Thursday, July 29, 2010

Such a Mama's girl

There I sat on the lip of the tub, watching while she looked at herself. Her eyes flicked up and down, stopping at certain body parts that caught her eye. "You know," she said, without pulling her eyes from her reflection, "When I was younger, I made up a rule about my thighs: if they touched, I knew I had put on some weight. If they didn't, I was OK." I looked at her with adoration, thinking that if this perfect woman thought she was so flawed, I had no chance in the world.

My mother was the kind of woman who wouldn't enter the kitchen without her "face" on. Though a bit of a hippie earth mama (she did, after all, make all my baby food from scratch), she never quite got into the whole "natural" thing. "I just always liked to shower and smell good too much," she explained. In fact, she's still angry that my Dad didn't wash his hair the morning of their wedding. My mother actually smelled like a shower. A clean, moist shower with delicate floral notes. Every morning I found her in the kitchen wearing her decidedly short silky kimono robe while floating from one counter to the next making us breakfast and packing lunches. Though I never offered to help, I watched her intently. She toasted sourdough bread with butter or poured bowls of Kix cereal on most weekday mornings and whisked together cornmeal pancakes on the weekends. I mimicked her movements in my mind as she packed carrots into little baggies, cut PB&J sandwiches into adept triangles with the crust left ON, and wrote loving inscriptions on the crackled brown paper bags. "I love you :) Have a great day! Love, Mom".

She was born a mother. The type of girl who dreamed of being a mommy before knowing how one becomes a mommy. I, on the other hand, had no desire for motherhood and nearly broke my mother's heart the day I told her so. As a child, she played incessantly with dolls, brushing their hair and putting them to sleep. She even claimed her next door neighbor as "her baby", though Michelle was only 2 years younger (kids aren't really interested in the math). My mother waited very impatiently for me, 32 years to be exact, and never missed an opportunity to regale me (and anyone else who would listen) with the tale of how she discovered her pregnancy. She was sitting in a large rocking chair in the room she hoped would one day be a nursery. All of a sudden she felt a shock go through her body. It was as if someone had taken her by the shoulders and screamed, "You are pregnant...and it's a girl!!" Of course my parents had been trying for a baby (I always avoid imagining this part of the story), however she had yet to experience any signs of pregnancy. Just this weird premonition. Off she went to the doctor's office to find that yes, she was indeed pregnant, and yes it was a girl. "I always knew who you were," she'd glow.

This "knowing" kept me aggressively bonded to my mother. I always kept a close eye on her, attempting to emulate her delicate, womanly mannerisms, her deft mascara application while driving, or how she braided challah on Friday nights. So when she scrutinized herself in the mirror, weighed herself every morning, or worried about a few extra pounds, I did the same.

Amidst all of her food love (she was a big advocate of ooohing and aahing during meals), she struggled with her eating. Though no one ever knew my mother to be overweight (not even voluptuous, she was always slender and fit), her "chubby", acne prone pre-teen years had left a devastating gash in her self esteem. Her struggle was less about poundage, but rather the fear of poundage and the unending mental berating that saddled up next to her eating adoration. Diets came in spurts. There were the months of weighing food on a little scale she kept in the cupboard, then the fat-free fiasco when the house swarmed with various Entenmann's cakes and ice cream. "It's healthy," she promised. "See, all fat free!" What the hell did I care? All I knew was that it tasted good and had enough sugar to power a small car. Then came the year she really committed to "losing a few pounds". She decided on "The Cabbage Soup Diet", a recent craze suggested by a neighbor. For two weeks I came home to what smelled like an elderly Eastern European couple's home. The sulfurous cabbage smell permeated the entire house...even my pillowcase smelled like bubbie's sweater. Let's also get one thing straight: this was not a soup. This was cabbage and tomatoes boiled in water. No flavor, no fat, no fun. And that is exactly what my mother became. No fun!

This diet, like the many others, thankfully came and went. What ceased to disappear was my increasing anxiety over my mother's inability to be happy with her body and my own growing desire to be thin. To be the thin like my mother wanted to be, whatever that looked like. We were so much alike, my mother and I, that I often thought of us as the same person. I picked up her joys, her silliness, her coping mechanisms to different types of stress. When my mother openly worried about her figure, I took the cue and worried about mine. And yet, she too was influenced by her own mother's relationship with eating. My maternal grandmother loved crazy diets. Things like drinking water and vinegar while standing on your head. And the more gimmicky, the better! And knowing all this, it's no wonder my mother thought the cabbage soup diet was a good idea.

Children, especially girls, are like sponges soaking up each and every nuanced action or event in their surroundings. My mother's actions certainly influenced my perceptions of self in the world but she was not the only one. It takes a village to raise a child and mine was full of villagers with very odd food and body relationships.

My Mother's Challah

This is the bread my mother still makes almost every Friday night. It is moist, doughy, and has just a touch of sweetness. Pure heaven!

The recipe is adapted for use with a bread maker. If kneading the dough by hand, follow these instructions. Start with "Mixing the Yeast Slurry" and stop at "Shaping and Proofing the Dough".

1 packet or 1 tablespoon yeast
1/3 cup organic maple syrup (warmed)
2 cups plus 1 cup organic white flour
2 cups organic whole wheat flour
2 teaspoon Salt
2 eggs plus one egg
1/2 cup organic butter
1 cup warm water
sesame and poppy seeds

Set your bread-maker for manual mode:

Place the yeast and the warmed syrup in the bottom of the bread-maker loaf container. Add 2 cups of both the white and whole wheat flour, the salt, 2 eggs, butter and warm water. Start the bread machine. Slowly add the extra cup of flour to the mixture a little at a time, making sure that the dough doesn’t look too stiff. It should form into a ball that moves easily when being mixed. If the dough sticks to the side of the container, add a little more flour. If the dough forms a nice ball when being mixed before all the flour is added, don’t add the remaining flour.

With the machine on manual, let the dough mix and then rise. This should take approximately 2 hours. Once the dough has risen, remove the dough and place it on a lightly oiled surface. Cut the dough into half. Take the two halves and separate into 3 balls of dough each. Roll each ball into a long tube about 10 inches long. Take 3 pieces and braid, making two loaves. Place the 2 loaves on an oiled baking sheet and cover with a cloth.

Let the bread rise for another half hour then remove the cloth. Beat the remaining egg and brush it over the challahs. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or a combination of the two.

Bake the loaves in a 325 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tahini's take on Tuna Fish

High school was tough for me, as it was for most people I assume. Within these bizarre four years I was completely inundated with unhelpful hormones that attacked my brain, making me at once a giggling, drooling horn-ball AND a Type A overachiever freak. Let's not even mention the everyday societal pressures of trying to be smart, pretty, and cool all at the same time. With all this swirling around in my 16 year old head, high school wore me out.

I went to a very competitive private high school in the San Fernando Valley. My graduating class had 35 people making it cozy and definitely a place where everyone (including all the mothers) knew your business. I'd never been one for unnecessary conflict, so I tended to hang out with the boys in my grade to avoid girl drama. Even though I wasn't into the ladies daily emotional blood bath, I certainly created my own internal carnage by vowing to be both valedictorian and the hottest, thinnest girl in school. (Neither of which happened.) It all happened innocently enough. A month before starting my junior year I decided to lose 5 pounds. That's it, just 5 little pounds. However, being born with a nature heavily dosed with obsessive tendencies, I took it a little too far.

By January of that school year, everything started to fall apart. I was class president, prom committee chair, cast in the school play, and I felt like I was in a padded cell. In four months I shaved 25 pounds off my 5'3" frame, putting me at 99 pounds. I had this bizarre notion that if I could control my weight I could control everything. My grades, the college I got into, the boy I liked, everything. When people said I looked skinny, I took it as a complement. When the boy I loved picked me up and said I weighed "nothing", I could have died from sheer joy. Every day was a battle against my body and the gnawing hunger inside my belly. Instead of giving into the hunger I turn it into a game. I decided hunger pains meant I was doing well, on the right track and that all my sacrificing would pay off. My diet did not ever waiver. Grain in the morning, fruit (ie sugar) before lunch, and only protein and vegetables for dinner. For almost a year I ate:

Morning: 1/2 cup of oatmeal with 4 chopped walnuts
Mid morning snack: 1 small apple or orange
Lunch: romaine lettuce with 1 can of tuna fish and fat free Asian dressing
Mid Afternoon snack: 1/2 cup cottage cheese
Dinner: steamed broccoli with turkey marinara sauce

I sat in the breezeway at lunch watching my friends and teachers eat. I put on a happy face and cracked jokes, but every few seconds I'd sneak a glance at the forbidden morsels they all put into their mouths. "How could they eat that?", I thought. "Don't they know subway sandwiches and rice crispy treats will kill you!" The worst though was when Jacqueline sat with us. Entire rooms quieted when she walked in. With her long thin legs, blond hair, and unbelievable rack, everyone including teachers, couldn't help but watch her. I stared at her like I stared at food, with desire and hate. Jacqueline's favorite lunch was a veggie sandwich. This leggy vegetarian had the balls to sit in front of me with cheese, avocado, sprouts, and hummus squeezed between two pieces of, dare I even say it, BREAD. These were foods on my "DANGER, WILL MAKE YOU FAT!" list (minus the sprouts) and she ate them without gaining an ounce. To make matters worse, she took each bite with painstaking slowness. First she looked lovingly at her sandwich then finally took a long slow bite, making sure to gently push back in any renegade avocado. Then came the chewing! She chewed each bite somewhere around 30 times, making sure to let out a little squeal of joy at every 5th chew. I dreamt of eating like her. It baffled me how someone could take so much joy in their food without remorse or guilt. I on the other hand, ate a quickly as possible, with the thought that if I did it fast it was like it never happened.

My actual anorexia only lasted a year. Pretty short as those things go. It finally ended when my mom sat me down and confessed she hadn't slept in months over my weight loss. I found a great therapist (after my first one told me to drink Ensure!) and began to unravel the pain and suffering I had created. Let's be honest, I still occasionally struggle with negative self talk, comparing, and jealousy. Old patterns die hard but I now have the perspective and tools to quickly get me out of that downward spiral. Life certainly is a delicate balance between holding tight and letting go. Of knowing that every experience, though sometimes painful, is a gift. It is my past experience that allows me to support and guide my clients the way that I do. My new thoughts also remind me how good it feels to be emotionally free and love my food for the nourishment it provides. I'll take that any day!

Tahini Tuna Fish in Lettuce Wraps
Serve 1

After eating canned tuna fish every day for an entire year, I was tunaed out! In fact it took me 8 years to come back around. I'm not a mayo fan so this is a delicious Mediterranean take on the mayo-based classic. Feel free to toss in a few kalamata olives or capers. So good!

1/4 cup tahini
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 garlic cloved, finely minced
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1 can line caught tuna or boneless skinless sardines
4 large red lettuce leaves, washed and dried

In a small bowl mix together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt and warm water. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, at a little bit more water. Mix in the fresh parsley. In a separate bowl add the tuna or sardines. Break up the fish with the back of your fork. Begin to add in the tahini sauce, 1 tablespoon at a time until you've reached your desired consistency. Tear the lettuce leaves in half. Drop a few tablespoons of the tuna-tahini mixture into a lettuce leaf half, roll it up and enjoy!

**If you want to be particularly decadent, top each lettuce wrap with shaved carrots, avocado, and tamari pumpkin seeds. So good!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lemon Barley and Mushroom Pilaf VIDEO!!

Wellness for Life with Jamie Dougherty (Episode 2) from calico on Vimeo.

Hello All. I wanted to pass along my latest Wellness for Life cooking class recipe. I have to admit, this recipe is amazing! The combination of meaty mushrooms with the chewy barley and tinge of lemon is to DIE FOR. I had 20 people in the audience and made 40 servings, to be safe. Well, was there anything left over for me to take to my hungry husband? NO! He will just have to come to my class next time to get any dinner ;) This dish is a definite crowd pleaser and perfect for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. It also serves up beautifully cold, so feel free to take it to your next BBQ or picnic. Eat well, enjoy the video, and pass it along!

Lemon Barley and Mushroom Pilaf
Serves 4

1 cup pearled barley, rinsed and soaked overnight
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock OR water
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced (Trumpets are my favorite)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoons fresh parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped
Sea salt to taste

In a medium pot, bring broth or water to a boil and add the soaked barley and a pinch of salt. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 18-20 minutes, or until the barley is tender. (Cook for 40 minutes if the barley is not soaked.) Drain in a colander and place in a ceramic or glass bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the fresh thyme, mushrooms, a bit of salt, and sauté until the mushrooms are soft and have a nice golden brown color to them. Squeeze in the lemon juice, mix thoroughly, and add to the barley. Sprinkle with parsley, Parmesan, and almonds and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Baked Vegetables- Greek Style

For all my love of Rome, and promises to move there, the food is actually not my favorite of the Mediterranean cuisines. WHAT!, you gasp. It's true. Though I am a fan of their artichokes, pizza napoletana, and prosciutto, most of the cuisine is too heavy for me. I'm also not interested in pasta or risotto, which is a cardinal sin in Italy. I actually once read an article where an Italian chef stated that he refused to serve anyone who did not eat pasta (save those with a doctor's note). I know what you are thinking. "OH, she doesn't eat that stuff because it's unhealthy". Not true. I simply don't enjoy the texture of pasta and am not a lover of creamy things (i.e. risotto). I think both pasta and risotto, when made with fresh ingredients, can certainly be enjoyed in moderation.

Anyway the point, let it be revealed, is that my favorite Mediterranean cuisine is Greek. So my plan is to live in Italy and vacation in Greece. Sound good? Greek food is simple. Very simple. In fact that's the only condemning word I've heard against it. However, that's the beauty of the food, just like its islands. Clean, fresh, and perfect for enjoying the sun. I've eaten my way all around Greece but the dish that introduced me to Greek food is still one of my favorites.

It was 4 years ago, and Gray and I had just arrived in Athens for our honeymoon. We landed at 10 am so instead of sleeping, which is what I really wanted to do, Gray dragged me around the ancient ruins of the city. We got back around 6 pm and promptly asked the concierge where to eat. Just FYI, when asking a concierge for a recommendation, always ask him or her where they eat. You don't want any tourist trap restaurants. Our concierge recommended a lovely locals restaurant a few blocks away and off we went down the steep streets of Kolonaki to our first Greek culinary adventure. We arrived at about 7 pm to a completely empty restaurant. I would have walked out had it not been for a gigantic, tanned, cigar smoking man who begged us to take a seat. Before we even had a chance to open our menus he said, through a thick smile and yellow teeth, "Do you eat meat?" "I don't. But he does," I said, pointing a quick thumb at my new husband. I was just waiting for the waiter to say, "No meat! That's ok, I'll bring a lamb", a la My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Instead he replied, "A ha! I know exactly what to bring. No menus for you!" With that, he snatched our menus and tromped back to the kitchen. What he brought out was better than I could have imagined!

First of all, I could smell our food before it hit the table. With his giant hands, he placed two plates in front of us. Gray received a side of pork, glistening in unctuous juices with peeled and boiled potatoes. Before me lay a gorgeous pile of Romano beans, slow cooked in fresh tomatoes, oregano and a hearty Greek-dose of olive oil. Gray and I looked at our plates, then at each other, and immediately dove in. The beans were perfectly cooked, soft but not mushy. While the sweet acidity of the tomatoes balanced perfectly against the rich, silky oil. We both cleaned our plates, sopping up any remaining juices with crusty bread. When the waiter returned, he appeared quite startled at how we, two relatively small tourists, polished off the food. "You liked it, huh? You should come back!" We never did but I often think of my dish, and that man with his excited, loving smile, and eagerness to feed an American non-meat eater. That was my first taste of Greek food and hospitality. What can I say, it is mine kind of country!

Briam Fournou- Baked Vegetables
This is an adaptation of my Romano bean dish. Because I couldn't find Romanos, I used zucchini, potatoes, and bell pepper. Eggplant and green beans would also go beautifully. Experiment with different veggies and see which you prefer. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

2 pounds potatoes
2 pounds zucchini
3 onions
2 green bell peppers
1 28 oz AND 1 14.5 oz can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
1 bunch of parsley, washed and chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Feta cheese (optional)

Clean and wash the potatoes, zucchini, onions, and bell peppers. Slice them into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces and place in a large baking dish. Mix in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Stir until well combined and place in the oven for 1 1/2- 2 hours. Check at 45 minutes to stir. If necessary, add a little bit of water at this point. When the vegetables are done, remove from the oven and sprinkle with feta cheese. Serve and enjoy!