By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Experience Life
I knew things had reached a low point the day my husband offered to pour me a bowl of cereal for breakfast and, while peering into the cupboard, asked: “Do you want sticks and twigs, sticks and berries, or just sticks?”
I decided to take a pass on sticks and devote an extra three minutes to making some steel-cut oatmeal, even if I was just doing it the lazy way -in the microwave. I emptied part of a bag of frozen blueberries into the oatmeal and topped it with milk: Mercy! I suddenly had a delicious breakfast made of real food, not a tragic meal of something that looked like bedding for hamsters. Now that wasn’t that hard, was it?
No, in terms of the cooking and time, it wasn’t hard at all. Conceptually, though, it was sort of tough.
Like so many modern people, I, too, am prone to falling into the trap of thinking that eating healthfully means sacrifice, scarcity and unpleasantness and, conversely, that eating happily means lying to your cardiologist.
Cookbook author, chef and cooking-school tutor Myra Kornfeld has made a career of trying to show people a third path: “It’s true,” she says. “People do think that something healthy is just going to be sort of sad and not flavorful or fun or luscious. But I don’t think there’s any conflict between luscious eating and healthy eating. That’s why my cookbooks have words like “hedonist” and “voluptuous” in them -people need to know that good food doesn’t have to be monastic.”
Kornfeld, who’s written The Voluptuous Vegan (Clarkson Potter, 2000) and The Healthy Hedonist (Simon & Schuster, 2005), has, for her latest effort, taken on the third rail of American food: the holidays.
I call the holidays the third rail because it seems to me the particular place where ideas of abundance and scarcity clash: If we skip the eggnog, candied yams, appetizers and desserts, we’re “good” -and lonely and deprived. If we have it all, we’re “bad” -though warm, happy and a well-loved part of the celebration. Sound familiar? But Kornfeld insists it doesn’t have to be this hard.
In The Healthy Hedonist Holidays: A Year of Multi-Cultural, Vegetarian-Friendly Holiday Feasts (Simon & Schuster, 2007), she puts together elaborate celebration meals for all the big American holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and day, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and all the rest. These are celebration meals that show a holiday table can be abundant, laden and healthy.
Her version of sweet potatoes, for instance, gets its sweetness from natural potatoes, coconut milk, a little fresh lime juice and a mere tablespoon of maple syrup. It relies on the way a sour element like lime juice showcases sweetness as effectively as, say, adding more sweetness with mini-marshmallows.
Kornfeld also shows, through advance-prep time lines, how you can do the cooking for one of those zillion-course extravaganzas that are only possible to pull off during the holidays. More miraculously, she proves that an extravaganza can be healthy. How? Lots of the courses can be beautiful salads and vegetables. And for dessert, a butternut squash pie is Kornfeld’s solution to ending a holiday meal with the rich opulence of a cheesecake- without the heaviness.
“I really do think that part of the equation when you’re eating is how you’re going to feel afterward,” she says. “If you have this nice, delicious meal, but you feel like a brick when you’re done, is that good food?”
Kornfeld is convinced there’s a better way -a more enjoyable way. “We’ve become this culture of black and white: It’s either deprivation or it’s too much. Too often we think deprivation is going to be what saves us, so we ask ourselves: What can we take away? What can we deny ourselves? But if you come from abundance, that’s the key. I recently talked to someone who had some health issues and lost 100 pounds, but his diet now is so sad it almost makes me cry -nothing but steamed vegetables and boneless chicken breasts. I gave him a copy of my book, and said, “You can add some flavor to your life and still be healthy.” Life and food are not black or white -there’s a big lovely gray in there. There are ways to not deprive yourself, but still find you’re eating really well.”
That’s good news to me, because, truth be told, I never liked those bowls of sticks and twigs. I’d much rather have an abundance of sweet potatoes and salads.