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Friday, September 28, 2012

Gaga About Food

It seems that, all my life, I have struggled with the same 20 pounds.

I've gained it. Lost it. Gained it back again.

I'm thinking there is another person, somewhere, out there in the cosmos, who is saying the same thing. I think when s/he gains, I lose and vise versa.

I've been dieting for about two weeks now. I know what to do: high protein, low fat, low carbs, a good amount of fiber.  Vitamin supplements. At least 30 minutes of exercise a day. I've been riding my bike and jogging on my trampoline and using my Wii-Fit to hula hoop and jog and box and having some fun trying to dance my derriere off (literally) with the Wii "Just Dance".

Two weeks. Five pounds. That's it.

I know. I know. Slow and steady wins the race. It's a healthy way to lose. If you look up the word: "impatient", you'll find my picture right next to it. It took me two years to gain back the weight (two years away from the gym 4-5 days per week) and now I want to lose it in two weeks (with no gym within 10 miles from home).  Impatience brings with it its own set of unrealistic expectations.

Into the midst of my latest dieting phase comes the recent picture of Lady Gaga. Twenty-five pounds heavier and completely unashamed. Blames it on the fact that she's been eating - apparently with some frequency - at her dad's new Italian restaurant in Manhattan. 

Look, I know I'm no Gaga. I lost my "bikini bod" a long, long time ago. My thighs dropped in my 40s, but "the girls" are still holding their own. I've grieved and moved on. I know how I look naked and I'm okay with that. Having kids does that to you and I wouldn't trade one of them to lose one pucker of cellulite. I've come to believe that cellulite is the mark of a real, non-airbrushed woman who has had her share of a few miles of laughter and struggle in her life. 

Cellulite is like laugh lines for your body. Don't like it? Don't look. Oh, and grow up.

I just want to feel good in my clothes again - without feeling like I have to wear a full body Spanx. I mean, I just don't buy clothes. I invest in them - at discount prices, of course.

Someone suggested to me the other day that if I want to be successful in keeping the weight off, I needed to "change my relationship with food". She said this with a straight face. I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud. Right over my Grilled Caesar Chicken Salad hold-the-dressing, please and yes, another glass of unsweetened ice tea.

Portuguese egg tarts
I have a GREAT relationship with food, thank you very much.  It's tied to so many wonderful memories that if I thought I'd never be able - just every once in a while - to eat beer-battered fish or fried Ipswich clams and chips or enjoy a cup of blood orange gelato while strolling the boardwalk on a hot summer night, or have a lemon square or a Portuguese egg tart ever again, I'd rather chew a bucket of ground glass right now, if it's all the same to you.

I was telling a friend just this morning that, when mia Voa - my beloved grandmother - lost her appetite, she lost her will to live. Granted, she was in her mid-80s and pretty much confined to bed, but the meds she took to keep her heart pumping - as well as the attendant 'low sodium, heart healthy diet' - also robbed her of her appetite.

I went to see her, one afternoon, a few weeks before she died. She was so depressed, I began to be alarmed. I decided that a little visual walk down memory lane might help, so I pulled out an old photo album and we began our stroll.

We came across a picture taken when she must have been in her late 60s. Her beautiful, formerly blue-black hair was gray and pulled back in her signature, braided bun. Her body was round and full. Her stance was strong, her just-a-little-too-muscular-for-a-woman arm around mine, as I stood next to her, tall and skinny (but I remembered being at least 20 pounds heavier) in my high school graduation cap and gown. She was smiling and relaxed and happy.

She looked at herself, lifting up an arm with skin and muscle clinging to the bone for dear life while the flab that told stories of happier, long-ago days hung from her night dress, and then looked back at the picture. She smiled broadly as I watched the depression lift from her face and body.

She said, in Portuguese, "Ah, we ate well then, didn't we?"

We laughed and began talking about some of the things we used to make together. I got her to tell me a few of the recipes as I wrote them down on the back of a few envelopes of the get well cards or bills she had received. I still have them, to this day, just the way she told them to me.

Fried baby smelts
We talked and laughed and then she said, again, in Portuguese, "Oh, I would love a pan of (I can't spell it in Portuguese, which sounds so much better, but they are) fried baby smelts. I think, when I get to heaven, there will be a whole pan of them, waiting just for me." 

She used to cook up these baby smelts in the big caste iron pan - which I now have (it's my most prized possession) - in EVOO and butter with TONS of garlic and a dusting of semolina flour. 

They were a magical combination of cripsy and crunchy, yet they'd melt right in your mouth.  We'd eat them right out of the pan - heads and all - picking them up with Portuguese bread (crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, just the way it's supposed to be) slathered with butter.  They are so addictive, they're like crack cocaine. You just can't stop eating them, and, after you've finished, you begin to dream of a way to get them again.

I said, in my best Portuguese, "I'll go to the market and make some for you now, if you want." To my surprise and delight, she agreed. When I returned, she insisted on getting up out of bed and sat at the kitchen table, watching my every move at her kitchen stove and guiding me through the process. 

It was the best - and last - lunch we shared. We laughed as the butter from the hot bread melted and ran down our arms. I remember her licking the melted butter from her wrists and then, I did the same. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

She died shortly after that, never returning to her kitchen to cook or guide anyone through one of her recipes.  I understand that better now.

We even had a small glass of vinho verde to wash it all down. I reminded her, before I went to fetch the bottle, that her doctor would not be pleased.

I'm sorta glad I can't spell the words in Portuguese which she said in response. Let's just say that it wasn't flattering either to the doctor or his family lineage - or, for that matter, the size of his male, external genitalia. 

Spicy pork and clams.
If I thought I could never eat a plate of fried baby smelt again I think I'd pack it all in right now.  I must be genetic, I guess. You know, it may be the first thing I make in celebration of having lost these last 15 more pounds. 

Meanwhile, I work on balance - diet and exercise, calories in, calories out - while I dream of an occasional treat my favorite foods as I bounce on the trampoline or ride my bike. 

I know that 'yo-yo' dieting is probably worse than any deep fried food or cream-laced dessert I could put in my mouth, but I'm convinced that the culprit this time is the lack of exercise. 

My diet really hasn't been that bad. Two years out of the gym is a long time. It's all about the balance. My biggest work is not the effort it takes to keep food away from my mouth. It's all about regaining and maintaining the balance in my life. 

Yes, I'm gaga about food, but I'm also deeply committed to having at least 20 more years of eating well and forming an even deeper, healthier relationship with and memories of food, which I hope I'll be able to share with my children and grandchildren.  I hope to give them the gift of similar memories as my grandmother gave me.

I don't think it's an accident that Jesus instituted a meal as a way to remember him. Or, that some of the criticism about him which came from his adversaries centered around what he ate and how he ate and with whom he ate.  

Neither is it a coincidence that we break bread and share wine as part of the central act of being a community of faith, which we say is a "foretaste of the heavenly banquet". 

I just know, deep in my soul, that when I arrive at heaven's gate, there will be a large pan of fried baby smelt waiting for me. And, mia Voa will be waiting there, smiling and laughing, one strong arm holding the caste iron pan, the other holding a golden brown round loaf of crusty Portuguese bread.

Food nourishes your body, but food linked with stories and memories can feed your soul.  

When both are well and in balance, there's a beauty there that surpasses all individual assumptions and expectations, as well as cultural definitions and limitations.

I suspect Lady Gaga - like a few of the rest of us - has already figured that out for herself.


Jackie said...

I mist confess I love Lady Gaga. I think she has real talent and will become one of the few singers of the past three decades who will have real staying power-and I loved her more fullsome picture! Now, about them smelts...if I had read this a month ago, I would have gagged. But a few weeks ago I was out with friends for a post-blackbox dinner after seeing a friend in "True West." After a rather stiff cocktail, I bravely grabbed a fried smelt--head and all--because I was hungry and do one else who had tried them was dying. Wow! I am a convert! They are amazing. And your Voa sounds like a beautiful woman. Bless you for bringing her that sacred communion of smelt vino verde (another favorite of mine!).

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I'm looking at those fried baby smelts.

I. Want. Them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jackie - I think you have to be brave, at first, to try the smelts. Especially if you are a real seafood fan. But, a good, stiff drink before venturing into the pile of smelts is very helpful.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, Kirke. Next time you're here, I'll make them for you. If I can find them.

JCF said...

Is Gaga getting grief for this? Female (!!!) celebrities usually do. >:-(

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Actually, I read somewhere that Gaga has been posting picture of her newly shaped self in her underwear and her fans are doing the same thing in solidarity with her. I think it's great.

Janet said...

I don't know about the smelts but I loved this post and I am motivated to spend more time creating these types of memories with my family.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wonderful, Janet. I'm so pleased.

Marthe said...

Only related because of the feeding theme: Paul Ryan says we shouldn't feed the fish (mangled the text, he did) ... so I've been feeding yours ... the purple one has a bit of a disability - even when food is placed right in front of it, it often swims right by or gets pushed out of the way ... poor little purple guy - not sure retraining will help, but anything to frustrate P.R. :-)

Anonymous said...

Those egg tarts look heavenly, but how my glucose would spike! :sigh:

Gaga IS getting a lot of heat for her weight gain, but didn't the same thing happen to Elvis back in the day, when he put on weight? I would think people gave him a lot of grief for his weight gain too, right?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - I hadn't noticed that about the purple fish. Maybe he's just sad about Paul Ryan's lyin'.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tracie - Those egg custards are amazing. Melt right in your mouth. They're like crack cocaine. You can eat a dozen and still long for more.

Elvis was all about excess: food, drugs, sex. It was totally unhealthy. I'm thinking that starving yourself and exercising many hours a day to look "beautiful" isn't so healthy either. Both are their own forms of compulsion.

textjunkie said...

Yay for Just Dance! And Just Dance2, and Just Dance 3--they are my favorite Wii games! You do burn some calories doing those for half an hour or more. :)