One Sweet Lady Trying Not to Get FatJuly 23, 2009
When I switched from the savory side of the kitchen to pastry I had no idea I would find my life’s calling. If I am not surrounded by bowls of melting chocolate or cases of juicy peaches, I am thinking, reading or writing about desserts. Twenty years, four cookbooks and countless restaurant menus later, I still get as excited about desserts as I did my first day in the pastry department at Stars Restaurant. I am the envy of friends whose jobs consist of staring at computer screens. I do consider myself fortunate but there is a downside which I am constantly asked about- why aren’t I fat? It is a daily effort but here are a few tricks I have learned over the years to avoid overindulging.
I try to eat a good amount of whole grains, veggies and low fat proteins. Many people complain that all they can think about when they are on a diet are the foods that are off limits. I have learned to enjoy nourishing food in a different way than desserts. I need them for physical fuel to keep my body and mind active and to hopefully help me live a longer life. I keep a mental list of my favorite healthy comfort foods and try to eat these every day. I am fortunate to live in California where our fruits and veggies are amazing. For some of my favorite healthy recipes go to my website and click on “What’s for dinner besides chocolate”.
In a way desserts are like shoes. When I shop for a new pair of shoes, I know I cannot afford every pair I covet. If I buy Cole Haan shoes and put it on my credit card I will pay it off the following month. If I overindulge in sweets one day, I cut back until I am caught up. Like a shoe budget I have a sweet budget.
I know my weaknesses. I don’t keep ice cream at home. If I have ice cream in the freezer I will eat it- anytime day or night. Working at my desk I hear it calling my name from the freezer. I have always envied my sister-in-law Katie’s ability to have it in her freezer. She buys it for her kids but she feels no impulse to dig a spoon into the container. That’s more will power than I will ever have.
Unless a dessert needs to sit overnight for the flavors to blend or get to the right consistency, I don’t eat day old desserts. In my business there will always be new desserts the next day.
Having a good dessert doesn’t have to mean a caloric overload. Fragrant summer berries made into a sorbet, a baked apple served with some yogurt or a cake made with nut oil instead of butter can satisfy my sweet tooth.
But let’s be truthful here. For mental gratification I want summer pudding and tiramisu. Desserts bring emotional pleasure that salmon or spinach, no matter how deliciously prepared cannot achieve. I am much more apt to eat healthier at home during the week if I know I will have something sweet when I have friends over for dinner. Some days as I drag myself out on the tennis court or try to get my legs turning at spin class, the thought of a warm chocolate chip cookie is my primary motivator to push myself a little harder.
So has the pursuit of health and exercise diminished my passion for sweets? Actually, it’s just the opposite. My taste buds have been heightened. I am not willing to waste calories on anything mediocre. It has to be the best or it’s not worth it. Like the bumper stickers seen around the Bay Area that promote “No Wimpy Wines” I say- No Dull Desserts. One Recchiuti truffle is more satisfying than a supersized commercial candy bar.
The days of “never trust a thin chef” are over. Many pastry chefs like me strive to be fit. Yes, we have to exercise more restraint than the average person but keep in mind if we can do it so can you.
Of course I still have my moments of gluttony. The worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) is line-up at the restaurant. All the desserts are plated to make sure everything tastes as it should and the presentation is correct. I tell myself to just taste them. One small bite is all I need to know if it is okay to serve. But often I catch myself going back for more. They are too good to resist. And that’s when I prepare to get back on my bike and pedal a little farther.