Eating Transformed: At a certain age, many of us need foods that are healthy, plain and simple
NOTE: Before you read this blog, take a look at our lifelessonsat50plus.com homepage. Scroll down to "See how two age-defiers enjoy life!" Hit the button under the heading and check us out. Barbara and Margaret
Never before have so many worthy options for cooking and eating presented themselves. Long ago, our grandmothers and mothers unhurriedly flipped through Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s magazines to update their recipes for standard fare that to us now seems unimaginative. And, oh, so many casseroles that lasted for days or recycled other meals’ ingredients.
Today, we’re subjected to thousands of choices, some so strange we shrug and go huh? As Barbara writes below. She just wants food that’s plain, recognizable and simple. And she wants foods described simply so she understands what’s in a recipe and why.
After Margaret was diagnosed with reflux (there will be no “organ recital” here where she yammers on about her health), she had to change her way of eating. It would be necessary now to spend lots of time contemplating what to put into her mouth. Margaret was the carb and sugar queen. This is quite a drastic change for her but she’s sticking to it. Since she’s, Not Dead Yet (our book title) she wants to stay as healthy as possible.
Here is a food scenario from each of us. Bon appetite! .
Dinner is Served…but what is it? Barbara pines for ‘simple’ food as her taste buds evolve
By Barbara Ballinger
At 72, when it comes to what I eat, I like plain foods—a great charred black-and-blue burger (beef preferably or salmon cooked rare), a roasted chicken a la Zuni restaurant in San Francisco, grilled or poached salmon and maybe a vegetable stir fry with shrimp or chicken or even all vegetables. No tofu, please.
As a young married woman, I got into cooking and experimented after Julia Child published her Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I worked my way through, from onion soup to quiches, beef bourguignon and apple tarts, then onto the Silver Palate cookbook duo’s recipes, including their famous chicken Marbella, and next up was almost every dessert in all of Maida Heatter’s dessert cookbooks including her iconic Queen Mother’s cake and black and white poundcake. She was my idol.
I could make anything a first time for a dinner party and know it would work out splendidly. And I cooked what I wanted for company at a time when nobody told the host in advance that they couldn’t eat this because they had a food allergy or that because they were a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian. It was a different era. And, a time of great sharing about cookbooks and new dishes.
When I ate out, I learned to try new cuisines--hot and spicy Chinese food, Indian papadums and curries, and wonderful colorful salads with who-knows-what tossed in! I was adventuresome on trips to foreign countries and tasted the local cuisine, which meant eating frogs’ legs in Paris and again I-don’t-know-what from food stalls in Oaxaca and Mexico City. I never got sick, fortunately.
But along the way or through the years something happened. I grew less interested in going beyond my comfort zone. No squid for me, no matter how it was prepared. No eels, clams, mussels, oysters of any kind or little birds with wings tied back. I didn’t like the way any of these foods looked or sounded. I felt like a child, thinking to myself, “yuck.”
Some friends make fun of my limited taste buds, but I hold firm. I know what I like—or thought I did and feel comfortable eating only from a small repertoire. I never made a point of telling anyone in advance if an invitation was extended but if asked, I was honest. “I will have enough with whatever is served; do not worry,” was my response. And that way I also did not feel embarrassed in front of others.
Of late I noticed that in some very trendy restaurants the menu choices seem like Greek to me, and I don’t understand their pairings. I also find that less and less appeals. At one hip restaurant in ever so hip Hudson, N.Y., I couldn’t understand why whole wheat sourdough bread needed both cultured butter and bee pollen or a ricotta appetizer had to have both pickled blueberry and preserved mushrooms. Both combinations may be delicious, but I wasn’t going to find out.
At another sophisticated resort in a nearby town, one of the main courses was roasted pork belly with rhubarb and wild chives. Why wild? What does that do for the taste? Again, perhaps, delicious but not for me. I had reverted to a squeamish child; at least I didn’t care if different foods touched one another on the plate.
Nothing so exotic will also make its way into my kitchen prep and onto my dining table when I start extending invitations again. I will keep to my choices, always asking others if they eat beef, fish, chicken or seafood and then cooking them with ingredients I recognize and like. Have my more boring choices affected friendships? I don’t know. At least friends know that they can always count on a good yummy old-fashioned dessert, perhaps, a towering chocolate cake with a deep dark bittersweet icing or a luscious fluffy coconut cake with lemon curd filling.
Maybe, more important is that the narrowing of my food list has not affected my love of food in general, the idea of enjoying a stroll through a grocery store or farmer’s market, especially when in a new city or country. I also still love having friends around my table for good conversation—even about other topics than food. And I still love to read and listen about food. In fact, I find little more interesting than hearing some skilled like Nigella Lawson write and narrate about her favorite chocolate peanut butter birthday cake or her idea of how to prepare beef cheeks, even if neither appeals to my taste buds. I also love to hear Margaret boast about making the best chocolate chip cookies with great expensive imported chocolate or the most delectable lemon-y lemon bars.
Food and cooking are ways to share, whether it’s something new and exotic or old fashioned and from our family recipe files. They are ways to show how much we are connected to our roots but also evolve as people. I remember as a little girl pushing the mushrooms off my chopped sirloin burger at our favorite family restaurant, Washington Arms in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Now what I wouldn’t give for having just a mound of those sauteed mushrooms.
How great that food can give us such joy, whatever it is is my new less judgmental view since I know these differences are as distinctive as we are. Or in plainer terms, my mother would say that’s why there’s both chocolate and vanilla ice cream, though in today’s fancier food scene there’s also lemon with poppy seeds, lavender with honey, cheesecake with blueberry drizzled through and all sorts of other concoctions. I tend to ignore them all.
Lean on Carb Cuisine….the changes in Margaret’s eating habits are, for now, eating her up
By Margaret Crane
I am in a food fight, an attack on the sugars and starch that had become the mainstay of my diet of late, especially during the pandemic. These comfort foods gave me, well comfort and then heartache, both a medical condition and a break-up with my love affair for unhealthy foods.
I am paying the price.
I became scared as my gastroenterologist told me that I could cause great damage to myself if I continued eating this way. Yet, it’s hard for me to rationalize since these foods have given me so much pleasure--in the moment. We know that eating carbs and sugar puts you on a cycle where you crave it, eat it and need more. It’s a true addiction. And if you need more proof, go watch the movie, Food Inc.
My existential angst to change my eating habits is palpable. I have always been too secure in my good health and weight to be swayed by healthy food fads—keto, paleo, Mediterranean, Atkins, Scarsdale and so forth. In fact, I used to cringe when friends and family were on special diets, and they’d have to ask a waiter about every ingredient in something or interrogate me if I had them for dinner. What a bore, I’d think. Until…I needed to call in a nutritionist.
She made what I ate a matter of great importance. Being diligent would counteract the acid reflux. I had to take personal responsibility for my diet and attend to it privately and consistently at all meals.
Now, I have become one of those people I used to scorn. Recent example: When I tried to buy a vegan scone, I asked the salesclerk, “How is it made? Does it have sugar? What kind of flour? Milk?” Who is this person, I thought? Or when Barbara told me about some goodies to be consumed at one of her daughter’s baby showers, I had to explain, “I’ll enjoy looking at them but can’t eat them.” Eating this way now has become part of my daily routine like flossing my teeth.
I wondered if I could leave my new diet at home when I’m out for the night at a restaurant? Or, is this new diet a form of food bondage to only healthy ingredients? It’s a work in progress as I learn to substitute almond, wholewheat or arrowroot flour for Gold Medal all-purpose flour; coconut sugar, dates or other fruit including organic applesauce without sugar to add sweetness to recipes; oat or almond milk or 1 percent milk in lieu of half and half or whole milk; smoothies made with avocado, bananas and plain Greek yogurt (rather than ice cream) and some kale, spinach leaves or zucchini to add thickness and nutrients.
Worst of all may be no more yummy bread. I am now eating health bread on which I spread an almond or cashew butter, nutritious and chock full of calories, so I don’t lose more weight. To add to the angst, this diet is expensive. A jar of almond butter in New York City, is $17. Ouch!
My craving for chocolate is a problem since it is verboten; it’s difficult to digest. Protein, protein, protein like location, location, location is occupying most of my body’s real estate at the moment. I don’t eat red meat so it’s lots of plain chicken breast or fish without butter (I used to consume buckets of butter) or lemon (too acidic). Throw in the mix no garlic or onions and cooked rather than raw veggies such as asparagus or zucchini. Potatoes and rice are okay, neither of which I particularly like.I used to be an expert on the best French fries. Now all fried foods are banned. Bland soft foods for the most part are top of the chart because they’re easy to digest. Beans in limited amounts for protein are okay but they cause bloating and the g-word.
Can I cheat? Yes, but this diet is supposed to change my life for the better. And like an alcoholic, a little sugar or carbs will make me possibly fall off the wagon.
Eating this new way, I am told, will increase my energy, I’ll look and feel great. Since I don’t want my food conversion to healthier eating to be a failure or something I can’s stick with, I am working on figuring out how to hang on to some of what I used to enjoy such as snacking--munching on ripe cheese, almond flour crackers and cookies and vegan pastries.
I now joke that I literally “eat like a bird. That doesn’t mean small amounts, it means lots of nuts, seeds—chia seeds (never heard of them) flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and green leafy things. To me, tofu looked like a bar of soap. Now, it’s a major part of my protein diet. In other words, mostly plant-based foods and oils. And what the heck is dukkah, za'tar, peppadew and tacu tacu? New terms to add to my vocabulary list.
So, I embark on this new eating journey and mix in some…but not too much innovation as I try hard to stick to the program. I am no longer consulting the The Silver Palate or any of Ina’s or Julia’s cookbooks, my former cooking bibles. Rather, now it’s healthy food blogs and reading writers like Michael Pollan who espouses that we “eat real [plant based] foods” and wrote "Food Rules." Or, there is Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born British chef, restauranteur and food writer of Plenty, Plenty More and Simple or Naturally Nourished: healthy, delicious meals made with everyday ingredients by Sarah Britton. It’s all about living the best and the healthiest life possible as I age, something we point out in our new book will help keep us alive. I figure that would be nice!
No worries, I think. I’ll find my comfortable place in this new food world. Right now, however, I must prepare my dinner-- crispy tofu with blistered snap peas and cashews. Recipe below if you care to join me on this new journey.
Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Snap Peas from the New York Times by Yewande Komolafe
- 1 (14-ounce) block firm or extra-firm tofu, drained
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed, vegetable or canola, plus more as needed
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ¾ pound snap peas, trimmed
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 garlic cloves, grated
- 1 (13-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk (light or full-fat)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons molasses, dark brown sugar or honey
- ½ cup toasted cashews
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup mint leaves, torn if large
- ½ to 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (optional)
- Rice or any steamed grain, for serving
- Slice the tofu in half horizontally and leave on paper towels to dry any excess liquid.
- In a medium skillet or cast-iron pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high until it shimmers. Season both sides of the tofu with salt and black pepper, place in the pan and sear without moving until tofu is browned and golden on both sides, turning once halfway through, about 8 minutes total. Move the tofu to a plate.
- Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and add the snap peas. Cook, stirring occasionally, until blistered and just tender, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and move to a bowl.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, add the ginger and garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the coconut milk, soy sauce and molasses. Simmer, stirring frequently until the sauce reduces and its color deepens to a dark brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. It should coat a spoon without running right off. Stir in the cashews, break the tofu into 1-inch pieces and toss in the pan to coat with sauce. Remove from heat, and taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
- Toss the snap peas with the rice vinegar, scallions, mint and red-pepper flakes, if using. Divide among plates, along with the tofu and cashews. Serve with rice or any steamed grain.