Practice Pleasure

When I lived in Paris, I never saw a French woman sneak into a patisserie or assume a guilty hunch over their dessert. Yet it’s true that the French are a lighter lot than we Americans. Entire books have been written pondering this paradox, but today I want to focus on one key aspect: pleasure. The French know how to enjoy their food and this week, with the celebration of Bastille Day, is a great time for us to do so too.

Learning how to enjoy our food is about more than just happy thoughts. One initial study showed that tuning in to our food can lessen the likelihood of binge eating and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Another study of brain activity revealed that the anticipation of eating is what triggers a pleasure response in obese people, rather than the actual food itself. The message in both of these findings? When we learn to take pleasure from each and every bite, it will help us break harmful eating patterns and establish healthier ones.

Not sure how? Try these five steps:

Step 1: Recognize that no food is off-limits. Do you see French women skipping over fruit tarts in favor of something “lighter?” Low-fat Oreos probably aren’t going to bring you as much pleasure as a slice of chocolate cake will.

Step 2: Wait to eat until you’re hungry; wait to eat a treat until you really crave it.

Step 3: Eat slowly and pay attention with as many of your senses as you can while you gauge how much pleasure you’re getting from each bite.

Step 4: When you realize that the flavor has dulled or that you’re not really thinking about the food in front of you anymore but about a pile of clothes you need to take to the dry cleaners, or an e-mail you need to send, or what you’re going to make for tomorrow’s dinner, stop. Put your fork down and push the plate away.

Step 5: Notice how you feel and note how many bites you’ve actually taken–probably less than ten. There. You’ve proven to yourself that you can enjoy your favorite foods without feeling guilty or compromising your weight or health.

This week, practice these steps. Soon you’ll be oh-so-Francais by enjoying food . . . without overindulging.

Happy Quatorze Juillet!

Go-to Vinaigrette

People are often shocked when they see how easy it is to make this homemade vinaigrette recipe. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients using these general ratios. Try swapping the garlic and white wine vinegar for shallots and champagne vinegar, for instance, or even ginger and rice wine vinegar. The jar serves as both shaker and storage container. No need for a bowl and a whisk — or store-bought salad dressing.


Spaghetti Carbonara

This recipe was inevitable. Last week, while I was reviewing the whole grain spaghettis for this post, I had a dozen fresh eggs from a friend’s hens sitting next to a few slices of really tasty bacon in the fridge . . . the ingredients for a major carbonara craving. Carbonara is a rich dish, so I like to serve small portions alongside a generous green salad tossed with my go-to vinaigrette.


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick strips
1/2 pound whole wheat pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, minced

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and add onion. Saute for 2 minutes; add bacon, and cook another 8-10 minutes until bacon and onion are well-browned. Transfer mixture to a paper towel and let cool while pasta cooks.

Add pasta to water and cook according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water.

While pasta is cooking, whisk together cheese, yolks, sour cream, vinegar and onion mixture. In a separate small bowl, when pasta is nearly done, whisk together a tablespoon of the egg mixture with a tablespoon of pasta water and pour back into the egg mixture. Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons pasta water into the egg mixture.

Drain pasta and return it to the pot. Toss with the egg mixture and parsley, and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Whole Grain Pasta Challenge

Every time I’m at the market, it seems like I spot a new addition to the whole grain pasta category. I love pasta, and I love whole grains . . . but I admit to being less than impressed when the two have met in the past. Now that there are so many choices out there, though, I thought it was time to take a closer look.

The Ideal

I’ve found most whole wheat pastas in the past to be either gummy, with a sort of stick-to-your-teeth kind of feel, or so brittle as to break when spinning around a fork. In this test, my ideal texture was a true ‘al dente’ toothsomeness without being overly chewy or dry. And while I enjoy a strong, whole-wheat flavor for certain dishes, in this case I was looking for a neutral taste without being so bland as to risk muting the flavors of an entire dish.

In other words, in this taste test, I was searching for whole grain pasta that looked, acted and tasted as much like traditional pasta as possible.

The Results

I tried eight spaghettis in all, cooked precisely to their individual time specifications in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. Here’s how they fared:

*** Best ***

bella-italia-thumbBella Italia Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti
Bella Italia spaghetti tastes like what you’d find in Italy, and its minimalistic ingredient list—organic, whole durum wheat flour and water—is probably what makes it so. This spaghetti most closely resembled traditional pasta in both taste and texture, earning a 4+ out of a possible 5.

*** Late addition — Check out the new Jovial brand pasta, made from an ancient strain of wheat called Einkorn. It too merits best status.

** Very Good **

de-cecco-thumbDeCecco Enriched Whole Wheat Spaghetti
DeCecco is a bit darker in color with good flavor. While it has a nice bite, it did border on chalky; maybe because of a coarser semolina grind, or maybe because of the ubiquitous nutritional “fortifications” (niacin, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid) added in the US. 4 out of 5.

* Good *

barilla-plus-thumbBarilla Plus Spaghetti
Barilla Plus is the whole grain pasta that first won me over, and it still holds its own in a crowd. This pasta comes from a unique blend of legume/whole grain flour milled from lentils, chickpeas, spelt, barley, flaxseed, oat fiber and oats mixed with durum wheat flour, which gives it a nutritional edge over other pastas. Barilla Plus has double the amount of protein and fiber of traditional pastas and a fair amount of omega-3 fatty acids, an unusual component for pasta. This spaghetti has a mild flavor without being bland along with a decent texture, but it does fall on the crumbly side. 3+ out of 5.

barilla-whole-thumbBarilla Whole Grain Spaghetti
This version of Barilla is made with whole wheat flour (albeit just over the hump at 51%) enriched with oat fiber. The result is a neutral tasting noodle with a respectable bite, although it can tend towards too mushy. 3 out of 5.

Don’t Bother

The rest of the pastas I tasted brought back not-very-fond memories of whole grain pastas of yesteryear and all the shortcomings listed above. None scored above a 2. These included:

  • Eating Right Multigrain Spaghetti
  • O Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti
  • Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Grain Spaghetti

Growing Beyond the Garden

nton-small-iconRelatively speaking, our garden is small. In the past, we’ve designated two narrow beds in back for vegetables and managed to shoe-horn in about half a dozen tomato, eggplant and pepper plants along with some basil, cucumber and pole beans, most of which we grew vertically in cages or along trellises or running up ropes towards the sun. I’ll admit to longing, though, for sprawling zucchini and melon vines, and beans that bloomed at a height my daughter could reach without having to sit on Daddy’s shoulders.


And then about a month ago, inspired by the creativity of urban gardeners, I began to look at my yard differently. Suddenly, I saw those spots in the front where weeds had choked out the chocolate cosmos not as eyesores, but as sunny spaces for zucchini to unfurl. The narrow strip of bare earth along the side of the house, where leggy dahlias had once stood, now beckoned me to bury some seeds. 

I complied and today, sunny orange squash blossoms mingle with the hues of our Joseph’s Coat roses in the front yard, a watermelon vine snakes along the edge of a walkway and the broad, green leaves of bush beans ripple in the breeze beneath our fig. Allowing myself to mingle fruit, vegetable and flower has turned our whole yard into a virtual garden and will bring us nearly half again the amount–and variety–of food as in years past.

This week, suss out your own yard and pick a place you might be able to tuck a stray vegetable or two. Then see how much pleasure the bonus brings to both yard and table throughout the summer season.

Green Beans with Frizzled Shallots

This simple side dish is our answer to that Thanksgiving classic: green bean casserole. But since it’s made with fresh green beans, it’s sooooo much better. The method may seem backwards, but adding the olive oil and shallot at the end makes the flavors even more intense.

Green Beans with Frizzled Shallots

1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 pound medium green beans, topped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Bring broth to a simmer over medium heat and add beans. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, until beans are just pliable. Uncover and increase heat to high. Sauté beans until all liquid has evaporated. Add olive oil, shallot, salt and pepper and continue sautéing for 3-5 minutes, until shallots are crispy and beans are tender and browned in places.

Serves 4