I am a creature of my passions, and food is one of my greatest romances. Hungry or not, I can’t watch a Jane Austen movie without longing for an elegant cup of tea and biscuits. Likewise, a Danish movie (even Babette’s Feast) makes me crave sturdy Danish sourdough rye with a smear of butter and pickled herring. (This is not the stuff of binges, thank God.) It is a problem, however, as these romantic notions more often than not derail my desire to eat well all the time; and as innocuous as a ‘nice hot cup of tea and biscuits’ or a lovely Danish smørrebrød might be, succumbing to them (especially late at night) undoes my fiery attachment to any new program of healthier eating habits. Then I fall prey again, one-by-one, to the other old ways that got me into trouble.
The greatest challenge of any new behavior is to stay in love with the new change — keeping it fresh and part of a newer more interesting story (yes, a romantic one) — and let each old bad habit die like a regrettable relationship that has finally become too boring to remember.
The one change I wanted to make in my frenetic culinary love life? To fall in love with vegetables. I wished that when my tummy grumbled in the late afternoon the thought of a roughly tossed kale salad or steamy spring medley would come to mind.
But when I looked into that refrigerator, those faded limp veggies offered no temptation or even comfort. Salads seemed so cold — stark even — and mustering up a plan that included cooked vegetables just took a higher form of thinking than my brain was capable of in the afternoon. But for whatever reason, those veggies just looked uninspiring, and if my refrigerator was at all untidy, those leafy greens reminded me, alarmingly, of compost.
So here is my new story… I turn those vegetables into something that beckons. (This is something best done when I am not hungry and when my mind is sharpest.) It happens first visually. I make that whole refrigerator really clean and well-ordered, and this is for two reasons: facing a chaotic scene in the afternoon causes me to turn my head back to old comforting ways (more often than not involving grilled cheese or pizza); secondly, a sparkling and orderly refrigerator sets vegetables in particular to best advantage. Think of it this way, the well-behaved guys look so much better at a well-organized glistening soiree, and the bad boys look better in an overcrowded smoky pub, right?
The veggies themselves can be the prettiest thing in that frig. The drawers are lined with fresh cotton toweling (which helps preserve freshness) with all the greens arranged in one drawer, a burst of root vegetable color in the other, a jar or two of zesty fermented decoctionsare at eye level. (Seriously, those fermented darlings are lifesavers. They help with digestion and they are happy to act as convenient stand-ins when I don’t have the strength or focus to cook or shred). I might even have a bowl of blanched vegetables*, ready for a quick toss with vinaigrette or in a stir-fry.
So far, this has worked out tremendously. There have been exactly five times this week I have been dissuaded from going out to some cheap joint to eat, knowing there is a sight for sore eyes waiting for me in the hydrator. Neither have those old ‘comfort food snacks’ had the last word with me.
But perhaps the biggest reason this activity helps is that in my clearer moments, when I am feeling hopeful, bold and rational, I have set the stage for my intentions towards a better life, and I have left a sort of love note to myself-in-the-blurrier-moments that there is another me at other times of the day who is thinking of me now, and who cares about my choices.
*Note: Any of a number of sturdy vegetables (such as broccoli, rabe, cauliflower, green beans, etc.) and/or hearty greens (kale, dandelion greens, collards) can be tossed into a pot of boiling water–as salty as the sea–for just for a minute or two, then removed, strained, and set aside for later use. The salt and quick boil brightens them up without degrading too many vitamins, and turns them into an attractive convenience. They should, however be eaten within a day or two.