Friday, January 6, 2012

Time To Be Resolute, 2012 Edition



Will thinks that one of my less attractive traits is an addiction to resolution-making, so I appreciate New Years for the chance it gives me to make resolutions without being overly sneered at.  (I also make resolutions at the beginning of a new semester—almost always starting with “Don’t procrastinate with grading papers”—usually after a long vacation, sometimes even at beginnings of new months…)  Sure, I dig up my previous year’s resolutions to discover that I’ve adhered to less than 5% of them, but 2012 is another year.  It’s gotten to the point where I write “Ditto last year’s resolutions but lose 5 pounds more this year,” but I still insist on not only articulating my resolve but also committing these resolutions to paper.

Last year, I tried something new.  Yes, I really did write “Ditto” to resolutions from the year before, but I also tried organizing my resolutions under a central motif.  For 2011, it was “De-Cluttering.”  That meant cleaning out closets, pantries, refrigerator, desks, file cabinets, den, counter tops—anything that could contain clutter.  Despite an embarrassingly meager success rate, I’ve decided to stay on that course of streamlining (de-cluttering?) New Year’s resolutions.  Since I just recently started this blog dedicated—mostly—to food, I’ve decided that my central motif this year could revolve around “Food,” including under this large umbrella category any relevant sub-categories.

So, my Food-themed 2012 New Years Resolutions:

1. Eat out more selectively.
We are actually not too bad in this category (no daily $4 lattes that slowly bankrupt us, etc.), but we could still do better.  Some people routinely eat their lunches at low/mid-cost restaurants; we almost always pack our lunches with leftovers (which we generate for this very purpose).  Between not wanting to waste time at work or spend money needlessly, the packed lunch was less a nutritional choice than a pragmatic one.  To make up for this incidental virtue, when we do eat out, we often indulge in multi-course meals at higher-end restaurants with fairly hefty price-tags.  Though we still want to try out all the best new restaurants with up-and-coming chefs, we've decided we should make dining out at a “nice” place a choice for a special occasion, something we look forward to with anticipation because we do it so rarely.  Spend less money and enjoy the experience more!  Makes perfect resolution sense to me.

2. Control Portion Sizes When Eating Out.
Though we don’t eat out much at fast-food places (see #1 above), we recently found ourselves drawn to the smell of burgers and fries at Five Guys.  Before I write anything more, I should confess that we really enjoyed the burgers and fries we had at Five Guys.  That admission aside, we were a little surprised to discover that one bacon cheeseburger and one regular order of fries (no drinks or other items) came to $10.71.  We shouldn’t have been surprised though because we knew that their portion sizes were astronomical.  In fact, if you want something resembling a regular burger, you should order the “Little” line (one patty as opposed to the regulation two patties of beef).  Luckily, we planned on splitting one order of burger and fries between two of us.  (Truth in Blogging: Image below is not an actual Five Guys burger.)

At restaurants where that sort of splitting is not as easy to maneuver (or frowned upon), we’ve discovered another method that works for us.  We like trying out many dishes, so we order one to two appetizers and one dessert as well as our two entrees—but with the full expectation that we will take home leftovers from at least one if not both entrée dishes (for our packed lunches).  Some people even advise having your server pack half of your entrée before bringing your plate to the table so you don’t even see it, but I find that interferes with my aesthetic enjoyment of the meal—and what if that entrée was much smaller than you thought it would be?

3. Be more flexible about recipe ingredients to waste less food.
That Ziploc commercial where people purchase or cook foods and then immediately throw a large portion away?  It speaks to us.  We try our best, but we too throw out food, something difficult to imagine for our parents’ generation which had to deal with the Great Depression (Will’s side) and war and occupation (my parents’ side).  Sometimes, wasting of food cannot be helped (for instance, I had a watermelon that went bad 2 days after purchase).  But food should not be wasted for the sake of religiously following a fussy recipe.  There are lots of websites that suggest ingredient substitutions (even some more difficult baking substitutions like using buttermilk and a bit of melted butter for sour cream), so there is no reason why we should run out to get butternut squash to roast in a root vegetable salad when we already have sweet potatoes and carrots.  Becoming a better cook involves learning to work with what’s available, so I intend on making the most of what I have before even contemplating buying more food.

4. Be a bit more adventurous.
Recently, I heard an NPR story about the changing face of cuisine in France.  Apparently, the traditionalists were unhappy with the new gang of chefs tinkering with time-honored French dishes.  One chef even walked away in disgust when a reporter showed him a picture of “Goat Cheese Ice Cream” offered at a new-fangled young chef’s restaurant.  His verdict: “Goat cheese is goat cheese.  Ice cream is ice cream.”  Will and I do like food innovation--and, for the record, we really can see nothing at all wrong with goat cheese ice cream--but perhaps we could be even more adventurous in going outside our own comfort zone. 

We’ve consumed ostrich, antelope, buffalo, elk, alligator, blood sausage, raw horsemeat—that last one was so that Will would not have to offend a host in a foreign country, not something he actually ordered.  But almost always, the exotic items were camouflaged.  That Ostrich Wellington tasted just like a beef tenderloin when it came wrapped in buttery pastry and slathered with gravy; and the alligator meat was minced up in a heavily-spiced jambalaya.  Buffalo burger.  You get the idea.  Yet there are plenty of dishes in millennia-old cuisines that don’t disguise the offending item—precisely because it’s a delicacy.  Like chicken feet in Chinese cuisine.  Or beef tongue.  We don’t need to channel our inner Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods (on Food Network Television), but I think 2012 is the year that we try something new to us.

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