I love food. I love to cook it, eat it, read about it, watch it on TV. Food is awesome. However, over the past couple of years, I have been learning about making better choices about the food that I eat. Post-30 metabolism is a harsh teacher. I never used to worry about that kind of thing, so I’ve been through a lot of trial and error lately, figuring out the little choices that make a lot of difference.
The holidays brought a whole new set of challenges. It’s easier to choose well when you’re at home, where you’re forcing good choices on yourself by not stocking your refrigerator with cheesecake and french fries. I’m not saying it’s easy, just easier. It still can be fairly difficult not to order Indian take-out and eat the entire thing in one sitting on some nights. But I’ve discovered some healthful foods that I really like through a lot of experimentation, and I’ve mostly been doing OK lately.
For me, the hard part about choosing well during the holidays isn’t managing to avoid the various candies and cookies thrust at you from every angle. Probably it helps that sweets are not my weakness. If the holidays were about thrusting various carbohydrates and things that are deep fried, such as mashed potatoes or those avocado egg rolls from the Cheesecake Factory at you all day long, I wouldn’t be so holier than thou. And if the spirit of the season were deep-fried mashed potatoes? Well, never mind. Let’s just stick with the sweets. Ha! I am so good, I can totally say no!
It’s hardest to choose well when I’m away from home and my compact four-point egg muffin (Egg Beaters, Morningstar sausage patty and english muffin) is not available. Here’s how well I did:
Shouldn’t be too hard not to eat poorly, as am boarding a flight and would throw up if ate anything. Well, I really do need a latte. I’d hate to have a caffeine headache while I throw up. But I’ll get a nonfat one.
Um, yeah. Maybe I should do a tequila shot before I board the flight. But the lime is fruit. You need five servings a day, you know. And tequila is made from the agave plant, so also fruit, or possibly vegetable. Maybe I’d better do another shot, that first one was only two servings of fruit and vegetables. I need to be healthy for the plane ride.
Maybe to distract myself from hurdling through space many thousands of feet in the air, I’ll eat this croissant sandwich I grabbed at the airport. Croissants are thin, so surely they’re low in calories. And there isn’t even any mayonnaise on it. That’s what causes sandwiches to be so bad for you: thick bread and condiments. (P.: “A croissant? Those are full of butter! I mean, I say eat it, but it’s not going to be low fat or anything.” Me: “Is too.” Very much later I look up the nutrition information on the Internet to prove him wrong. Fuck.)
Arrive at P.’s parents house that evening. Hungry.
P.’s mom: “P.’s dad smoked a brisket! You can have sandwiches and this cole slaw I made to go with it. We made it just for you.”
Well, OK. I am in Texas. I should have barbeque at least once. Surely these thick rolls, brisket, and slaw are not too bad for you. Besides, it would be rude to refuse it. Right? Right. Also, the slaw will give me my fifth serving of fruits and vegetables for the day! I am healthy!
Need coffee. Must have coffee. Now. Normally, I have as much as coffee is possible in the morning. I figure since I just add a splash of skim milk or low-fat vanilla soy milk in it, it’s not too bad, calorie-wise. And in my sleepy state, it doesn’t occur to me that might not be the case elsewhere.
P.’s dad: “Do you have cream with your coffee?”
Me: “Milk.” (Thinking, oh right, they probably don’t have skim milk here. That’s OK, it’s only a splash.)
Watch as P.’s dad fills half the cup with heavy whipping cream, tops it with a little coffee and hands me the mug.
So what can I do really? I can’t be rude and pour out the coffee. I make a mental note to get my own coffee next time.
P. and I decide to go to the gym with his dad. There is a lot of argument from the rest of the family about this. I used to be one of the arguers: you’re on vacation; it’s the holidays. You can take a break from working out and watching what you eat. I don’t think that people say these things because of guilt that they’re not also going. I think it genuinely is that they want you to enjoy yourself. The trouble with that for me is that if don’t think of working out and eating healthy as just part of my life, like say, brushing my teeth, then my grand plans completely fall apart.
Returning from the gym, hungry. Breakfast choices are eggs with bacon and sausage or waffles. No four-point breakfast in sight. Wonder how to eat and yet avoid heart-attack inducing breakfast made lovingly by P.’s mom. Shower. Find that P. has made me an egg white omelet with onions, mushrooms, and smoked jalapenos. He’s really good to me. Make mental note to keep him.
Dinner: homemade pizzas. Cool idea, wherein everyone has their own pizza and they add their own toppings. I load up on veggies. (Again, I’m fulfilling the five-serving quota!) And it’s not like I could ask someone to go to the store and buy some low-fat mozzarella special just for me.
But the multiple margaritas are entirely my fault.
Christmas! Again, we go the gym. Again, we are harangued. Initial reason I give for going: I’m giving myself the gift of fitness. At the fake gagging, I then admit, by burning a few calories in the morning, I might not feel so guilty about the calories I plan to consume later on. Knowing gift opening won’t occur until after we get back from the gym, we stay only 45 minutes. We’re truly thinking of others, not ourselves.
After shower, find that P.’s mom has thoughtfully made me an egg white omelet. She acts like it’s not even because I am a bitch. She claims she had to make P.’s brother different eggs too because he definitely wanted his onion-free, so it was no trouble to make mine as well. I feel like a bitch. Attempt to pour own coffee; am thwarted:
“Oh, milk is fine!”
“Oh no. Cream is SO much better in coffee. Here you go, honey.”
(Sigh.) Thanks! Feel even more like a bitch. Sincerely hope do not appear to be a bitch.
For dinner, P.’s parents bought a beef tenderloin. A beef tenderloin that costs them over $100. Consider asking for steamed broccoli instead. Oh who am I kidding. Fuck that.
Fortunately, P. and I had recently watched the episode of “How to Boil Water” that featured tenderloin. We are thusly given the task of cooking it. We stuff tenderloin with onions, mushrooms, garlic, and peppers that P.’s sister sauted and begin the task of sewing it all together (using the courageously obtained twine). We cut it in half, and sear each half in hot oil, then give them to P.’s dad to barbeque.
I then attempt to make gravy from the pan drippings. You have to understand how stressful it is to cook in front of P.’s family. His sister has even published a cookbook that features many recipes created by his mom. They all cook, really well. And it’s great for me because P. cooks the most fantastic things for me, but I get really nervous when I cook around the whole family. Obviously, I have to have a margarita. I totally improvise on the gravy. Hmmm… deglaze with red wine and water; add a flour/water paste to thicken it up a bit, then more wine, red wine vinegar, spices (possibly a bit of butter), and hell, a little more wine (everything’s made better with a little wine, yes?). Simmer, strain. Greatly relieved when turns out well and seems to be well-liked.
Decide Christmas dinner is not the time for choosely wisely. I figure it like this. Eating is a lot like spending money. Mostly, you want to budget and save and research what you buy. But every so often you splurge. You can’t splurge every day, but what’s the point of money if you never spend any at all? Right? Well, it sounds logical after the margarita. We had brought this really great wine (Paradigm 2001 Merlot), so must have a glass of that, or two. It is really fantastic, and I’m not even a big Merlot fan.
After dinner, we have our choice of butter cake (featuring an entire stick of butter!), apple pie, or ice cream. I make the healthy choice and refrain (or perhaps it’s just that my stomach can’t possibly hold another inch of food. Suspect the mashed potatoes are what did me in).
I finally manage to pour my own coffee. (“But wouldn’t you rather have cream?!”) Have another of P.’s great egg white omelet. We decide to take a day off from the gym. However, Sonic is a requirement. It’s difficult to tell your hosts that you are watching your weight and therefore aren’t going to have the wonderful waffles they are making, and yet you are going to have lunch at Sonic. It’s just that, well, we don’t have Sonic in Washington and I swear I have dreams about their vanilla cherry limeades. If you have access to a Sonic and have not tried this, you have to go try it now. Seriously. I’ll wait.
However, I also somehow transform into Jessica Simpson.
“I got the chicken fried steak sandwich, because even though I know it’s really bad for me, at least chicken has less saturated fat than beef.”
P: “You got the chicken fried steak because you think it’s chicken?”
“It’s not chicken?”
He waits patiently for the light to come on. And then, of course, mocks me mercilessly for the rest of the day. I still eat the sandwich. It is really good.
That afternoon, we realize we needed more of that hot chocolate, er, spiked. And for dinner, well, we were in Texas. You have to have Mexican food when you’re in Texas. Especially when you live in Washington state. We’re much too close to Canada to have really good Mexican food. And when you’re having Mexican food in Houston, you need a margarita. Or possibly two. (I suppose the appropriate naming of this journal is becoming more apparent.) Should have healthy Mexican food though. Ah! Spinach! (I think I hit my five-serving quota again!). Margaritas help me imagine that spinach and cheese enchiladas are, in fact, quite good for you.
Again, no worries about food, due to the whole possibly throwing up before the plane thing. And even though we are once again hanging in the airline lounge with the free drinks, I am really only up for coffee at 7:30 in the morning. And they even have skim milk. I also am not tempted by the cereal offered on board the plane as a snack. Actually, the Xanax causes me to pass out most of the flight.
We get back in the early afternoon, with plenty of time to stop by the grocery store to pick up stuff for a healthful, homemade dinner. We finally are in control of our own choices. We don’t have to worry about offending our hosts who are offering us homemade meals, or choosing among high calorie and higher calorie. We are masters of our destinies!
We make spinach and artichoke dip, fondue, and french onion soup. And drink a bottle of wine.