Sunday, March 15, 2009

Musical Notes

I was given my Bron Mandoline, a year after I moved into this little apartment. An online reviewer describes this glittering amalgam of steel blade encased in more steel as "the Cadillac of the kitchen". Invented by Jean Bron, in Switzerland, about 1950, it does have the strange, dated and outsized looks of another time. A Bron, sitting inanimate on the kitchen counter, just about shouts out that one is not merely prepping a meal but constructing it and I had wanted one for a long time to help me make beautiful dishes. Now there are many imitators and updated incarnations but none slices and cuts quite like this one which positively demands one's attention when finely slicing precision rounds for a Confit Byaldi, or delicate leaves of potato for a pavé or symmetrical slivers for shoestring fries.

One of the great results of The South Beach Diet is that one thinks before one eats, almost every bite. And I do a lot more thinking before I cook. I am also more careful in my food preparation and more inventive too. I have scoured my cookbook collection to concoct new variations of favorite recipes using the allowable and ever increasing ingredient list. I have not yet used any of the many recipes from the book and the weight loss is very real. More than anything I feel healthier and more alert, but it is also a great pleasure to be getting the mandoline out, to prep manually without the use of a food processor and to subsequently dine on dishes with improved texture and that are even more of a pleasure to the eye.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Pound of Flesh

I had my fiftieth birthday in January. Treated to a bash at Woolgrower's Basque Restaurant in Bakersfield with all the usual courses and the owner in attendance, it was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Diaz and their son Matt. The pickled tongue was as delicious as usual and the fried chicken, one of the main courses, was about as good as the dish can get. At the after party, Sue Diaz, in collusion with my mother who was unable to attend, had baked a birthday cake of the kind I loved as a child and duplicated its flavor almost exactly, which we enjoyed a la mode. Many photographs were taken that day and many of them included me. I'm not one to fret about my looks or the odd ten pound excess from time to time, but I could tell that I was beyond a little overweight. There it was, the visual evidence, and I suspected that the intermittently high blood pressure and general malaise I had been experiencing for a while needed attending to.

Sue Diaz is recently recovered from cancer, and while on chemotherapy, she and her husband dieted to please the doctor using Agatston's popular South Beach Diet. She often had the cookbooks open in the kitchen to a recipe she was making. Browsing through the book the food sounded normal and delicious and I thought that would be the diet to try if I felt the need. About three weeks ago I picked up the book and read it. Concisely written by a cardiologist, I liked the whole premise, that weight loss was a by-product of eating healthily. I also realized that since I could cook it might be possible to make interesting dishes and hone cooking skills. The diet works in three phases the first giving the fastest loss and therefore the most ascetic, the second slowing the speed in Phase One, and the third is maintenance of the target weight. Each phase comes with a list of yes foods and no foods and basically each adds some of those that were absent in the previous phase. Phase One lasts two weeks and disallows all starches, sugars and alcohol and severely limits fruit intake and some high sugar vegetables. In the first two weeks I lost 12 pounds and am now into a third week to get less of a love handle on things before adding a little starch, whole grains, fruit and red wine. I have had no cravings and feel so much better and have recorded a loss of some 15 pounds. My blood pressure is back to normal and my head is clear, no more heartburn or digestive problems, and I suspect my blood sugar average is much better.

Interestingly enough I have not made a single recipe from The SBD cookbooks, and I will explain why in the upcoming posts but I have stuck rigidly to the allowed foods list and really trying out many of the leafy green vegetables I have neglected over the years such as chard and kale. One of my favorite lunches has been blanched brussels sprouts in a little olive oil and garlic with low sodium, sliced, herbed turkey with it. I am a huge fan of this compact little green ball and it's been a joy to get to know their subtle and complex flavors better.