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Savor more flavor in 2017: How to binge on less junk, enjoy more good

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Other people’s “healthy” holiday resolutions always tend to bum me out. A good friend wants to lose 10 pounds in 10 days or a well-meaning relative wants to “quit carbs” for some vague reason. I’m all for making healthy decisions with the help of a trusted health professional, but can we just get some perspective here for a moment?

SLO DOWN:  Whether you take a cooking class to learn wholesome recipes or dive into dozens of prix fixe menus offered up for San Luis Obispo County’s January Restaurant Month, be sure to eat with equal parts mindfulness and pleasure. - FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • SLO DOWN: Whether you take a cooking class to learn wholesome recipes or dive into dozens of prix fixe menus offered up for San Luis Obispo County’s January Restaurant Month, be sure to eat with equal parts mindfulness and pleasure.

One of the biggest troubles with the standard American diet has to do with how much—not just what—we’re shoveling into our pie holes. Really, both issues factor in, big time. We’re eating too much of what we don’t really love. We’ve forgotten what real fat, real meat, real butter, real spices taste like.

We’ve all heard about the French. They’re slimmer than us, sexier than us, and they eat small portions of fantastic cheeses, breads, and chocolates on a daily basis. They scoff at processed foods (and wonder why anyone would gobble a frozen Salisbury steak TV dinner over a small portion of perfectly cooked filet mignon). We could learn a thing or two from our baguette-loving friends, oui

A tasty resolution

Let’s get to the root of the problem. Let’s binge less and savor more. Let’s ditch mindless snacking and stick to eating consciously, with intention and enthusiasm (and oodles of finger-licking pleasure).

Buddhists have known this forever: Thoughtful moderation—not knee-jerk restriction—is the key to a good life. So, let’s try something new together and fling that trendy diet de jour out the window. With any luck, the words “turkey burger no bun, no cheese” will never again tumble from your flavor-starved mouth.

So, how do we get to maximum pleasure and a healthier body? Resolution one: Eat more of what we absolutely love.

This means cutting back on all those meaningless calories filling up your life (that extra half a bagel, nameless bag of chips, or sugary office doughnuts someone brought in). Here’s my advice. It’s simple. Be more adventurous. Actually go out of your way to seek out culinary pleasures; don’t just accept what’s been put before you.

This tactic may sound counterintuitive, but believe me: You’ll be way less inclined to gobble that extra slice of cold pizza in front of your laptop when you already know you have an exciting dinner planned later in the evening. Making time to savor really good food makes everything else taste like packing peanuts. This is a great thing. 

Make a date of it

Just as a single glass of chardonnay tastes infinitely better if you’ve waited all week for it, food can take on an orgasmic property if truly celebrated. In other words: Make your food choices into events, and enjoy every moment of them. One beautiful way to do this? Take part in January Restaurant Month, which puts more than 50 SLO County restaurants on a proverbial platter (each is serving up a delish three-course prix fixe menu for just $30). This is the best time to take a flavor risk, embark on a culinary adventure, and try something new.

MODERATION IS KEY:  Don’t deprive yourself, but do take good care of your gut. Make room for a burger (like this behemoth at Flavor Factory in Morro Bay) on occasion, and enjoy every mouthful. - FILE PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • FILE PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • MODERATION IS KEY: Don’t deprive yourself, but do take good care of your gut. Make room for a burger (like this behemoth at Flavor Factory in Morro Bay) on occasion, and enjoy every mouthful.

Where to start? Try dining on the coast, where you can taste the real catch of the day. Here, local fishermen haul in fresh catches each morning, including native lingcod, rockfish, sea bass, halibut, and more (just ask, “What’s local?”). You can also find flavorful farmed Morro Bay oysters or Cayucos abalone on many menus, alongside a splashy new trend: tender octopus imported from Spain.

Eating seasonally and locally is another incredible way to introduce yourself to Mother Nature’s tastiest morsels, as you very well already know. With land this fertile, SLO area chefs have license to paint with nature’s brightest and most breathtaking produce. Vibrant edible flowers, earthy foraged mushrooms, and local, site-specific heritage breed meats are more satisfying than mass-grown ingredients shipped from thousands of miles away. Go to visitsanluisobispocounty.com/restaurant-month to see the range of awesome local eateries offering deep discounts and fresh menus now.

I know what you’re thinking. Eating this way all the time would cost an arm and a leg! I’m not saying you should eat out all the time. I certainly don’t. That would defeat the special nature of the experience, detract from the magic. You know what I’m going to say. If you want to eat well, feel fabulous, and save some dough, you should really be cooking way more. Take a tip from grandma and get back to some from-scratch basics.

Make flavor happen

My heart sings when I cook with the best local ingredients of the season, picked by hand from SLO County’s more than a dozen farmers’ markets. Doesn’t it just feel good to support local farmers while nourishing yourself? Intimidated home chefs, fear not. Plenty of local do-gooders are teaching cooking classes that show even the most helpless cooks how to sauté, blanch, and caramelize.

DINE WITH THE SEASONS:  Support local farmers—like Larry Kandarian of Los Osos, here—by shopping local farmers’ markets in 2017. - FILE PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • FILE PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • DINE WITH THE SEASONS: Support local farmers—like Larry Kandarian of Los Osos, here—by shopping local farmers’ markets in 2017.

Kacey Skinner (who has lent her talents to Bliss Cafe, The Gardens of Avila, and New Earth Health Cafe) will be offering a holiday detox meal cooking class Wednesday, Jan. 25, from 6 to 9 p.m. that teaches newbies how to create a six-course healthy meal. You’ll come away with knowledge on how to prepare your own high-fiber meals that aid the body in digestion, increase metabolism, boost the immune system and—most importantly—give your taste buds waves of joy. I mean, c’mon. The girl’s known for her whole-food desserts, including fruit cashew “cheesecake,” and organic chocolate peanut butter cups. Email kaceycakesclasses@gmail.com to register. 

Recommended reading

Want to follow the middle road to better health, bolder flavor, and less blah? Try these fantastic reads that inspire, stir the appetite, and question the status quo: The SLO Farmers’ Market Cookbook by Kendra Aronson; How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman; The Dortito Effect by Mark Schatzker; and whole foods cooking blog cookieandkate.com. There’s plenty more to explore, and if you have a suggestion, send it my way. Like all art, food is an ever-expanding medium. The journey is just as delicious as the destination.

Now, dear reader, I send you on your way. Eat well, chew consciously, and never skip dessert. Split it with someone you love!

Hayley Thomas Cain eats real butter all season long. She can be reached at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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