Thirty years of professional cooking took a heavy toll on my body and I needed to change or face dire consequences.
Recently we changed our eating patterns to tremendously positive results, both intended and not. I know that’s probably the most unexpected first line of a post featuring a picture of a big plate of profiteroles crammed full of creamy Turkish coffee ice cream drenched in a thick stream of hot chocolate sauce, but it’s true. Thirty years of professional cooking took a heavy toll on my body and I needed to change or face the dire consequences. The constant binge eating of whatever was within six inches of my fingers coupled with scarfing down massive plates of pasta before service was unhealthy at best. If I didn’t mend my ways I wouldn’t see my son reach manhood let alone puberty.
Since changing a few months ago I have reduced my radius by a good five or six inches and I feel great. I haven’t weighed myself in years so don’t ask. I long ago gave up on scales, the number never was as important as fitting into jeans rescued from imminent exile to Good Will. The main change has been to eat the bigger, primary meal at lunch rather than dinner. Numerous studies have proven making this small change alone is enough for most of us to shed tons of weight. I feel way better, no more heartburn and I sleep more soundly.
I never was much into the standard American diet of sandwiches and burgers for lunch. I like real food. I cook everything from classics like coq au vin or blanquette de veau to succulent grass fed lamb cheeks simmered in a rose wine and rosemary infusion. I suppose this sounds like the gastronomic version of the French paradox, eat richer food and lose more weight but it works. I have given up gluten and sugar (for the most part) temporarily and eat primarily only vegetables for breakfast and dinner. A small price to pay for feeling great.
The only downside to a big lunch is eating alone. The American system of work, work work is not conducive to happiness and health. Lisa is at work, Beau is at school and I am here with you. The two hour lunch with all the family gathered around the table eating a proper meal makes so much more sense to me but that lifestyle is six thousand miles to the East . I love hearing my wife’s daily reports of her co-workers being driven nuts by the seductive scents of escalopes of salmon with sorrel sauce wafting through the cubicles as they munch on their boring bagged lunches. And I suppose not too many four year olds in America go to school with sauteed sweetbreads studded with black truffles in a cognac sauce. Thankfully we haven’t gotten the phone call yet from his Montessori demanding to know why Beau keeps screaming for the sommelier during his lunch breaks. Yes, call me a shitty father, Beau occasionally indulges on tiny glasses of great wine. He is being brought up like any good French child ought to be. The upside is he may be one of three children I personally know of in America that can discern between a Burgundy, Bordeaux and a Rhone wine.
The unintended benefit to our change has been a closer bonding of the family. I know that sounds strange but we celebrate food and life every single weekend and it made us closer. Every Saturday we head off to the Portland Farmer’s Market at PSU to do our shopping and let the seasons plan the menu. The market has an almost festival like feel with strolling musicians, animal balloon blowers and food vendors interspersed with flowering purple broccoli and stinging nettles.
Beau gets very excited about market day because he is allowed to choose one sweet. He is empowered to decide for himself and choose between the rival bakeries. Which infallibly means he stops at the first bakery he spots and picks the largest cookie they have. He then walks through the crowds like a small king offering commentaries on whose vegetables are the prettiest or how horrible that aged sheep cheese was as he leaves a trail of cookie crumbs in his royal wake. He has taken to randomly saying things in French like ‘je t’aime’ or ‘bonjour’ followed immediately by a very throaty noise that sounds like he is about to spit. No doubt the byproduct of my wife’s attempt to master the rolling ‘r’ French style.
I love his logic as he negotiates a deal for the second treat. He carefully presents the case, fully explaining all the green choices he made throughout the week carefully leaving out any incriminating details that may diminish his chances. Upon cross examination he usually claims the fifth and denies any involvement in the crayon drawing incident that occurred precisely two feet off the ground on the side of the house or the sudden appearance of 100 Queen Elsa stickers on the living room wall. Sometimes I swear he must have studied news footage of Bill Clinton famously claiming he did not have sex with that woman as he masterfully weaves his way through very complicated, nuanced vocabulary well beyond his four years on Earth. When all else fails, he dramatically drops to the ground as if mortally wounded by some invisible arrow and begins to wail. His tearful theatrics are aimed to foster the sympathy of any passerby within earshot. Children are born trial lawyers.
Beau has taken an interest in cooking. He sautes with his plastic cast iron skillet in his bright red play kitchen while I cook dinner on the stove. He carefully watches, always asking for small bits of whatever I am using to incorporate into his dish. Little tiny clusters of thyme, pinches of Maldon salt and Espelette pepper season his imaginary stews. Recently it reminded me of a moment in my own childhood, I think I was his age. My mother was throwing away all her old spices. She let me play with them probably more to shut me up rather than trying to encourage a budding chef. It’s funny when you become a parent; you start to relive moments of your own childhood and see things with a completely different perspective. It gives you an amazing appreciation of your parents and the level of hell you put them through. All you can do is laugh as poetic justice runs it’s course as your little Tasmanian devil destroys your house.
From my perspective now, my mother let me play with the spices because it was the only way to shut me up for ten minutes of much needed relief. I sat on the cool marble kitchen floor contently mixing my treasure trove of spices. Full bottles of cayenne pepper, star anise and paprika whisked into a frothy reddish brown liquid that could easily be mistaken for a slow cooked tomato sauce. My father made the unfortunate mistake of arriving home precisely the moment my mother went to the bathroom and I was left alone stirring my concoction. My dad bent over to kiss me and taste dinner. I will never forget the look of ‘shit, what the fuck is this burning sensation incinerating my mouth’ as his face turned bright red which quickly faded into a beetish purple shade as the full fury of the cayenne kicked in.
Beau always wants us to taste his imaginary stews. I have learned the art of illusion necessary to create a diversion and toss my ‘stew’ into the sink while simultaneously shoving the spoon deep into my mouth. Satisfied by my deception Beau moves to mommy for a confirmation taste. Lisa hasn’t mastered that yet and convincingly says no to cause him to let it go. Sheepishly Beau stands before mamma spoon in hand feigning tears if rejected.
As parents it’s good to involve your children with whatever you are doing. I know it’s easier to put a movie on and pray they will watch for an hour so you can get stuff done. We all have done that. This Sunday we cooked lunch together on the same range. It was a real father and son moment that I will cherish forever. Beau pulled up his trusty blue chair and stood confidently by the rolling cutting board. He carefully measured the flour, sugar, water and eggs for the choux pastry. Every time he added an ingredient he looked me squarely in the eye and asked if these qualified as green choices. No doubt planning ahead, assuring his quota of profiteroles.
- 1 cup water
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 egg beaten (for egg wash)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 9 ounces bittersweet Chocolate
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 quart Turkish Coffee Ice Cream (or whatever flavor you like)
- powdered sugar
- 1 jar goat caramel
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or buttered parchment paper.
- Place the water, sea salt and butter in a stainless steel pot and bring to a rapid boil.
- Using a wooden spoon stir in all the flour at once. Keep stirring till well incorporated and your arm is sore.
- Continue cooking till dough dries out slightly, about one minute.
- Let rest five minutes to cool down then add eggs one at a time till well incorporated or if you are feeling lazy use your food processor.
- Pipe little golf ball sized puff with a plain tip..
- Brush with egg wash and bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
- Turn oven down to 350 and bake for another 20 minutes.
- Mix all the sauce ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Simmer till it reduces down to sauce consistency.
- Season with a pinch of sea salt for extra flavor.
- Cut profiteroles in half and fill with a scoop of ice cream.
- Arrange in a pyramid on a serving plate.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
- Drizzle with both chocolate sauce and goat caramel.
I want to thank Elise Jackman of Pioneer Millworks for providing me with the beautiful milled wood beneath the profiteroles. I really owe her some profiteroles as a thank you! If you need some amazing reclaimed wood for building your dream house or business, contact her. I was fortunate to walk around the mill and grab scraps. Really beautiful stuff!