What We Ate #2 – 05/26/2021

I’ve learned better now. But for the first few decades of my adult life, in an attempt to sculpt my naturally stocky figure into something svelte and alluring, I attempted various diets, of various stringencies and justifications.

Joanne, in the musical Company, sings, “It’s not so hard to be married/I’ve done it three or four times,” and that’s what I’ve learned about dieting. Getting thin is easy;  staying thin is nearly impossible.[1]

(A story that may or may not be relevant here: When my mother, from whom I inherited my sturdy short-limbed build, was dying slowly of COPD[2], one of her medications killed her appetite. Gleefully, she reduced her daily food consumption to one Skinny Cow diet ice cream bar and a few bites of whatever she had cooked for her husband’s dinner. When I expressed concern, she explained matter-of-factly, “I intend to die at my goal weight.” And she did, possibly losing several months of her life to the muscle wasting caused by a starvation diet. I’m still not sure whether this story makes me furious or sad.)

My most extreme attempt was a medically supervised modified fast, during which I drank innumerable glasses of nasty artificial crap and ate one small meal daily. The weight melted away like snow in April. By the end, I was the lightest I’d been since high school. And I was the star student at the post-diet lessons – as an experienced planner and cook of family meals, I did and do have a firm grasp both of basic nutrition and of eyeballing food quantities.

The guidelines we received after the fast included target amounts of protein, produce and whole grains to be included in our daily diet, as well as a caloric intake we were not to exceed. I immediately set to work trying to game the system by squeezing as many nutritional requirements into as few calories as possible, in order to have as many as possible left over for chocolate chip cookies.

The result of my inspiration looked extremely unappetizing, like the aftermath of a potent norovirus, but it was and is surprisingly tasty and filling. When I explained its purpose to the Dudes, Miles promptly dubbed it “Purina Mom Chow.”

I still eat Purina Mom Chow from time to time – if I ever, god forbid, have a regular office job again, I’ll pack it for my lunch a couple of times a week – it’s satisfying, fast to eat, and can be consumed at one’s desk. However, the fact of its existence is an excellent indicator of why I’ve given up on diets – if you give me any constraint at all, my first and strongest reaction will always be to try to game it.

Thus, I have no intention of dying at my goal weight. I will, however, do my best to die with my mouth full of Häagen Dazs coffee ice cream.

Purina Mom Chow

1 c. nonfat cottage cheese (if you’re not worried about calories, the full-fat kind is much better)

1 can drained juice-pack crushed pineapple (go ahead, drink the juice, I’ll never tell)

1/3 c. Grape Nuts

Stir together and Chow down. If you’re packing a lunch, stir the cottage cheese and pineapple together and carry the Grape Nuts in a baggie to stir in when you’re ready to eat.

Variation: Use chopped avocado instead of pineapple, and salsa instead of Grape Nuts. It looks even worse that standard Chow, but is even more delicious.

[1] There’s plenty of research to back this up, but it’s easier to think of everyone you know who has lost a significant amount of weight. How many are still thin? Out of my circle of several hundred acquaintances, I can think of between five and ten. Not great odds.

[2] Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

The book will include a bunch of these short vignettes, because we all love food, and what we cooked and ate in those days is part of our story. Most of them will have recipes, although this one doesn’t. – JH

What We Ate #1 – 05/06/2021

Jay was one of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever encountered: no onions, nothing spicy, nothing exotic – if it hadn’t been on his family’s table in 1950s Indiana, he wasn’t interested. Mostly, when the Dudes weren’t around, we ate separately – frozen dinners for him, eggs or a sandwich or a salad for me. On weekends, when Miles and Ben were with us, I’d cook something simple that everyone enjoyed. But that was in the period when Jay and I were becoming known on the national scene, so we traveled both together and individually – and when he was away, all bets were off. We had “Eat Food Jay Hates” weekends, full of sushi and Thai and curry.

On one such weekend, a friend had gifted me with a sweatshirt that said “PAIN IS GOOD,”[1] illustrated with a photo of a man gasping. It came with a bottle of Pain Is Good jerk sauce. Jerk chicken was high on the Food Jay Would Hate list, what with being spicier than a TV dinner, so I set forth to cook some.

I’d marinated the chicken in the sauce all day. As I stood at the stovetop grilling it, I sneezed. Then I sneezed again. Then I started coughing, and then my eyes started streaming. And then the Dudes emerged from their room down the hall, also sneezing and coughing, and helped me throw open all the windows and doors. I took the pan off the heat and we went outside until we could breathe again. When we were pretty sure the place was habitable, we went back inside and I finished cooking dinner with a box of Kleenex on the counter beside me.

Turns out there’s a reason jerk chicken is usually cooked outdoors – if you cook it indoors, its proper name is “tear gas.”

(The chicken, served over lots of rice, was delicious.)

[1] I wore it until it fell apart, years later.