Sunday, August 2, 2009

She's Gotta Have It: Chocolate Cake

Let me just preface this blog entry by saying that for the past several months, since mid-May, my husband and I have been doing a medically monitored, low-glycemic diet.

No gastric bypass, no meals delivered to our door, no points, no gimmicks. Just sensible eating and complete behavior modification with our own food choices. And Jessie Ventura, as harsh as he seemed, was right: "Every fat person says it's not their fault, that they have gland trouble. You know which gland? The saliva gland. They can't push away from the table."

So far my husband has lost nearly 40 pounds and I am hovering near 30 and counting. Yes, and thank you, kudos to us. It isn't always easy but most days it is, surprisingly, and with our own modifications we've made it work for us without total deprivation or guilt. One day at a time: it is so true. And like the pounds that come off, the days add up, too. Doing this together also helps. We're both mutual "food enablers" and have enjoyed eating our way through our 13-year marriage. [Ironically, our wedding bands will soon need to be re-sized.] I still have only skimmed through the manual but by preparing and eating our own food with certain things in mind (eg. no white flour, sugar, butter or oil for starters and just think of what that eliminates in one fell swoop!), making our own choices, and having a monthly weigh-in with our doctor, while competing somewhat with my husband, seems to be working well for us. On a scale of 1-10, we are probably around 7 on the "good patient" scale. IMAGE, above, by Anne Taintor.

We have both taken vacations this summer where we have been tempted by restaurant fare, and also treated ourselves, and I can say without hesitation that we are successful with our food choices for the most part but have also had the occasional "treat." Mostly, however, we are learning to modify portions, eat when hungry and to make good choices when eating. Mindful eating. So far it's working. I can also count on both hands, and then some, the amount of indulgences I've had these past two and half months but I can also tell you that I did not let them completely derail me. [And I've also learned if I am going to "cheat" it had better be a darned worthy food item and to cheat while playing the "bait and switch" game: OK, you can have this but you can't also have this and this.] So I had, I enjoyed, I moved on and right back into my fruit bowls, salads and small portions of meat.

In all of this important process, however, I've missed baking. I've occasionally craved pie, to the point where I could have eaten my way through a pie shop. For a few weeks I dreamt of pie, I made it in my mind, I could taste the luscious tart rhubarb and the buttery crust. I knew what kind I would make (rhubarb). So I began to read recipes about food I couldn't have, looked at photographs, poured over food magazines and favorite cookbooks, reading recipes aloud to my husband, emailed friends. "Food porn," I called it. Look, but don't eat. PHOTO: My friend Linda's rhubarb pie with a special "secret" ingredient, baked for us last summer in New Hampshire.

However yesterday, after our "local food" kick-off at Melvin and Anna's, I couldn't stop thinking about chocolate cake. I craved it, I craved baking it. I blame the two ears of corn and two slices of homemade white bread I had at lunch during our "corn frolic": it was a "kick off" for my taste buds. Gimme some more of that old-time sugary goodness, Catherine! Ah, come on. Just a little bit. It won't KILL you, now, will it? Then I envisioned the following ingredients: cocoa, baking chocolate, sour cream, butter, buttermilk and brown sugar all in one concoction (and yes, all in my cupboard or refrigerator–Rule #1: don't keep any "bad" foods on hand). So, of course, I Googled those ingredients and found not just any chocolate cake but this recipe for "Chocolate Sour Cream Buttermilk Bundt Cake" at the Cookie Madness blog. More of a pound cake, it is dense and chocolaty and not overly sweet. It would have been divine with an icing but I figured I'd better not push the envelope or gild the lily any further. PHOTO: Eli's 5th birthday party (and yes, homemade chocolate cake, his request).

Our boys were delighted to see me baking again this evening. I told them it was an "off the wagon" moment and a special treat (and OK, so I made homemade blackberry muffins yesterday, too, modified from the "Blueberry Muffins" recipe in the Screened Doors and Sweet Tea cookbook, by Martha Foose, a favorite Christmas present from my husband).

I have, for now, tempered the baking beast within and will likely not do this again until the holidays. Then, especially, any baking around that time must be tempered with lots of vegetables and fruit and yogurt (and Zumba classes at the YMCA: my next "lifestyle" change will be adding more regular exercise). I also envision the day, and we're really not there yet, when I can take a day, let's say Sunday, and make it into a celebration of food for our family: a comforting Sunday dinner, a special dessert. A day to indulge a bit, to pause after a week of hard work in all realms. PHOTO: Thanksgiving 2008, our first in Kentucky. I was so sick that my husband prepared most of the meal, bless him.

Tonight, while in my baking nirvana, I was reminded of this quote from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver about why it is that I love to bake and to cook for those I love and how it is that my mindset has begun to change more towards food as nourishment and not as a narcotic:
Now that I’m decades older and much less clever than I was in college, I’m getting better at facing life’s routines the way my friend faces his cornfield. I haven’t mastered the serene mindset on all household chores (What do you do for fun around here? I scrub pots and pans, okay??), but I might be getting there with cooking. Eternal is the right frame of mind for making food for a family: cooking down the tomatoes into a red-gold oregano-scented sauce for pasta. Before that, harvesting sun-ripened fruits, pinching oregano leaves from their stems, growing these things from seed—yes. A lifetime is what I’m after. Cooking is definitely one of the things we do for fun around here. When I’m in a blue mood I head for the kitchen. I turn the pages of my favorite cookbooks, summoning the prospective joyful noise of a shared meal. I stand over a bubbling soup, close my eyes, and inhale. From the ground up, everything about nourishment steadies my soul.
This summer has been about that for me: to reexamine why and what I eat, when and where I eat, and how I can eat in a better way or to prepare better food for my family. How I can control the food and not the other way around. To nourish, not neglect. With food, it can be a fine line. But if we honor ourselves and each other in fellowship, and then by honoring the food made with real ingredients or prepared in its most elemental way–all while not being punitive about the occasional treat–then we are not allowing the food to rule over us. We can truly enjoy its taste, the smell of it, the delectable qualities that we desire and the company that we share while eating it. That said, I was just as delighted when my doctor said I could toss out my blood pressure medication the other day. To nourish, not neglect. Here is to celebrating the beings that we are and to nourishing the person and the soul within us–and to nourish the people that we love with good food.

PHOTO, above, left: My mother, Henry and Eli at Mom's 65th birthday celebration at our house in Hancock, New Hampshire, February 2004. PHOTO, above, right: A favorite Thanksgiving decoration that Henry made long ago: "I am thankful for 'Thanksgiving' 'Turkey' 'My Family' 'Potatoes' "

Henry, Addie and Eli at Addie's 19th birthday party, June 2007, our last full year in New Hampshire.


Ladyfromthewoods said...

Congratulations on kicking out the b.p. meds!!! That's such an amazing milestone and deserving of a pedicure if you ask me.

Catherine said...

Hey, you know what? You're right...and I desperately need one, esp. if I'm going to show my toes on Saturday night. And it still is summer, after all, even if the boys are going back to school in a week!

Anonymous said...

Loved this post! My husaband needs to lose about 75-100 pounds and his doctor recommended South Beach. I keep having to remind him that this is NOT Atkins and all you can eat meat!

Slowly but surely he's catching on! No one gets fat eating fruits and veggies!