Could You Give Up Fat-Free and Low-Cal Foods in Favor of the "Real" Thing?
It occurs to me that when I was continually snacking or eating microportions, there was no end to my lunches or dinners, and I never felt actually full. What I used to think of as feeling heavy turns out to be the sensation of being satiated after a well-balanced meal. Now I am free, for once, of the never-ending cycle of a salty snack followed by a sweet one followed by a salty one. The hardest thing, in fact, has been making the effort to prepare my new meals. I complain about it one morning on the phone to my friend Liz. "You're making a smoothie?" she says. "How do you find the time?" Then it dawns on me: Find the time? Dump yogurt, frozen fruit, and juice into a blender. Turn on blender. Done. This is time consuming only in comparison to scarfing something while standing in front of the pantry.
"Eating should not become just one more item on a list of multitasks," says Danny Meyer, when I catch up with him in his downtown Manhattan office. His schedule is unendingly hectic—he runs eight New York restaurants and is actively involved in Share Our Strength, an antihunger organization supported by people in the culinary industry. The day I talk to him, Meyer sits down with a bowl of vegetable soup and chats with a coworker. "When you eat on the run, it's a missed chance to connect with a human being," he says. The soup is homemade—Meyer is fanatical about that. His restaurants Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke make everything from scratch, down to the graham crackers for their Key lime pie. "Because it tastes better, it's better for the environment, and it's better for you," he says. "Food does not exist to save us time."
I don't see myself baking my own crackers—especially ones that would be crushed up for piecrust—but I take his point about trading off speed for satisfaction. Sometimes in the afternoons, I would throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave. It's done in three minutes and contains artificial sweetener, so it's the perfect combination of salty and sweet, though it does have partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which, yes, is a trans fat. (When I confessed this habit to Young, she moaned. I believe her exact words were: "Oh, God—horrible.")
So I try air-popped popcorn instead. I borrow an ancient air popper from my dad. It takes a little longer, but the popcorn actually tastes like corn.
It's lunchtime, and inplace of my beloved jalapeño cheese snacks, I make a simple quesadilla with a spoonful of salsa verde—it's warm, satisfying, and easy. Then I tackle my afternoon sugar hankering. Normally, I'd roll out my sugar-free, fat-free instant chocolate pudding and eat probably three of its four servings. As an alternative, I decide to make a recipe for chocolate rice pudding from Guiliano's book. Soon the most heavenly aroma fills my apartment. The pudding has to simmer 20 minutes to thicken, in sharp contrast to the store-bought kind, which firms up in 120 seconds. I savor every delectable spoonful, and I'm pleasantly satisfied after one small bowl. I'm reminded of what Guiliano said over our lunch: "When you cook at home, you learn what you are putting in your body."
At lunch the following day, I make a tuna salad with real mayo and trade my usual bag of baked potato chips for oven fries with olive oil and sea salt. It feels indulgent to have fries (even though a serving has only a few more calories than a medium-size apple), but they taste like what they are—fresh-cut potatoes. What's even more appealing is that they have no trans fats and didn't give me heartburn afterward, which is always the case with the chips. I start to think that maybe something that requires postserving antacids is not that good for me.