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.
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.
- 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
- Assembling the salad. Combine the chicken, apples, fruit, tarragon, walnuts, and endive. in a large bowl.
- Making the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, water, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.
- 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.