My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Saturday, July 24, 2010


Should the subject of "dieting" ever be mentioned on a blog that extols the glories of Julia's Mastering?

Well, no, absolutely not. . . . . That is, if you're an average French resident during the 1950s.

If you're a healthy, average American in the 21st century, then by all means, we should be aware of what we're eating. Most likely, we'd be horrified of what's actually tumbling down toward our waistlines these days.

Yes, Julia disdained a fear of food.
And yes, we should be able to enjoy good food.

However, we've become a nation inured to bad food;
Really bad food.
Empty food.

We can do better! (And still enjoy Julia's recipes, believe me.)

Here are my cruel, hard facts. I'm six-foot, two-and-a-half, recently passed the 50-year mark and a just bought my first set of bathroom scales. . .

Dramatic soundtrack ensues . . .

 Ruh - roh!

(And I remember trying to get up to 160 during my senior year of college.)

My grandparents and great-grandparents who were healthy, thin and didn't smoke got to enjoy me well into their 90s for the most part. The others, not so much.

I do want to live a long and healthy life.
I like life. It's fun;
even the boring and devastating parts;
even while growing older, past 50, and a becoming a bit less handsome.

So, I joined Weight Watchers last week. The online version.
I love it.

Absolutely love it!

It's just geeky enough and numbery enough to appeal to me.

Here's the deal -- within the next month, I want to lose 5% of my body weight.
So, I want to get down from 230 lbs to 218.
(They say that's an "achievable" goal.) We'll shall see.

So, I'm assigned 36 food points per day that I can use.

I can enter in each ingredient of a recipe and it'll compute my "points."

Pretty much every morning, I ate my multi-grain hot cereal mixed with a handful of toasted cashews and two pats of butter. That's 17 points hitting toward my 36.
I learned to get rid of the butter, (that's 6 points) and chuck out half the cashews -- now I'm down to 7 points. The helpful hint was to add lots of cinnamon and nutmeg and add more non-calorie sweetener. Now, I actually enjoy my morning cereal even more and I'm less hungry come lunch time.

For lunch yesterday at work, I was attending a catered, Middle Eastern (Halal) meal. Little chicken and lamb kabobs with a puddle of hummus barely put a dent toward my numbers.

A giant bowl of my frozen watermelon-peach sorbet? only 1 point. 

A quart of my mango-spinach protein smoothie? only 2 points.

My weakness is pasta with marinara sauce. From the "helpful hints" section, I really did get some ideas how to make my pasta appealing, but with a fraction of the calories. (And nothing was sacrificed -- Julia would approve.)

The basic idea is to chock your tomato gravy with lots of veggies and use whole wheat pasta.
I've never liked whole wheat pasta! It's gummy and mealy. That's because I've used thin, spindly whole wheat pasta like corkscrew or spaghetti. They boil away and get gummy.

Solution: Use a large, tubular whole wheat rigatoni. It's substantial and won't go mealy in this hearty sauce. Trust me, I really don't like whole wheat pasta, but with this, even your Italian grandma won't know the difference:


Here's my version:
"Rigatoni de Gianni"

3 Tablespoons butter (See?)

1 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 onions, sliced
1 large pkg mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
2 cups chicken stock
1 12-oz pkg whole wheat rigatoni

Saute vegetables and herbs in butter, and add chicken stock. It's not the most appealing-looking thing, but simmer it all down.

Simmer and reduce it to a syrupy consistency. (It will probably take about 30 minutes or more)
Then it should look like this:

Meanwhile, boil the rigatoni until just barely al dente and drain. (With whole wheat pasta, you really should drain it before you think you need to, believe me. It will continue cooking in the sauce as you will see. By draining earlier than you think you need to, you'll avoid that "gummy" whole wheat pasta that we've grown to loathe over the years.

Now, add the following to reduced vegetables:

One 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
4 oz heavy cream
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 Tbs red wine vinegar

Stir in the rigatoni and serve. 

I tried it without the cream and it just tasted too "vegetabley" and "tomatoey". The cream really balanced it out. The red pepper at the end makes it "sparkle" and the red wine vinegar made the whole thing "sing".

So, here is my own Weight Watcher's pasta creation: (It makes six servings)

Remember how I can only eat 36 food points per day? Guess what this serving of creamy, rich, intensely-flavored pasta comes to. Remember, it has cream; it has butter. . . .

Go ahead. Guess.

Only 7 points. 
The same as my morning cereal. Only a fifth of one's daily intake. AND you get your daily oomph of veggies to-boot. Hell, eat two servings of this. You still wouldn't even be halfway.

You should really make it in order to believe it. Trust me, I didn't want to sacrifice any appeal or have this thing taste "dietey".

I should market this to the Olive Garden. Put it on the menu with a tasty, low-cal version of their wonderful Zuppa Toscana, and we'd be in business.

What would Julia think of my entree?

I really would hope to think she'd say,

"One needn't ever streewwwn this lovely dish with cheese!"

That's all for today. . . . bon appetit!

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