My Inner Picky Eater

What's the deal with hummus? I mean, seriously. When guests come to the ranch, they always bring at least two tubs of hummus. It doesn't matter if it's roasted red pepper flavor or roasted garlic with gold-leaf and white truffles, nobody ever eats it. You know why? Because there are OTHER OPTIONS. Nobody willingly goes for the hummus when there are other things on the table. (Don't be that person who brings hummus to a party.) Dieters, especially, believe that hummus is a "healthy" snack, but it's actually loaded with carbs and it tastes meh. Meh, I tell you! It's edible, but it's not fantastic, by any means. It certainly doesn't warrant all of the oohing and aahing that it gets. I've heard people gushing "Omg, I loooove hummus" as they scoop up a gob of it with a baby carrot and I just want to grab them by the shoulders, look them square in the eyes, and say: "It's OK. It's not that great. You don't have to fuss over it. Try the Doritos over there. Those are great." Dips are meant to be fun. Hot spinach and artichoke dip in a bread bowl is fun. Queso con carne with tortilla chips is fun. And, if you want something fun for your baby carrots, try whipping up a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Dip with sour cream–that's fun. Garbanzo bean paste? Not fun. It's suffice to say that I'm not that into hummus. 

Or beans and lentils, in general.

Tell me, is there anything more unappealing to look at than a bowl of mushy brown lentil soup? You can try to garnish it with a sprig of parsley, but it's like putting lipstick on a pig. It's another one of those things that's marketed as "healthy." I'd beg to differ. A bowl of simple chicken soup is much healthier for you, and your stomach won't feel like it's filled up with slop when you're done.

You know, I never thought of myself as a picky eater. I eat liver and sea urchin and anchovies and headcheese, for crying out loud. I've always kind of prided myself on being open-minded when it comes to food. Only recently did it occur to me that I might be a closeted picky eater. 

For example, whenever I order pancakes with bacon and eggs, I always ask for the pancakes on the side because I can't stand when the syrup touches the eggs and bacon. And, speaking of breakfast, I can't stand omelettes either. I think people go too crazy with the ingredients: ham, cheese, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, spinach, turkey, sausage... I've even seen chicken quesadilla omelettes on a menu! Stop the madness already! I rarely stray from soft-boiled or sunny-side up because I like my eggs yolky, with the whites barely set. When you ask for them scrambled, it's never done properly. It's either too dry or not whisked well enough. Scrambled eggs should have a certain creamy look that takes skill to achieve.

Caramelized onions? Not a fan. Just because you get caramelized onions on your hot dog or burger does not make it fancy. It just makes it complicated. I do, however, like thinly sliced raw red onions on my burger, but not lettuce–because it gets soggy–unless it's shredded, which is fine. I usually skip the tomato too, due to the sogginess factor. For the tomatoey-ness, I can get that from ketchup. Plain or sesame seed-topped hamburger buns are acceptable. As are soft potato buns. Brioche is a no for me–too sweet. And don't even think about putting a burger patty between a ciabatta roll. Are you insane? It's too chewy. 

French onion soup. I don't mind the soup part, but it's impossible to eat gracefully because when you dip your spoon into the thick blanket of gruyère, the melted cheese seems to string on forever, like an endless strand of spaghetti. Do not order this while you're on a date at a French restaurant. This sort of thing can only be eaten if you're dining alone and your table is completely shrouded by a thick curtain. 

Bell peppers. You know how Nicolas Cage is always Nicolas Cage in every movie he's in? Well, anything that a bell pepper touches tastes like a bell pepper. It doesn't enhance whatever dish it's in, it just overwhelms it. Therefore, I refrain from using bell peppers in curries, stir-fries, fajitas or pizzas. On the other hand, I like them as cold and crunchy slices on a crudité platter, or as the star of a dish, as in Stuffed Bell Peppers. Let's just say they don't do well as a member of the supporting cast.

I'm such a purist when it comes to classic dishes and this could not be more apparent than the night that Mountain Man cooked "spaghetti bolognese". You cannot put chunks of carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, blue cheese, coconut milk, curry powder, and tons of hot sauce in ground beef and tomato sauce and call it "bolognese"! A twist here or there, like adding a splash of heavy cream, can still qualify it, but not a full-on Frankenstein situation. 

Swiss cheese, like the cartoon one with the holes in it. It tastes like rubber! We can also add Jarlsberg and provolone to this category. They're all flavorless. I mean, why bother? 

Meat dishes that contain cherries, dates, apples, raisins, currants, pomegranate seeds, or any kind of fruit or berry. And may I also add: no pineapples on pizza. Just not into it. Same with nuts. Nuts are totally overrated. Also, do you know how much fat is in a nut? Who can stop at six almonds? 

Rhubarb. It's so ridiculously tart and sour. Why is it used as pie filling? Blech. In the same dessert vein, toasted coconut flakes always texturally feel like they don't belong on whatever they're sprinkled on. Kind of like finding a hair that has accidentally fallen into your food.

Quinoa, buckwheat, bulgar, barley, farro, and other grains. I must not have the same tastebuds as a horse because I cannot down any of the aforementioned grains. Yet another thing labeled as "healthy". Listen, I've tried living on a macrobiotic diet for four months in my twenties, and grains were put on a pedestal, but, for slimming down, I'm all about the high protein/low- or no-carb aspects of diets like the Dukan Diet or the Paleo Diet. I can't stand when I see a "quinoa and kale salad". The kale would taste so much better on its own without those soggy clumps of quinoa!

Broccoli. Poor broccoli. It's kind of an outdated vegetable and it smells awful when you cook it, no matter whether you're steaming it or puréeing it into a broccoli and cheddar soup. My thought is, why not eat broccolini? It has a much nicer flavor and doesn't stink up the house. Or try cauliflower, which looks like an albino version of broccoli, but has a nice mellow sweetness to it. 

Chicken feet. 'Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

On Potatoes

Awww... Look at how cute these little pee-wee potatoes are! Don't worry, they won't bite!

Somewhere between the Atkins Diet (circa 2002) and the Dukan Diet (circa 2011)—both of which shun the humble potato–I've developed a irrational fear of these starchy tubers. After delving into how the body metabolizes glucose, I had these fantastical images of my body ballooning out if I ate potatoes, each bite being punctuated with that cartoony boing! sound as my girth widened.

Boing! There goes my chin.

Boing! There goes my stomach.

Boing-boing! Right hip. Left hip.

Could something produced by Mother Nature herself be so bad for you? Only if it's deep fried or covered in sour cream, butter, and cheese. Or if eaten in gross amounts. On its own, however, the potato is actually low in calories and keeps you feeling satiated longer than other carbs. 

I haven't had a baked potato in a very, very long time. Like a real Idaho potato. I've had baked sweet potatoes, which are fine and good, but sometimes you just want a real potato. Thinking about making one this weekend.

Maybe instead of sour cream, I'll use Greek yogurt.

On the Dukan Diet

Pictured here is a griddled beef patty on top of a green salad from Bill's Burger—no dressing

Last year, I decided to try the Dukan Diet, otherwise known as "The Kate Middleton Diet." It's a four-phase protein-centric/low-carb diet that has garnered a reputation as France's long-time secret to staying slim. There are two steps for losing the weight and two steps for keeping it off forever. I had heard about it from my friend Ashley.

"It's so amazing, Jess," said Ashley, as she divulged the details over one of our #singlegirldinners, "I've lost five pounds so far. For breakfast, I'll have a Greek yogurt and boiled egg. At lunch, I'll have a steak, and, for dinner, grilled fish with a green salad."

Well, that sounded reasonable enough, so I bought the book and went to DukanDiet.com to figure out my customized plan. It generated a chart that outlined a 42-day plan to get to my true weight. For me, it was a matter of losing four pounds. For others, their customized plan may take hundreds of days and even years in order to achieve their true weight, as this diet was originally designed for the obese. 

My meals looked something like:

Breakfast

Fage Total 2% with strawberry

1 boiled egg

2 slices of bresaola

2 slices of lean ham

Lunch

Sliced steak with charred scallions

6 sticks of surimi 

Beef jerky

Dinner

Shrimp cocktail

Tofu shiratake noodles with bolognese sauce

or

Grilled salmon with a micro-greens salad

I lasted all of 21 days. (I believe it was a corn dog at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island that pushed me over the edge.) The hardest part for me was giving up on pasta–I would dream of oodles and oodles of noodles. To this day, I'm shocked that I made it that far without succumbing to the spaghetti carbonara at Otto. Shocked, I tell you.

But it did work. I was able to maintain my new weight of being three pounds lighter while I was doing it. (I know three pounds sounds measly, but it makes such a difference on my frame.) This was, of course, in conjunction with regular exercise and other stipulations in the diet, such as eating oat bran daily. I was on a mission. My body looked leaner, tighter, and toner. I even saw it in my face.

While I didn't complete the 42-day plan, my big takeaway from the experience was that the secret of maintaining weight loss lies in:

1. Making lean protein and non-starchy vegetables the basis of a regular diet

2. Incorporating regular exercise

3. And, this can't be underestimated, you have to really want it

Simple as that. Just something for me to think about as I enter 2013. After all, New Year's Day and diets go hand-in-hand.