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Diet Another Day

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My genes want the tender caress of cakes and pies.

I’m out of control. I know it. I’m on a bread-a-thon. A cavalcade of carbohydrates. I’m puffing up like a blowfish.

It’s that time again.

Moderation is everything, they say. They should shut their stinkin’ traps.

No, I’m not going back on Atkins, successful as it may have been in the past. I usually do great the first few weeks, then I lust for ice-cream and chocolate like Burroughs jonsing for heroin.

Moderation is everything, they say. They should shut their stinkin’ traps. My brain knows moderation is everything, but my genes want the tender caress of cakes and pies.

No, this time I’m gonna augment the proteins with fruits and vegetables, regardless of natural starch and sugars. Maybe this will temper the beast.

I got nothing in the apartment that fits the bill, so I take my book and make way through the rain to Little Purity on 7th Avenue. It takes all my energy not to visit The Tuscan Gun, where they just added a pressed Nutella croissant to their menu. How could they do this to me?  No, no. I must be good. I only started yesterday.

Out of the rain, I slide into a booth by the window and order a burger with sauted onions and mushrooms. Not exactly dietetic, I know, but low carby if not for the sugars inherent in the onions.

“No fries,” I say. “And no bun. And a Diet Coke.”

Don’t ask me why I ordered a Diet Coke. I panicked. I haven’t had one of those in a long time. Zero carbs, but also chock full of stuff that doesn’t belong in your insides. Shoulda ordered a non-sweetened iced tea. Next time.

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There’s worse ways to spend a rainy weekday afternoon than reading at a diner, eating an unusually good burger with mozzarella, mushrooms and onions.

“I can do this,” I think to myself.

I order coffee and keep reading, occasionally glancing up at the rain. Having made a mental note to eat more fish, I think about picking up some on the way home so I can surprise my girl with a change-of-pace dinner.

Just then the waiter places a beautiful piece of apple pie on the table.

“This is for you, boss,” he says to me. “They just made it.”

For a second I think to come clean. Thank him for the gift but say I’m not eating those kind of carbs. Before I know what happened the piece of pie is laying on top of the burger in my stomach. You’ll have to trust me when I say it was picture perfect and it didn’t stand a chance. It was so nice of him to offer it that I didn’t want to say no.

“Ok, this is a temporary setback,” I think to myself. You can’t plan for something like this. How often does a complimentary piece of fresh apple pie makes its way to your table?

This is what happens. Like when you promise yourself you’ll go to the gym three times this week, and suddenly you have a pain in your knee that came out of nowhere but the spite of the universe.

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I finish the coffee, savoring my book a while longer, and ask for the check instead of a refill. Tucking the book away I approach the cashier to pay the bill. Glancing it over I see a piece of apple pie listed; $3.45. Uhmm… wait… what?

Thanks again, universe.

I file this away onto the ever growing list of things I won’t make a fuss over, pay the bill and pick up some Tilapia on the way home.

Tomorrow is another day.

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Chef’s Table

David Gelb, director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, created the excellent new Netflix series Chef’s Table and season one is online now. If you’re not compelled by Type A personality Chefs on artistic missions with humanistic implications, stick to the Food Network.

For the rest of us that want a little more mouth-feel, Chef’s Table satisfies.  Like Jiro was satisfying. Which you’d know if you’d seen it, but you haven’t, just admit it.

Episode 2 is particularly strong, focusing on Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. This episode should be required viewing for anyone that needs to understand Farm to Table. Directed by Clay Jeter, it paints Barber as a chef in position to “change his community and ultimately the world” as Ruth Reichl puts its, summing up the movement succinctly…

“Farm to table is exactly what’s in season right then. It’s an old way of eating, it’s the way our ancestors ate until there was refrigeration and air freight. But we’ve completely turned that on it’s head in the 20th and 21st Centuries where just think the world is our oyster and we can have everything we want all the time and it doesn’t matter how good it tastes.”

Chef Barber’s organic farming methods are steeped in constant improvement of the milk and pasture which ultimately improves flavor of everything on the farm. You want the best milk? You need free range dairy cows with access to the best grass. You want the best grass, you need healthy chickens to spread cow manure and happy goats to eat the weeds the cows won’t touch. Now you’ve got humanely raised goats, chickens, and cows on the menu, along with fresh dairy and eggs and a garden of organically grown produce at your command.

Add a master chef and it’s the perfect storm for amazing flavors.

“It has to add up to something larger than a plate of food,” Barber reminds us.

I can go on about each episode, like Episode 3’s focus on Argentinian Chef Francis Mallman, sometimes on his remote island in Patagonia.

Mallman keeps alive the old traditions – cooking meat on huge open flames, grilling Patagonian lamb horizontally, and roasting vegetables in curanto under the ground.

Each Chef in the series is a distinct character worthy of the attention and Chef’s Table is a window into some enviable lives.

Other episodes feature Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), Niki Nakayama (N/Naka), Ben Shewry (Attica) and Magnus Nilsson (Fäviken).

 

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Confessions of a Brooklyn Foodie

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When I get flack that I’m a food snob that only likes expensive things, I put down the black truffles and explain it just ain’t so. I’m a fan of good food, period. And there’s nothing wrong with liking good things. You’re allowed to like good movies, good music, even good whiskey. As soon as you like good food, you’re suddenly a snob.

Well, this snob comes from basic beginnings; the manicured streets of middle-class Staten Island. The Rock, as some of us call it. Not a lot of fine dining on The Rock back in the day, which was fine by me, content as I was with Quarter Pounders, Marathon Bars and Dr. Pepper. I wouldn’t know foie gras if you force fed it to me, but I knew what a school special was, and I could order a cheap one in town with a Snapple and a bag of Fritos for a satisfying lunch. In case you ain’t from Shaolin, a school special is a bagel with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese, heated up. You’re welcome.

As soon as you like good food, you’re suddenly a snob.

I wasn’t alone, most of us had simple tastes, fed by ethnic mothers and grandmothers if you were lucky, and I was. My excursions into fast food, snacks and milkshakes were in direct violation of the food they cherished. They took what they did seriously and to an extent I judge all food on those dishes.

This isn’t as good as my mother’s sauce,” I say to Kim across the table.
Your mother wouldn’t call it sauce,” she reminds me.

I write about food because I think about it a lot. I have a lot of food memories going way back. Like when that kid threw up at my first grade pizza party. I couldn’t eat pizza again for ten years. Or back when I was eight, I spent hours eating black olives from my fingertips, chain-drinking cream sodas at some wedding reception. It was the first time I had cream soda in my life and I was forever changed. It blew my mind. I can only compare it to the time I realized that the God character in my instruction manual wasn’t real.

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A food memory I always go back to is picking up some fresh salted mozzarella from Demonte or Pastosa in Eltingville, a few vine ripe tomatoes, and some sliced turkey or roast beef – sharing it with my Grandma back home. With a little salt and pepper, and some fresh basil from the side of the house, we were golden.

I guess what I’m saying is feel free to like the good things, but that good is where you find it. And there’s nothing wrong with having a pricey meal now and again as long as you can also savor the cheap eats.

Or don’t. I really don’t care what you do, honestly.

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