Sunday, February 28, 2010

Changing Old, Ingrained Eating Habits

This photo speaks to me in the most primordial way. I am a Leo, astrologically speaking, and an occasional carnivore. I also enjoy eating with my hands and have been known to voraciously enjoy my food. And for this very important post, I didn't want to use a tacky stock photo of someone nervously tapping their fingers next to a bowl of peanuts. It needed to have some weight, some gravitas. Because this is serious business. At least it is for me.

For the last few weeks, I've been keeping a journal of observations on how I eat, what I eat, what triggers my eating, what's working and what isn't. I've been feeling physically out of sorts for a while and winter sure doesn't help. I simply don't move my body as much in the winter and that's a big part of it. But there was something more - something deeper to untangle and it was time to face the music.

I want to point out that this detective work I was doing on my own behalf came from a place of loving observation, not condemnation. This was the perfect exercise for me to experience that the old, mean-spirited and hyper-critical voice in my head had virtually disappeared which was stupendous news.

So, here in brief, is what I've observed about myself:

On a day to day basis, I am not in touch with my natural instincts around food.
I often eat because it's breakfast, lunch or dinner time and not because I'm hungry.
I occasionally use food as a means to distract and disassociate from the moment.
I sometimes eat to combat stress.
I can use food and cooking to procrastinate.
I eat too mindlessly too often.
I sometimes reach for foods that don't make me feel good but have long been a source of comfort.
I will often resist what makes me feel good. (what the?!)
I desire to be more comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

What I also know is this: I am going through major change. And along with the tumult and discomfort inherent in change, also comes this feeling of being ungrounded, which is no freaking day at the carnival, let me tell you. It brings up a lot of fear. So, I've found myself wanting to cling to patterns that are comfortable and familiar just to feel grounded. But the reality is, those old ways of being no longer serve me. I have to create new ways to cope, ones that are life-affirming and make me feel good instead of keeping me physically and emotionally incapacitated.

I love this quote by the brilliant numerology expert, Christine DeLorey:

"Feel your fear, accept its presence, and allow it to move through you, and out of you. This process develops courage, and the ability to recognize those things which really do need to be feared, and those which need not be feared at all. Your feelings are your senses and instincts which, in turn, are vital to your survival."

Here's the other MAJOR thing I figured out from my observational experiment:

I do not allow myself the space to fully feel and acknowledge my feelings. This pattern was set in childhood. It is so old and obsolete and I am still, blindly following its lead. I need to slow down, breathe and acknowledge to myself what I'm feeling. I need to assure myself that everything's alright and that I am safe. This is a new pattern that will take time to gel but one I am forever committed to returning to.

Again, another liberating insight from Christine DeLorey:

"You will learn that your feelings are your only means of activating personal freedom. We have all been conditioned to believe that emotional expression denotes weakness and is "negative." In fact, emotional expression is our strength, our own self-healing mechanism, our only means of freedom, and the ultimate tool of creativity. "

Now, with this new found knowledge, I tried another experiment. I removed what I suspected to be "trigger" foods for me for one week and ate a very simple diet full of clean, organic animal protein and all the fruits and vegetables I desired. The foods I removed were coffee, alcohol, soy, wheat, sugar, dairy, red meat and my beloved salty, snacky treats. I also made a lot of green smoothies where I'd throw handfuls of dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and chard in a blender with berries I'd frozen in the summer, a banana, some papaya or pineapple and water and blend until smooth. I had a lot of energy that week. I started to feel great. I was definitely on to something.

The question became, could I realistically sustain this? Wouldn't it interfere with my social life? Would I begin to feel lonely and outcast? Would I feel deprived? I love a good pizza and a cocktail from time to time. How could this ever work? I honestly don't know.

But I do know that I don't respond well to absolutes. Ideally, I believe in finding balance. I like the idea of simply following what feels good for my emotional and physical well-being one day at a time. Noticing whether my body is saying "yes" or "no". Trusting myself to make decisions in the moment that are in my best interest and to catch myself when I hit slippery slope territory - when I'm building backwards momentum and not feeling my best. Right now, this is what makes sense to me.

When I look back on my long relationship with food, I hit on some remarkable memories that are significant reminders of how far I've come. My ex-boyfriend Joe, whom I lived with for many years in my twenties, recently shared that one of the things that endeared him to me was that I used to like to smoke Camel Lights and eat mint chocolate chip ice cream at the same time! I mean, come on! That's hilarious - my ersatz version of a menthol - I totally love it. But, I'm just so grateful it would never occur to me to do that now!

So, from what I've learned so far (and I'm sure there's more to come), these are my steps for changing outdated eating habits. I firmly believe that excavating the truth - your personal truth - will truly set you free.

Observe yourself in a loving and kind way, not a critical one.

Get clear on what your triggers are. Be honest with yourself about them and know that it's OK.

See if you can begin to cut your triggers off at the pass by kindly acknowledging how you're feeling in the moment and breathe deeply into your body.

Write about what you're feeling in a journal if you need to.

Begin to take notice of your authentic hunger cues. Let yourself get hungry before you eat and see how that feels.

Observe what foods make you feel good and which ones make you feel bad.

Try removing those foods one at a time (or all at once if you're up to it) for a while and see how you feel.

Find a movement/exercise practice that allows you to get out of your head and into your body.

If any of you are moved or can relate to this in any way, I'd love to hear from you. danajoy at realfoodrehab dot com.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Being A Contribution

Not long ago, I set out to reinvent my life with the sole purpose of being the most authentic version of myself that I could be. In my search, I've found many books that have helped me on my path - books that synchronistically seemed to jump off the library shelves right when I needed them. This book, The Art of Possibilityby Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, created a profound shift in how I view what's possible in my personal life, my relationships and in turning around difficult situations to the best advantage for myself and others.

One of the chapters in the book that had the greatest influence on me was called, Being A Contribution. It opened with this parable:

Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them out one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her, "There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?" Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, "It certainly makes a difference to this one."

Reading this chapter was a beautiful wake up call. I recognized that I measure and judge my place in the world far too narrowly: everything is either right or wrong, I am a success or a failure, I am too much or not enough. I am also guilty of occasionally making decisions out of fear based on what other people might think instead of from a place of strong personal belief and integrity. Benjamin Zander, a successful speaker and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, came to the conclusion that instead of measuring his achievements in traditional ways, he could simply declare himself to be a contribution:

"I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, "Is it enough?" and the even more fearful question, " Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?" could both be replaced with the joyful question, "How will I be a contribution today?"

The idea of declaring myself a contribution was liberating. It redirected my way of thinking.
I started to view difficult situations as personal challenges where I had an opportunity to rise to the occasion. I was recently in a work situation that was new and very perplexing. I was mired in negativity about finding a solution to a big problem. I was feeling like a victim and wanted to blame others for my predicament. But then I realized I wanted to resolve this with integrity and for me, that means not finding fault and blaming others but taking personal responsibility. So, I asked myself, "What is the best contribution I can make to this situation?" I visualized a happy outcome for all without having expectations about how it might unfold. I held the tension of not having answers but believing I could find one and ultimately, I did.

Frankly, I am tired of seeing the negative in every situation and of hearing myself say the words, "I can't." (again, fear talking). I knew at my core, that's not who I am or who I want to be in the world. When pressed in dilemma, when I think I have no options, I remember there is always another way and that's the perfect time to declare myself a contribution.

"Naming oneself and others as a contribution produces a shift away from self-concern and engages us in a relationship with others that is an arena for making a difference. Rewards in the contribution game are of a deep and enduring kind, though less predictable than the trio of money, fame and power that accrue to the winner in the success game. You never know what they will be, or from whence they come."

Excerpted directly from the book, here are steps to The Practice of Becoming a Contribution:

1. Declare yourself to be a contribution.

2. Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.

"When you play the contribution game, it is never a single individual who is transformed. Transformation overrides the divisions of identity and possession that are the architecture of the measurement model, recasting the tight pattern of scarcity into a widespread array of abundance."

We all desire abundance. Whether it's financial freedom, friendships, love or creative flow. What if abundance wasn't simply about "me, me, me - that's mine." The scarcity mentality thinks "I can't share this because then there won't be enough for me." The idea that no matter how much we have, there is never enough. That is surely fear talking; we've all experienced it but it is simply not true. I have lived with this mentality my whole life. It has been passed down from generation to generation in my family and I am committed to ending its legacy for good.

I'm going to end with another parable from the book that speaks to possibility and to our "limited understanding of the nature of the gifts the universe holds in store for us."

Four young men sit by the bedside of their dying father. The old man, with his last breath, tells them there is a huge treasure buried in the family fields. The sons crowd around him crying, "Where, where?" but it is too late. The day after the funeral and for many days to come, the young men go out with their picks and shovels and turn the soil, digging deeply into the ground from one end of each field to the other. They find nothing and, bitterly disappointed, abandon the search. The next season the farm had its best harvest ever.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feasting On Art

I recently discovered this incredible blog, Feasting on Art. Its proprietress, Megan Fizell, has combined her passion for food, art and photography and created a unique genre all her own: She creates culinary masterpieces inspired by classic and contemporary works of art, many of them still lifes.

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 8, 1939-42
Oil on canvas, 74 x 68 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

Mondrian's Pound Cake (click for recipe)

Megan is educated as an art historian and currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia. I love the way she describes the original works - for me, it's like getting a double major in art history and culinary education at the same time. Moreover, her site is so visually and sensually exciting - a very inspired place to visit so I hope you will check it out. Below, is my interview with Megan. She also shares her culinary experiences in Sydney, a place I dream about living someday...

How do you describe Feasting on Art?

Feasting on Art is an innovative translation from painting to plate. Taking cues from the ingredients depicted in each work, recipes are composed to reflect the artist's creativity. As a broad survey of both the role of food in the history of art and the gastronomic traditions of the culinary arts, the blog acts as a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

Can you describe your day job and how Feasting on Art intersects with that? How do the two inform one another?

By working at an art gallery I am exposed to new and exciting art on a daily basis in the gallery collection and by the Sydney scene in general. I used one painting on the blog that was sold at the gallery many years ago by Weaver Hawkins.

Your recipes and images aren't literal, but inspired by the original work. Can you describe your process?

The process varies depending on the painting but generally I start with an artwork I find interesting and want to learn more about. I have a large archive of paintings I hope to study and find myself picking art based on the season. I am currently in the middle of a series about Frida Kahlo who created bright and vibrant paintings - perfect for our hot Sydney summer. Sometimes I find beautiful produce at the market and then search for a matching painting to research. Those posts are much harder for obvious reasons.

Frida Kahlo, Still Life, 1942
oil on copper, 64.5 cm diameter, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City

Are these your proprietary recipes?

It depends on the specific recipe - I alternate between adapting recipes by other authors and creating my own. I cite the recipe's original source if adapting so unless otherwise noted the work is my own.

What is your cooking background? How often do you cook for yourself and others?

Up until my move to London my kitchen skills were very limited. I had a very inspiring roommate who introduced me to cooking as a creative outlet. I am self-taught and spend each Sunday testing new recipes. I cook for the blog on Mondays so that I can photograph the food in the fantastic natural light in my flat. When entertaining friends for dinner I often make chipotle chicken enchiladas and a berry lemon cream cheese pie for dessert.

Edouard Manet, The Ham, 1875
oil on canvas, 13 x 16 cm, The Glasgow Museum

I love how much I learn about art and artists on your site. Tell me more about your fascination with still lifes.

Still life paintings are the meeting place of my two passions, food and art. The paintings are so much more than a depiction of a pile of foodstuffs, often the works are saturated with iconography. Food is central to culture - illustrated by it's continual presence in the visual arts.

Can you describe what it's like to be food-obsessed in Sydney, Australia? What are your favorite places to eat?

For me Australia is a small slice of heaven. I can get my greedy little hands on beautiful tropical fruits including my favorite, lady finger bananas, as well as incredibly fresh seafood. I have been in Sydney for less than a year so I am still in the exploration stage of the food scene here. There are so many restaurants on my list to try that I haven't had the chance to go back to the few places where I've had really memorable meals. One of them was at Buon Ricordo in Paddington. While photographing a friend's wedding reception I sampled one of the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth cuts of beef that I ever had. This was proceeded by the restaurant's famous dish,
Fettuccine al Tartufovo described as a fettuccine with cream and Parmesan, topped with a fried truffle egg that is brought to the table and mixed in front of you in all of it's velvety rich glory. I have Buon Ricardo to thank for my current arancini infatuation. Before that fateful meal I had never even heard of the dish and now it seems, wherever I dine, the deep fried risotto balls are popping up on every menu. Last week I had a variety with spinach and parmesan at the North Bondi Italian restaurant below the RSL. Perfect with a squeeze of lemon.

The only restaurant I'm a regular at is a little place in Chinatown on Thomas Street. Sadly, I don't even know the name (if it even has one). It is one of those places that you are brought to, I would never have gone otherwise. It is a small room rented out in a large building that is always full of customers. People sit on whatever they can find including overturned milk crates. You order while you wait and mill about out front with the other 15 or so customers until the waitress calls you over. As you squeeze between the tables, you arrive at a table already laden with food. Everything I've had there has been delicious - thick homemade noodles with a sour-sweet sauce, floury pancakes with moreish meat filling that I spoon onto anything I can get my hands on, as well as the best hot & sour soup with thick meaty strips of black Chinese mushrooms. The decor is wonderfully bizarre, yarn tapestries of cows and fake plastic grape vines that hide the ceiling. I have a fondness for kitsch and appreciate that it provides a little clue for finding this hidden gem. Lastly, I love the restaurant Svens, a Swedish wood-fire pizzeria. My favorite pizza is called Ragnarök - "Judgement Day", complete with chorizo, smoked ham, pancetta, pepperoni and chili creme - so delicious!

You're experiencing summer right now, and I am so jealous. What foods are exciting you? Can you describe it in detail and make all of our mouths water - we're in winter's dark trenches so please share anything you've got!

Image top left, Frida Kahlo, Lágrimas de coco (Coconut Tears),1951
Oil on masonite, 22.8 x 29.8 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I traveled to New Zealand during Christmas break and while walking along the harbour I found half a coconut on the rocks. To me, a girl from Flint, Michigan, the idea of a coconut washing up onto the shore was utterly romantic and for this reason the first post of the new year featured coconuts. To combat the summer heat I selected a smooth coconut milk ice cream - the combination of flavours couldn't be tastier: sweet coconut milk, sour lime juice and spicy ginger, with thick slices of caramelized papaya.

More on Megan Fizell: Here is a great piece on Megan's Top Ten Favorite Things on the blog, Parliament of Two.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Professional Pizza At Home with Sunday Dinner Club

What can a home cook glean from professional chefs? That's what I'm attempting to find out. I have a voracious hunger to learn from those far more experienced than I, so I decided last year to call upon some connections I have with local chefs and see if I could work in their kitchens. The name of this practice is called a stage. Pronounced with a soft a - St-ah-j.

You might recognize Josh and Christine from my Holiday Gift Guide. They own Sunday Dinner and Eat Green Foods (best granola bars on the planet, have you tried them yet?). Sunday Dinner Club is their underground community dining club; you have to be on their email list to get an invitation and it's not easy to get on the list - you have to know someone who's already on the list and be referred by them. They send out invitations for monthly, four-course themed menus, you respond with an RSVP and they let you know where to show up. It's all very hush hush because they are operating out of a private home.

So, it was at this secret location that I showed up to do my stage. It was a traditional, Victorian-style Chicago two-flat with a standard kitchen - a place you'd not expect to be served restaurant quality food.

One of the deal breakers for me in choosing the chefs I wanted to work with was that they only use the best ingredients; that they buy local, sustainable, hand-crafted foods as much as possible. It aligns with my tastes and values and fortunately for all of us, there are so many chefs doing that these days. I have staged for three consecutive months with Sunday Dinner Club and I am blown away by the ingredients in their fridge and larder. Everything they buy and use (and personally eat themselves) is of the highest quality; they shop and source from the best local and international purveyors. Everything they make is from scratch in their kitchen - start to finish. It was a treat to learn and work with these ingredients.

My first stage with Sunday Dinner, they did a series of pizza dinners and I was shocked that you could make professional, Neapolitan-style pizza at home without special equipment.

Here is the menu from their Pizza Dinner, last November 18, 2009:

Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Pancetta & White Beans

Calamari, Chickpeas, Cauliflower, Red Chile Orange Vinaigrette
Butternut Squash and Rainbow Chard Gratin
Finnochiona Salami (fennel salami from Salumeria Biellese) with Housemade Giardiniera
Fried Potato Cake with Leeks & Aioli
Winter Salad Greens, Marcona Almonds, Balsamic

Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale), Chile Flake & Ricotta
Tomato Sauce, fresh Mozzarella & Fennel Sausage
Wild Mushrooms, Creme Fraiche, Caramelized Onions & Rosemary

Zeppole (Fried Donuts) with Local Honey & Cinnamon Sugar

One of the elements of the dinner that I loved the most was their housemade Giardinera
. They served it with fennel salami on a small bruschetta toast. (By the way, the letters ch together in Italian produce the sound of a K - broo-sketta.) It's fresh and bright tasting versus the giardinera soaked in oil you usually see, which has its merits too. They were kind enough to offer me their recipe, so here it is. This is the kind of food I would keep in my fridge and just eat out of the container all the time.

Sunday Dinner Club Giardinera

Makes approximately one quart

Picking Liquid
6 cups water
4 cups vinegar (apple cider or white distilled or combination of both)

2 cloves crushed garlic
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon red chili flake
2 Tablespoons kosher salt

1 cup cauliflower florets, roughly medium dice size
1 cup medium dice carrots
1/2 cup medium dice celery
1/2 cup medium dice sweet bell pepper
1/2 cup medium dice shiitake mushrooms

Other Ingredients
1/2 cup sliced green olives (preferably Castelvetrano or Lucques)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Bring pickling liquid and aromatics to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Strain out aromatics and return the liquid to a simmer.

Add carrots to the liquid and cook for one minute. Add cauliflower and celery, cook for one additional minute. Add peppers and cook for one additional minute. Add mushrooms and turn off the liquid. Allow vegetables to steep for 5 minutes. Strain vegetables and discard the liquid. Cool vegetables completely on a sheet pan. Once cooled, add olives to mixture and toss mixture with olive oil. Serve with diced finocchiona on toasted bread.

Best Home Made Pizza

Here's the pizza recipe. It is made with "oo" flour, which is as fine as silt and high in protein. It's the essential ingredient for the dough. I haven't worked with dough much at all and was very intimidated, but the trick is to not over handle it. You could make a batch of dough and after you divide it into four portions, keep them in the freezer until you're ready to use them. The other trick is to parbake the dough, which is thoroughly explained below. Buy the best quality ingredients you can afford for the toppings, that's what makes the biggest difference of all. The other great thing I learned is how to make creme fraiche. It's so expensive to buy at the store but so ridiculously easy to make and can be used for both savory and sweet dishes. Mix one part organic buttermilk to three parts organic heavy whipping cream in a container and let sit out covered overnight. Voila, you have creme fraiche. On the pizzas, we used a large spoonful of it, rubbed it across the dough with the back of a spoon and then put the caramelized onions, mushrooms and rosemary on top. It was my favorite pizza of all.

OK, happy pizza making....

Inspired by Jim Lahey 's Sullivan Street Bakery no knead technique - pizza dough recipe

Makes 4 10-inch pizzas


3 cups "00" Flour (found at Italian Grocery Stores like Bari Foods and Caputo's)
1/2 teaspoon Instant Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/2 cups Water
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (good quality)


To make and portion dough:

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until mixture comes together in a slack dough. It should look loose and wet.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 18 hours at room temperature.

After the 18 hour rise, preheat oven to 500 degrees F and place a pizza stone on the middle rack. Flour your work surface and pour the dough onto the surface. Sprinkle the dough liberally with flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and place on a heavily floured sheet pan with at least one inch between each of the doughs. Cover with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and allow to rise for two additional hours.

To shape and parbake dough:

Heavily flour your work surface and place dough on the surface. Begin to gently stretch the dough out from the center with your finger tips, rotating the dough and being careful not to create holes. Leave the rim in tact, trying to preserve as much air in the dough (especially in the rim) as possible. Once the dough is stretched to about 9 inches around, place the dough on a floured pizza peal or the back of sheet pan. Brush dough liberally with olive oil. Moving quickly (as to minimize heat loss), open the oven, slide the dough onto the baking stone and close the oven.

Parbake each dough about 4-5 minutes until it is bubbly and lightly golden brown around the edges. Remove pizza crust from the oven and allow to cool in a single layer on a sheet pan. At this point, without compromising quality, you can hold the parbaked pizza crust uncovered at room temperature for a maxium of two hours before finishing baking with toppings.

To finish pizzas:

Preheat broiler. Add toppings of choice to each pizza, leaving 1-inch around the rim and being careful not to put too much weight on the crust. Sprinkle pizzas with kosher salt and black pepper. Place pizza under the broiler for about 1 minute and watch carefully. Pizzas left unattended with most likely (and tragically) burn. Rotate pizza with tongs if neccessary to get even cooking and browning on the toppings. You might need a couple of additional minutes and rotations to get the desired finish, but you want the pizza toppings to bubble and begin to brown. Transfer finished pizza from the sheet pan onto a cutting board. Allow to rest for 1 minute, drizzle with olive oil and eat immediately.

Topping suggestions:

Tomato Sauce, Fennel Sausage, Fresh Mozzarella and Stravecchio (or Parmesan)

Creme Fraiche, Caramelized Onions, Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms and Fresh Rosemary

Braised Italian Kale, Chili Flake and Ricotta Cheese

Photos by Tyler Mallory