pea shoots are the delicate, chartreuse tendrils of pea plants. They basically taste like peas and make beautiful salads and are wonderful stir-fried. Also very short lived.
And then asparagus, green and purple and red rhubarb and artichokes. We eat the asparagus steamed, roasted, sautéed and grilled. We eat them in salads and omelets and as side dishes. Rhubarb always becomes rhubarb crunch – just once-a-year. Artichokes get steamed and stuffed and baked.
And now we have cherries and berries and sweet corn-on-the-cob. The zucchini plants are preparing to provide their amazing yellow blossoms. And soon the good tomatoes (both green and ripe) will appear, along with melons and squash in their full bounty rich with the color and taste profile of late summer.
And we welcome each of those, Fellow FoodBeest for the delight that they are and what they make possible for us.
Enjoy the season of growing. It won’t be with us forever.
Season of Losing Weight
Speaking of seasonality, it’s been more than three months since the FoodBeest entered the season of losing weight. She’s lost 20 lbs and two clothing sizes. That’s a good thing. The best parts of it are
1) The FoodBeest’s body is working better. Things that ached in protest over the weight they were bearing are now happier.
2.) The FoodBeest now knows herself as “Word.” I said, “This will happen,” and happen it did. For no reason, except that I said so. And in honoring who I was being and what I promised when I gave life to that is where the power lies.
“How did you do it?” people ask.
“It must have been hard work,” my doctor said, noting the 20 lbs together with the 20-point drop in my cholesterol.
It wasn’t hard work. It wasn’t work at all. It was just declaring the new way of being. And then honoring that
There was the stuff to do. There was signing up for the big weight loss program that has been around forever and that most nutritionists agree is the safest, sanest program for losing weight. And BTW, even that took something. The protests in the FoodBeest’s head that cried “NOOO!” were very loud. There was learning the ins and outs of that program and how to eat, but mostly how to find and prepare food that was going to support the loss of excess poundage and – and the same time – serve at the pleasure of a FoodBeest.
Cooking spray replaced most olive oil and butter. Reduced fat mayonnaise replaced the real deal. Turkey bacon stepped in for thick-sliced Black Forest pork bacon. Sliced soft packaged bread with no texture that allowed twice as any tasteless slices replaced the crunchy, chewy bakery bread I craved. Skinny Pop popcorn. Deli sliced turkey. 93% lean ground beef. Chickpea/spinach patties. No-point vegetable soup that is always in the fridge now.
I got to be good friends with Skinny Gina whose low-fat recipes replicated many standard foods I enjoyed. Spinach meatballs turned out to be delicious. So did her carnitas and her cauliflower pasta. Then I discovered Hungry Girl for her fake fried veggies and hints for making skinny food more filling without being more fattening or “point-ridden,” and Emily who Bites for her farro casserole and her mac-and-cheese muffins. This is a whole industry, Fellow FoodBeest, and a lot of really great support out there. Special thanks go to daughter Alexis who has been traveling on this journey with me for her awesome tips, techniques and her loving encouragement.
There is a whole world of people, like the FoodBeest – and maybe like you – who know and crave delicious food and want to take care of keeping their bodies working well at the same time. I didn’t know it when I started, but it’s totally doable.
Ok, Fellow FoodBeest. This is your turn. What are your seasons of life? What recipes do you want from the season of losing weight? Or from the current season of growing.