Thursday, November 4, 2010

Forty-eight food-filled hours. And yes, my jeans still fit.

I love eating. I value being fit and feeling good. And I reject rigid rules about how and what to eat. Strange combo, perhaps, but it works. And there’s truly nothing special about me. Yes, it is possible to manage your weight in a healthy range while enjoying food of all kinds. 

So let me give you a window into my 48-hour food fest this past weekend, in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a lovely town, Madison, with the best of restaurants. But the draw was a last chance to catch the outdoor farmer’s market before snow falls in the Midwest, and to experience the Madison Food and Wine show. Oh, and did I mention that my son lives there too? Yes, that was the main draw to Madison!

The eating began with a delectable dinner at The Coopers Tavern, where I had, among other dishes, an amazing farro salad (see recipe adaptation below). What is farro salad, you ask? A mix of whole wheat grain tossed with greens in a truffle vinaigrette, roasted wild mushrooms, cauliflower, red peppers and croutons. I learned that truffle oil is now a must have ingredient, even if it means working extra hours to pay for it. And it reinforces that even foods that are quite good for you (whole grain, high fiber, etc.) can taste great.

Next morning after a boring hotel continental breakfast—you know, bran flakes, yogurt, fruit—we headed to the Capitol square to the weekly farmer’s market. Even the cauliflower and parsnips were beautiful to view, but the tasting included no vegetables at all. No, cheeses, including the local specialty, fried cheese curds, were the focus, along with honey and jams. I didn’t eat much, given how tiny the samples were, so by early afternoon I was ready for my next feeding. 

Off to another favorite spot, newly renamed Graze. What a great name for a restaurant! My last visit there enlightened me that their French pastries were second only to those I’d eaten in Paris. 

So my afternoon graze began with a flaky apple cinnamon filled croissant. I’ll let the photo speak for itself! Although it was just a single item, I can assure you it was quite calorie dense and satisfying, and certainly enough to hold me over until my next eating venue—the Madison Food and Wine Show.

If you’re into drinking lots in the afternoon (and are over 21) this might be the event for you. I did get to try a range of beverages, the best being a non-alcoholic chardonnay, and confirmed that Wisconsin is not known for its wines although from those in the know, the local beers are quite good. The cheeses were amazing, as were some local chocolates.

There was a short workout somewhere in the day, I might add. And by dinner I was well in control of my appetite, which was a good thing, because the restaurant we dined in was like none I had eaten in before. Yes, I can say definitively L’Etoile was my best eating experience to date. Also, I might add, perhaps the most expensive, although those two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. 

Highlights of the meal may seem strange—a radish salad, outstanding for its taste, texture and appearance (sorry, too embarrassed to pull out the camera again), the chèvre gnocchi with apples, buttermilk blue cheese, toasted hickory nuts, apple cider reduction and the Farm-raised daurade ( a fish special ordered from Greece), scallion-potato cakes, bok choy, pea vine salad and a truffle vinaigrette. You just can’t eat this food mindlessly. Ever bite was savored and thoroughly delighted in.

Pumpkin pancakes were a must the next morning at Marigolds, my favorite breakfast spot. The final food highlight was the beverage on State street, Café miel latte, created with 2 shots of expresso, skim milk, honey and cinnamon. Total yum!

I recently heard the expression food porn, referring to food writers’ description of food and eating in a decadently passionate way, to arouse desire. That wasn’t my 

intent here. Rather, I wanted you to see that while this weekend was a bit extreme, and no, I don’t eat this way every 48 hours, we can and should thoroughly enjoy our food whether it’s a simple home-cooked meal or a fancy meal out. And if you choose what you truly enjoy, you will feel so much more satisfied than if you only choose what you think you should eat.

As for weight management? I, and you, don’t need to compulsively exercise to make up for our food intake. We need to listen to our body, to it’s signals and respond appropriately. Managing your weight is more about the how much you eat, and less about the what you eat. It’s about trusting when you are hungry, and recognizing when eating is driven by other factors—like boredom, stress, feeling like you blew it. And it’s about truly giving yourself permission to eat what you really want, and using all your senses to fully experience it.

Please share with us how you enjoyed a recent meal. 

And enjoy the recipe, provided by the new and sure to be a favorite Coopers Tavern!

Coopers Tavern Farro Salad

• Prepare vinaigrette
1/3 c white wine vinegar
2/3 c canola oil (or other mild oil)
2 tsp truffle mustard (available on line from KL Keller, $15/bottle) or be creative and use 2 tsps. dijon mustard and several drops of a good black truffle oil (pricy, but you really only use a few drops at a time).
Salt and pepper to taste
• Roast cauliflower and wild mushrooms in garlic olive oil (400 degrees, 40 mins should do it).
• Mix together salad: mixed baby greens, wild mushrooms (cremini, oyster and shiitake were used at the restaurant--divine!), roasted red peppers (the jarred kind, drained and rinsed will work)
• Cook farro (see this link for a good visual It will close to triple in volume, so don't make too much!
• Add about 1/2 cup cooked farro to the salad and toss with about 4 Tbsps. of the vinaigrette.
• Add croutons, if desired. (Personally, I'd rather skip them and eat more farro!)

I realize this is way more labor intensive than many might dare to attempt. But the flavor is truly phenomenal. And you could be flexible about the amount of vegetables and farro you use, as well as the dressing. Maybe it will simply inspire you to try some new ingredients or experience truffle oil or other intensely flavorful food products. Or more simply, take a trip to Madison and have Tim Larsen, the chef at Coopers Tavern make it for you!  
Either way, enjoy!


  1. So I just moved to Boston from MDI about two months ago and had been craving pizza for a couple of days when my roommate and I decided to visit Santarpio's (which we've heard is like THE best place in all of Boston!)

    And pizza for me is like -- well, something I don't generally eat because it's not safe. Yeah, I know I'm working on that. As soon as I find a team here, I'll get back to recovery. But I digress, we ordered a half cheese, half sausage pizza and LOVED it. It was so delicious. I didn't eat fast at all. I was even perfectly satisfied after two slices.

    Another really big indicator that I was FINE with the pizza and listened to my body and didn't feel as if I had "blown it" by eating pizza, was that I had just bought a candy bar from the drug store because in addition to wanting pizza, I also really needed chocolate.

    But guess what? After dinner, I watched movies with my roommate and completely forgot about the candy bar. As in -- it was many many many many days later before I remembered, "OMG! I have chocolate in the house and my mind was not entirely focused on consuming it AND I forgot to eat it when I thought it was something I wanted.)

    So, a really long story, I know...but it felt so amazing to eat that pizza and experience a meal that didn't lead to a binge or overeating or feeling guilty. WoohoO!

  2. Isn't it a great feeling-eating great food and feeling okay about it? Bet you never thought it could happen! Thanks for sharing.

  3. The Farro Salad is truly great.....and you can wash it down with some of The Coopers Tavern organic beers.....good stuff!

  4. Sorry, I would love to tell you that I was able to follow your excellent example. I tried, but have failed hopelessly. I went to dinner and ordered something reasonable. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it wasn’t a salad either. But now I’m back home, and my stomach hurts, and I’m panicking and I can’t breathe and I just don’t think I made the right decision. I should have known it wasn’t something I could do.

  5. Just because you weren't successful, doesn't mean you can't be. A lot of ground work needs to be laid which I think I'll address in the next post or two. It involves putting yourself in a good position prior to dining out, having what you really enjoy to eat and realizing that it is not your last chance to eat it. An experienced team helps too!
    I'll try to get that next post out soon! Just breathe for now....

  6. Crikey, that was a bit OTT! Apologies for the fuss :-) Tried to bite off a little more than I could chew (love the puns) - I think I just got carried away by those fantastic photos (food porn?!). Looking forward to your next post...