With heaping helpings of downtime this winter, I’ve watched gallons of cooking shows on TV.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day I consumed considerable portions of Julia Child’s earliest segments, lapping up her stovetop spillage with relish.
When Christopher Kimble desserted – I mean deserted – PBS’s Cook’s Country Kitchen to travel the world in search of something much more than a good baked mac-n-cheese using Vermont cheddar exclusively, I followed him over to Milk Street. Alas, I find his new group of chefs a bit too prickly pear for this gal. Simmering prunes into a reduction thinned with whiskey to make a cake glaze, for instance, seems like a waste of good booze. Staying with Kimble a bit longer, I do like his radio collaboration with Sara Moulton – she can put together plain cooking with a flame-broiled flare that families would actually eat.
But backing up a little to give you the flavor and texture of my culinary evolution, it all really began when I married Paul and found in him a taste-tester whose palate was not easily offended, except possibly by hot chilies.
The original stove that came with the home we’ve nested in for the past 28 years was a real treat to use. There were only two burners, flanked by a long large grill, and the oven below. How I ever managed to cook party-sized portions of anything with only two burners is a point of pride for me, and an annual story at the Thanksgiving table. As the years have rolled by, there have been updates and improvements aplenty both in large and small appliance acquisitions.
However, the biggest change came early on when my then-new-husband needed to modify his diet and/or take medication to control cholesterol. Armed with Dr. Ornish’s groundbreaking rules for diet and exercise to aid in controlling cholesterol, we became eager participants.
First forsaking fats, then moving on to carbohydrates, increasing water intake, decreasing salt, adding steamed vegetables, and then beginning an exercise program – we became lean, mean, middle-aged machines.
We had purchased bicycles as wedding gifts to one another and soon found ourselves pedaling throughout the Tri-Town, and it was nothing to jump on our bikes and head to Onset for an afternoon adventure. Granola bars and water sufficed as fuel. The pounds fell off with ease over the months as we jogged and pedaled along North Street.
At home in the kitchen after shopping at Whole Foods in Providence, I’d cook up barley or brown rice over which I’d serve fresh steamed broccoli with baby carrots and a side of shredded cabbage. Beano became our new friend.
I would often ride my bike from North Street to the New Bedford Industrial Park where I worked at the time, taking that monster hill on Perry Hill Road in Acushnet as if I were training for the Olympics. I have to confess that I’d never felt better, never had more energy or more reverently believed in “La Dolce Vita.”
Then one evening as I prepared our meal, my husband said that he’d be taking medication to get his climbing cholesterol under control because the diet changes weren’t enough, given his family’s history. So, “thanks,” he told me, but then asked if I could add in a little meat soon.
It wasn’t till months later that it occurred to me that he had never fully committed to the diet in the first place. At the firehouse where he worked, spending four days out of six, platters of hamburgers, trays of lasagna, baskets of donuts, dishes of fried linguiça and cacoila, layers of cakes, piles of French meat pies, homemade gufong, you name it – the firefighters (including my husband) ate it in portions befitting those whose lives may end when the next bell rings. Of course he’d be taking pills for the rest of his life – temptations were too numerous. Nonetheless, I scolded his return to red meat and refused to cook it at home.
I gave up the calorically deprived lifestyle we had embraced.
I learned to make piecrust for the occasional treat and brought pork, chicken, and fish into the mix, much to his delight. Our meals still heavily featured vegetables and whole grains, but returning to the fold came butter, olive oil, and mayo. Oh, and let us not forget, ice cream.
He stopped jogging and biking after a while, but I kept that up until more recently as I recover from overuse injuries. Amen.
Today as senior citizens, with a half-teaspoon of caution we eat pretty much whatever we want. Our constitutions dictate quantity and spice levels, and dinners are served no later than 5:00 pm.
And while I still look at the Sunday papers’ food sections for inspiration, there is really no way to take the Frenchman away from his béchamel sauce or vice versa.
Yet every now and then I sneak in something like five spice roasted tofu lettuce wraps with pickled vegetables and peanut sauce, just to make sure he’s still paying attention to me.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell