Sunday, November 29, 2009

The New Austerity

I adore the holiday season, but more out of anticipation for Christmas and the attendant celebrations than out of any particular affection for Thanksgiving. In recent years I have tended to celebrate the gorge-fest in New York more often than I have with my family in California, which I suppose is due at least partially to my frugal, health-conscious family's ambivalence towards a holiday that at this point seems predicated on gluttony more than anything.

This year was no different. Paul and I opted out of the mass migration to the airports and instead chose to enjoy a beautiful dinner at Five Points with friends. As an aside, I cannot recommend this restaurant enough for holiday meals. I had a perfect Christmas Eve meal here last year with my family, who decided that a Christmas in snowy New York would be more fun than one in sunny California,

and Paul and I enjoyed an excellent Thanksgiving meal there a few years ago. He was desperately sad that they had run out of brussels sprouts by the time we sat down, but all was forgiven this year when a platter of the tiny cabbages was presented along with our turkey, suckling pig and squash lasagna.

But I found myself no less stuffed after this restaurant meal than I would have been after a home cooked meal. In fact, when I really thought about it, after a few too many nights out, travel and the requisite restaurant meals that accompany it, it had been several weeks since I had actually been hungry! Appalling. So I vowed a weekend of austerity.

I have so little experience with the austere that I had to turn to an outside source for guidance: the very slender, perfectly groomed and disciplined author of French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano.

I attended a book signing of hers when the book first came out (I believe she has since written several more) at the Alliance Francaise, and recall marveling at the simplicity of her advice. She counseled women to get off their butts, eat less and pay more attention to the true pleasures in life (wine, for instance). She was very charming and I found it absolutely amazing that after the event an entire auditorium of women took the stairs rather than the escalator, a move she had encouraged in the "get off your butt" section of her talk.

A good part of her book revolved around the magic of leeks. She uses them frequently in dishes, but also reveals that (some) french women take a weekend out to eat nothing but leeks as either a kick-off for a diet regime or as an occasional tune-up when their clothing begins to feel snug. As I was in need of a tune-up and my clothing was feeling snug, I decided to give it a try.

I set out on Friday morning (still full from the meal the night before and therefore having skipped breakfast, a virtually unheard of occurrence for me) in search of leeks. I returned home with two pounds of them, cleaned them and, after cutting each one into 3-4 inch sections, I simmered them until they were just tender, about 10-15 minutes. Dinner consisted of leeks drizzled with a bit of olive oil and sherry vinegar, strewn with chopped parsley and Maldon salt. It was surprisingly delicious, as was the warmed cooking water that Ms. Guiliano counsels one to reserve and then drink periodically throughout the day.

I awoke the next morning to an unfamiliar sensation...a growling stomach. Hallelujah! I had officially given my body a break.

Now as much as I enjoy leeks, I simply could not face them for breakfast. Without eggs the idea just seems odd. In anticipation of this, I had taken a page from Laura's Paris Cooking Notebook and made a simple apple compote the day before. I happily had a full drawer of apples that had gone mealy but not bad, which made them the perfect candidates for a cooked mush. I cut up the 6 or 7 apples I had, peeled them and threw them in a dutch oven with the barest bit of water, a scant dessert spoon of turbinado sugar, a pinch of salt and a couple of cinnamon sticks. I covered the pot, set the heat to low and after twenty minutes or so I had a gorgeous applesauce (or compote if you prefer).

It made for a stunningly good breakfast. And then I was back on the leeks. By Saturday afternoon I was feeling lighter and more alert than I had in weeks. I embarked on a cleaning rampage, scrubbing out and reorganizing all of the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, dislodging grime from various tiny crevices, and polishing everything in sight to a high gleam. Perhaps the leeks are in fact magical?

By Sunday afternoon I felt a break in my semi-fast might be in order. After a ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of lentil soup at the Brooklyn Larder with Marissa, the deed was done. I felt unbelievably full, and was back to the leeks for dinner. I have to admit, I'm enjoying the austerity...for now.


Jane said...

Oh I am inspired. I never diet and am against those one ingredient only types fasts but leeks seem okay - French and elegant and vegetabally. Can one have a glass of chablis with that?

Anzu said...

I think there are only so many leeks I could eat!! However, I really like leeks chopped up small and sauteed with butter and lots of pepper. Simple but everyone always loves it.

Angie Muresan said...

Laura, you make even fasting sound fabulous and fun. And I agree with you, the winter holidays seem so out of place in sunny California.

Melly/Melody/or Mel said...

No time to really comment. I am off to buy leeks..a truck load.

Laura [What I Like] said...

Jane - Agreed, I cannot stand faddish diets but I have to say this was not bad and I seem to be satisfied with small portions as a result! I am sure Ms.Guiliano would approve of some booze...

Anzu - I would have thought the same thing but I found them surprisingly sustaining throughout the weekend! But yes, agreed, butter would have made them that much better.

Angie Muresan - They do, don't they?! I always resist going to see my extended family in southern California during the least in the Bay Area there's a chance of gloomy weather and a roaring fire.

Mel - You always bring a smile to my face! I promise you, you'll enjoy the leeks more than you might expect...

My Farmhouse Kitchen said...

First off....I am STUCK out here in California for the Holidays..and I am NOT HAPPY about it either....would LOVE to be on the east coast.....

and leeks...well I am using them tonight...but maybe NOT like the french pasta..with mushrooms and pine nuts out of The Chez Panisse Cookbook by Alice Waters....o well...

I'll check back later..

Millie said...

Delighted your Thanksgiving was such a fine affair Laura! All that snow looks amazing, we are really starting to move into our long hot Summer here. Paul's Englishness (sorry, is that real word?) is showing through with the brussel sprout thing - yuk!
Millie ^_^

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