enjoying the hell out of our food

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She’s just past one, so summer sunshine is falling on her and her high chair. Her face is all joy: eyes closed, mouth open (no teeth on the top yet!), and her mouth and cheeks covered in red. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the occasion: the first time Lucy ate strawberries.

Oh that delight in first foods. And the lip-twisting, scrunch-faced opinion of lemons upon eating them for the first time. We’re hard-wired to love sweetness at first. It makes sense. Bitter, sour foods might have been an indicator of poison when we were wandering on plains and jungles. Sweetness meant surety and satiety. Babies have primal instincts.  That’s why we have to resist giving them too many sweet things for their own good. And for ourselves. Given the choice, we might choose sweet every time.

I loved the post our friend Molly wrote recently about how she and Brandon feed their darling daughter, June. (In our house, she’s known as Juuuuuuuune!) It’s a great post about keeping calm and common sense on the table as much as food. It’s actually a pretty great piece about how to feed ourselves as adults, as well. I liked this, in particular:

“ I try not to give her a lot of sweet things — not because I think I can mold her into a non-sweets-craving person (haa haaaa, RIIIIIIIIIGHT), but mostly because I know she will want to eat the living crap out of them, and I want her to save room for other things. I would like her to grow up understanding that there is no such thing as bad food: that some foods are better for our bodies, yes, and some food isn’t food at all (like Nerds and sour gummies, both of which I would currently kill for), but that there is time enough for all of it. I want her to know that food is about pleasure and connection and sustenance.”

This feels so much the way we have been talking about food with Lu these past five years. And ourselves.

Last year, I asked my friend Mary Purdy, who is a wise woman and wonderful dietician, a question that had puzzled me for years. Why do I always lose weight on vacation? We go to Italy or Providence or New York City or San Francisco, and I eat at restaurants for nearly every meal, and yet I come home lighter. Why? It can’t just be that I’m walking so much. I walk a lot at home too. She laughed when I asked her this. And then she said something that has stayed with me since. When we eat with any anger, guilt, fear, or feeling of obligation, our body reads it as stress. And that means our body releases cortisol, the stress hormone. Chronic stress not only puts our health at risk but it also tells our body to keep on belly fat and weight. On the other hand, if we eat in joy, relaxed at the table with our friends, laughing — or on vacation — that act triggers our metabolism into higher gear.

So, in essence, the answer to our problems is radical: let’s enjoy the hell out of all of our food.

Lu loved her strawberries on first taste. She still does. But she used to suck on lemons, willingly. And when she was getting in those teeth, nothing else would do but gnawing on a big bunch of green onions. Today, she delights in the idea of getting an ice cream cone. She claps her hands and jumps up and down. Then, after five bites of it, she throws it in the trash. And she will eat roasted chicken salad with slivers of bitter endive too.

The post I wrote on Monday seemed to resonate with so many of you. Thank you for your kind comments. It’s clear there’s a place for conversation about kale salads and kabocha squash/sweet potato soup and wild arugula amidst a culture dedicated to sweet gooey things and processed food and posts about cookies because they bring a bigger audience than modest amounts of savory foods. But I like talking about squashes and endive and avocados because they excite me, not because I think they are the “right” foods.

Let’s be the tribe of people who don’t think of salads as health food, shall we? Let’s remember how lucky we are to have food.

I’m especially humbled that writing about my own discoveries toward better health seemed to inspire you. However, after all that talk about health, I’m ready to just enjoy my food, all of my food. Because, for me, the healthiest food is the meal in front of me in the moment, eaten joyfully, while laughing.

roasted chicken salad_

 

Roasted Chicken Salad with Endive and Tangerines

Yield: Feeds 4.

Most of the best meals we eat don’t come from recipes. Danny (or I) look into the refrigerator, grab whatever looks interesting, and make up a lunch. There’s spontaneity and enjoyment in that food. We didn’t have to measure anything before we ate it.

We had enough leftover roasted chicken salad from the event on Sunday to make ourselves some more. You could make this with any leftover chicken you have, including a good rotisserie chicken you pick up at the store. The bitter slivers of endive add a crunch to the dish you won’t want to miss. And the tartness of the dried gooseberries works well with the slight sweetness in macadamia nut oil mayonnaise.

It took all our willpower to take a photograph before we ate.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cubed cooked chicken, preferably from legs and thighs
  • 2 large green apples, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (we used gooseberries)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 4 heads fresh endive, thinly slivered
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (we prefer to make it with macadamia nut oil)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 tangerines, peeled and sliced
  1. Assembling the salad. Combine the chicken, apples, fruit, tarragon, walnuts, and endive. in a large bowl.
  2. Making the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, water, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Finishing the salad. Dollop the dressing on the chicken salad and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 1 hour before garnishing with tangerine slices and serving.

8 comments on “enjoying the hell out of our food

  1. Susan

    Thank you Shauna for sharing this beautiful piece. We are truly what we eat, the connection of weightgain to emotions while we eat triggered a lightbulb moment for me. If we eat while stressed, it’s like swallowing that emotion in physical form. Sweets are hard to resist, true, but if you remember this, it may help reduce it to only moderation, sugar is an inflammatory. So if you are upset, eat a very small amount because you’ll get double the weight in return. **Only eat when in need of energy, to be able to fuel ourselves of the goodness we share and encounter on a daily basis! Love what you do for the gluten-free community. You should sew a cape onto your apron for you and your daughter, she’s a Gluten-free girl in the making!

  2. Ada

    I too loved Molly’s post about feeding June, especially because I have a couple of friends with a toddler who seem to purposefully feed him processed sugary foods and it drives me nuts! It’s their kid and thus their choice on what to feed him, but his mom’s attitude was, verbatim, “life is short so we don’t want to deprive him of good food.” I didn’t argue with her, but there’s more to “good food” than a candy bar, no? (He certainly seems to think so, as he had no problem eating a full slice of swiss chard quiche I made when he was only 18 months old!) Anyway, my point isn’t to criticize what other people eat and feed their kids but rather that I rejoice when I read posts like this one and Molly’s because, well, I’m a fan of the sort of good food which so many people just label as “healthy”. And no joke, my plans for dinner tomorrow were a chicken and endive salad, so it’s so funny that you posted a recipe too. In case you’re interested, I really really love a yogurt-based salad dressing for endive. I chop up a shallot and pickle it a bit in some fresh lemon juice and salt while I prepare the rest of the salad. Then I mix plain greek yogurt, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, a bit of water, and that shallot with all its lemon juice together until it’s the consistency and taste I like. I love this dressing so much I could bathe in it, but I’d rather just cover all my bitter greens with it. I have converted several people to endives with its assistance.

  3. Janet

    I am in a place where I look at food as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong.” I have to be honest it is not a pretty place to be in because when you eat the “bad” or “wrong” choice it makes you feel bad.

  4. Emily D

    Oh Lu eating strawberries brought me back to the first time my son ate grapefruit! He loved it so much that he mmmmmm’ed the whole time he ate it. It was wonderful to see and hear him take so much joy out of that experience.
    Now that he is three, meal time is much more difficult and not nearly as relaxed, but he still thoroughly enjoys his grapefruit! I appreciate your reminder to enjoy our food and not just make it about taking in sustenance. I have found that feeding my preschooler is more challenging, but he still loves the “real” food better than the non-sustaining. I feel in a way it is a battle to fight every day to guide him to make the decisions about food that feed his body and soul, which makes me fight harder to do the same for my husband and I. This, however, is something that I need to shift to “enjoy” instead of fight. Thank you for your insightful words and inspiration to continue working towards the good life that we all deserve.

  5. Stephanie

    Amazing Photo of Lu! Thank you for sharing that.

    Also, I gave my son green onions when he was teething, too. I swear I read the tip on-line somewhere, but haven’t found it since. It worked wonders! Now 8 he’s very particular about what he eats, but he loves strong flavors like blue cheese and doesn’t have that much of a sweet tooth.

  6. Erin

    What a gorgeous, vibrant, full-of-life salad! I think it would be impossible to eat that without a smile.

    I’ve always admired your approach to food, and my admiration only increases now that you’ve begun to share your journey to better health, including more than just food. Regarding cortisol — I just read this LA Times piece about the connection between fat retention and stress: http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-cortisol-20140125,0,233136.story#axzz2ruqGPXsf

    Now that I live in Hawaii, I’ve been trying hard to adopt the relaxed island attitude about everything — especially food — because I know it will be better for me in the long run. Plus, it’s way more fun to live that way. Sending you warm tropical thoughts from Oahu!

  7. Olivia

    “grab whatever looks interesting”…Will you please write about how you fill your fridge? You’ve written about the exciting array of senses at the farmers’ markets and the joys of seasonal items, but how exactly do you end up with what ends up in your fridge? What made you choose endive that week, do you always have macademia nut oil, did you buy the gooseberries for a particular recipe?