Tuesday, May 4, 2010
As a kid, I was skinny. Like knock-kneed, gangly, beanpole skinny. People used to comment on it all the time. And those comments were, for the most part, heavily tinged with envy. I picked up on that even at a young age. So I started to think that my skinniness held some magical value - I had something other people wished they had. And as you can imagine, I eventually developed a complex about it. I was afraid that if I gained weight and stopped being skinny, I'd lose that value.
And like most teenagers, well, I did gain some weight. Not a lot. But enough to cover the skinniness and create a strange inner tension between me and my food. It's a permeating tension that overtakes common sense and logic. The messy love triangle it creates between women, food and their weight is almost always at the table. Have you noticed how often a group of women can get together for any sort of occasion and the conversation will somehow find it's way to body image?
Luckily, I never delved into eating disorders. No, I'd say I was just unhealthily aware of my weight. It lasted for years and years, quietly, under the surface. And the resulting side effect was that it created an alarming awareness of other women's food issues. I love to make fun of the celebrities who swear they eat vats of bacon fat and ice cream and still stay skinny, but the truth is, it's sad. It's so very sad that something as gorgeous and layered with sensuality as food and cooking and the socializing that goes with it, is distilled to fat and calorie breakdowns; carbs vs. protein, 'good' foods and 'bad' foods, diets and punishment. And it's not just vapid movie stars who are guilty of this; it's us, it's me, the self-identified sensible, media-savvy ones.
But you know what's been my saving grace? Food blogs. When I discovered them last year while trying to relieve my boredom at my super-boring job, I discovered a universe where food took centre stage, minus the issues attached. I noticed people being more concerned with the production and quality of their food and the artistry and delight of cooking. And it inspired me, wholeheartedly. And slowly, slowly, over the past year, I've noticed a gradual shedding of worry, a loosening of that tension as I slipped over to the other side of the computer screen and starting writing about my own experiences with food.
I find myself making fewer and fewer substitutions in recipes to make them less caloric, not that there's ANYTHING wrong with doing that, I don't mean to sound judgemental, but for me, it's symbolic of a return to health and a rejection of a certain kind of food crazy foisted on and absorbed by women. Show me cheese, show me bacon, show me cream. These are not my foes anymore.
So what better recipe to feature than one of my more unphotogenic models, a potato salad? Long loathed as a catastrophically mushy combination of mayonnaise and potato, this Michael Smith recipe uses both those ingredients in a magical way, with the addition of bacon and pickles and grainy mustard. I paired it with Zucchini Pancakes, from here, which I am unsure of in terms of food combinations, but don't care all that much if it's wrong, because it was so, so delicious! The potato salad was even better the next day with a slice of fresh bread and some really good cheese.
It's funny, isn't it? In the process of losing my fear of the Fat, I found a lovely new piece of myself.
Roasted Potato Bacon Salad, from Michael Smith's The Best Of Chef At Home:
4-5 thick slices of bacon
20 or so baby red potatoes (I used about 8 regular white potatoes, cubed smallish)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
a handful of flat leaf parsley (I hate parsley, so I used fresh oregano)
a few pickles, diced small
1 tbsp of grainy mustard (I used a really big spoonful)
1 tbsp of mayonnaise (I used another really big spoonful - I like sauciness)
a splash of red wine vinegar
1. Stack the bacon slices on top of each other and cut them in thin pieces. Toss them in a large saute pan, add a splash of water (this helps it cook more evenly) and begin heating it over medium-high heat. Strain and reserve the fat; set aside the bacon.
2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the potatoes in half or in smallish cubes if using regular sized ones, and toss them in the reserved bacon fat, adding salt and pepper. Roast them till they're golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
3. Toss the potatoes with the bacon pieces, parsley, pickles, mustard, mayonnaise and vinegar and eat or save for later!
Zucchini Pancakes, via The Wednesday Chef, via New York Times Dining Section:
3 medium zucchini, shredded
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 tbsp finely shredded fresh mint (I used dill instead because I love dill and feta together)
1 tsp baking powder
vegetable oil for frying
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place zucchini in a colander over a bowl, and mix with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Allow to drain for five minutes. Transfer to a cloth kitchen towel, and squeeze hard to extract as much moisture as possible. Squeeze a second time; volume will shrink to about half the original.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine zucchini and eggs. Using a fork, mix well. Add flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, olive oil, feta, scallions, mint/dill and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Mix well, add baking powder, if using, and mix again.
3. Place a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Place heaping tablespoons of zucchini batter in pan several inches apart, allowing room to spread. Flatten them with a spatula if necessary; pancakes should be about 3/8 inch thick and about 3 inches in diameter. Fry until golden on one side, then turn and fry again until golden on other side. Repeat once or twice, frying about 5 to 6 minutes total, so pancakes get quite crisp. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, and keep warm in oven. Continue frying remaining batter, adding more oil to pan as needed. Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream if you're feeling indulgent.