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Archive for February, 2010

Nightline is a Tomato

I sometimes like to watch random news clips on Hulu as I’m having my morning coffee.  That’s how I stumbled upon Tuesday night’s Nightline Face-Off, “Is it OK to be fat?” yesterday morning.  What a way to start the day!

I can’t tell you how frustrating it was not to be able to jump in the discussion and ask everyone to try to contextualize their very broadly stated views.  I whole heartedly agree with Denise Sharp over at d.Sharp Journal:

“It was certainly interesting – the two women with the most extreme and polar opposite views, the crusader and the fat acceptance author, seem on a personal level to be the most unhealthy {mind/body}. One refuses to understand and acknowledge all of the different factors regarding obesity, embraces stigmatizing fat folks and just comes off as a shrill Ann Coulterish type spouting ‘facts’ – especially nice was one factoid about fat people having smaller brains.

The other author is, understandably, speaking out against this type of stigmatization and ‘cultural’ hostility, but in the interest of defending personal freedom and the right to not be unfairly judged, she is loathe to acknowledge that obesity is at odds with optimal health. ”

While the two women seem to stand on opposite ends of the spectrum,  both of them have very valid, factual points that shouldn’t be up for debate in any sensible, informed setting.  Overweight/obese people, especially women, are discriminated against and that’s just wrong and hypocritical.  Obesity has also risen to the level of an epidemic and causes a variety of health problems that’s a burden for our societies and the individuals who have to live with these chronic/short-term conditions.

So why did we watch such a strange and heated argument on TV?  Because the premise of the show was that obese individuals are the cause of the problem, not the symptom.  And the title of the debate, “Is it OK to be Fat?” makes it clear that, instead of discussing obesity in the context of the food industry, US farming policies, poverty and lack of correct nutritional education, ABC decided to take the “Fat” issue back to grade school.  Next up on Nightline; “Is it OK to be a Sissy?” and “Is it OK to wear last season’s shoes?”

(photo from Bunnyhop’s flickr)

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Grain Love : Bulgur

Bulgur will always be my one true grain love.  It has a nutty taste and slight crunchiness when cooked correctly, with individual grains looking like they might roll down the mound of bulgur you created in your bowl.  Sure, it doesn’t have the delicate aroma of certain rices, but that only makes it a great grain to work with when you’re spicing things up with a pilaf or looking for something to sprinkle into your soups and stews.  And what’s more, it’s a healthy whole grain filled with minerals!    (For an overview of bulgur’s health benefits and a few delicious looking recipes, check out this  “Recipes for Health” article in the New York Times)

In Turkish cuisine, there are so many different recipes that use bulgur.  In my family, we enjoy it in icli koftes, dumpling style balls with meat filling, bulgur salads like kisir and tabouleh and various improvised pilafs and bulgur balls filled with herbs and spices.  I’m planning on making a couple of these dishes to share with you in the future but today I’d like to present bulgur in its purest and, for me, best form:  Plain Bulgur pilaf with Yogurt.   No scratch that!  It hurts to call this dish “plain” in anyway.  Let’s call it Bulgur with Olive oil and Yogurt.  MUCH better.

I had this dish for the first time when I was sick around 5 or 6.  I remember having plenty of rice pilafs with yogurt for as long as I’ve eaten and bulgur had always been a staple in our home.  So it seems impossible to me that I had never had it before.  But maybe the appetite loss and misery you feel as a sick child, made the discovery of this simple, tasty dish a revelation.  I remember the first bite I took and the joy I felt at finding something that still tasted good to me.  I remember the glass bowl it was served in and the couch I was lying on.  For days afterwards, even after I started feeling better, I pretended I still hadn’t recovered my full appetite and asked for this dish to be prepared for me.  And now, if I haven’t had it for a while, it still carries that same sense of revelation.

ingredients

1 cup bulgur (i always go for medium coarseness but any kind will do)

2 ts extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 cup water

a dash of salt

a dollop of plain yogurt per bowl

1- Heat the oil in a small pot until it covers the bottom of the pot.  Pour in the bulgur and stir until the grains are evenly coated.  And then stir for another 20 seconds.  (My grandmother used to say “until the grains start falling apart” but this may be hard to visualize for some and besides I’ve lowered the amount of oil, so this action is really subtle.)

2- Pour in the water and the salt.  Turn the heat to high. Give it one more stir, then wait until the water starts boiling.

3- Lower the heat and cover.  In 12 to 15 minutes, the bulgur will have soaked up all the water.  Turn the heat off and let it sit for 5 minutes or so with the lid still on.

4- Serve with a dollop of yogurt, strained or normal variety both work just fine.

Enjoy!

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When J and I were passing around a few Valentine’s Day ideas, the only idea I was opposed to was the big, fancy dinner.  While sharing a nice meal together can be a great bonding experience, the day puts a lot of pressure on the couple to choose the best, most romantic, dimly lit, aromatic, gourmet experience.  Since J and I already share a meal together every day and didn’t want to deal with making reservations ahead of time or choosing outfits, we both opted for a daytime activity.  Call us underachievers all you want, but the day played out beautifully, with a little help from the Chinese Lunar calendar.

Around noon, we went to Chinatown to see the Chinese New Year parade and bought some fire crackers to cast out the evil spirits from our home.  Then we did some low key shopping, were given a bouquet of flowers at the Jack Spade store and sniffed a bunch of crazy soaps at Lush.  We didn’t get hungry enough to eat out so we opted for small snacks from Balthazar bakery and went home feeling completely satisfied and happy.

Dinner was curried salmon, ordered in while we watched “How to Steal a Million”, which turned out to be quite a romantic heist film starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. I’m so surprised I’d never heard of it before.  It’s funny, exciting, romantic and has aged very well.   And to finally come to my point, seeing Audrey Hepburn’s slender figure reminded me of the weight loss track I’ve been on and how not-guilty I felt.  I wish I could have said the same  for New Year’s Eve, Christmas, Thanksgiving, J’s birthday or even my birthday, all the way back in July!  In fact, I still feel kind of full from that last one.

I am drawing 2 conclusions from our wonderful Sunday.

1-  On special days, it’s better to make a loose plan and have a positive, open attitude.  Great expectations can lead to great disappointments (or quarrels!).

2-  Celebrations don’t have to center around food!

Food plays an important part in all of our cultures.  Most holiday celebrations I know of either have a food associated with it or a feast is supposed to take place on that day (except for the Rio Carnival; do the dancers eat anything special??? )

At big family gatherings too, it’s safer to sit everyone down at a table and occupy their mouths with something other than potential barbs thrown at each other.  That might seem like a bleak view of the big family gathering but I think deep down we all know that the dinner table takes the center stage because delicious food is something we all agree on.   I am not going to criticize anyone for trying to spread enjoyment instead of dysfunction here.  However, for those of us that are still trying to establish healthy habits, the holiday feast is often a heavy, guilt-inducing setback.  Kudos to the people who can say no to dessert when they’re already full!  Bravo to those who can limit their portions and choose to eat more of the greens on the table!  I am going to be like that some day soon.  But for now,  I’ll be avoiding those big dinners and limit my indulgences to a couple of snacks every week.

PS. After writing this entry, I saw this article on the Bon Appetit website; it’s a list of reasons why we shouldn’t eat out on Valentine’s day.  Ha!

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Easy Bonbons!

With that spirit of enjoyment and sharing I was talking about in my introductory post, I would like to share a recipe of the easy bonbons I made yesterday.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

When I was a child, my mother used to make these tasty sweets on very special occasions when she had the extra time to prepare sweet snacks on top of the four traditional Turkish courses.  The wonderful thing about easy bonbons is there’s no real recipe and all it takes is an intuition for what will go with what.  You just mix some sugar, butter, some nuts or cracked cookies, perhaps some citrus zest or dried fruits together.  Form them into tiny balls and roll them in some kind of sweet and/or crunchy coating.

Containing as much butter and sugar as they do, easy bonbons definitely fall into the category of, ahem, pleasure foods, so you might be wondering why this is the first recipe I’m sharing on a blog about forming healthful habits.  Well, I’ve decided that I can’t possibly form good, healthy eating habits without having these types of foods.  And I’ve declared them must-eats as long as I slow down, really enjoy each bite and determine a controlled amount ahead of time.
In the future I plan on experimenting with substituting some of the butter with strained yogurt but yesterday I made these 8 bonbons as a small valentine for J and had two of them myself.
ingredients                          (makes 8 bonbons)
2 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ts grated orange zest
1/2 cup cashews
2 tbs sugar
1 tbs cocoa powder
for coating:
1 tb confectioners sugar / coconut shavings / any kind of very finely grated nut
1- Crush the cashews with a mortar and mix them in with the butter, sugar and zest.  You can also use a food processor for this but for a small quantity it might be easier to just use a fork in a mixing bowl.
2- Add the cocoa powder and make sure that everything is mixed evenly.  I used about 1 tbs of cocoa powder but I like my bonbons dark so you might want to add the cocoa slowly if you like a lighter taste of it.
3- Divide the mixture into 8 pieces and roll them into little balls.  Spread some confectioner’s sugar or coconut shavings on a plate and coat the bonbons evenly by rolling them around the plate.   Cover the bonbons and refrigerate for a couple of hours.  The longer you wait, the better since the flavors of the zest have a chance to really infuse the sugar and butter.
I hope you enjoy them!

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How do you do?

Welcome to Easy BonBon, a chronicle of my journey to a healthier, more joyous way of living! Featuring ponderings and recipes! In Technicolor!

Early in January this year, like so many others, I found myself reconsidering my lifestyle habits.  I was getting ready to go out for dinner with my friends
and I reached into my closet for a dress that I hadn’t worn in a while, one of those minimalist black dresses that are supposed to wrap around the the shoulders and then billow out.  Well, what was once my go-to loose, comfy dress was now a “body-conscious” number that hugged me around the hips!  Now, like most sensible girls who have a realistic grasp of the female desirability index, I know that curvy is sexy, beautiful and cool.  But what I suddenly grasped at that moment was that I had stopped paying attention to my health amidst all the changes in my life.  I had just fooled myself into thinking that I was still eating more nutritious foods than comfort foods, that I was exercising sufficiently.   Awareness, How fleeting art thou!
Since the day of the black dress, I’ve been slowly making one resolution every week and mentally tracking my progress.  I’m not calling it a diet although I would like to lose some weight for the sake of my poor, achey back.  What I’m calling it is my Easy BonBon journey, because I’m determined to make it easy, taking one step at a time and all the while I’m going to focus on enjoyment, not deprivation or guilt or punishment.  I hope the lady over there or that gentleman in the back or anyone really, comes along for the ride.  The best things in life are shared, no?

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