Life's better when you're sharing food
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
What do we have against hunger?
I'm not talking about problem hunger, of going hungry because you cannot afford to buy food. This is a tragedy, of course, and a topic that must continue to be addressed, just not today in this column.
The hunger that has my attention now is natural daily hunger, the signal that tells us it is about time to eat. We're always messing with it, either responding to it instantly, the moment we hear its first subtle call — Americans are, compared to the rest of the world, a nation of snackers — or looking for ways to turn it down or off without actually eating.
There are diets and products that promise we'll never feel hungry again. There is also no end to advice that tells us how to quell our hunger more quickly so that we will not overeat. Take smaller portions, we're told, as if there were no such thing as second helpings. Put the fork down between bites, chew longer, take two-minute breaks during a meal, don't gobble, always eat breakfast.
It all seems so artificial, ways to trick oneself. And two omissions always astonish me.
First, hunger is almost exclusively portrayed as a negative thing, even though hunger sharpens and focuses our senses. An old friend liked to say that whenever she wanted to lose weight, she simply got into being hungry and enjoyed hunger's unique qualities.
Hunger heightens our appreciation of what we eat and hunger for other things — for knowledge, for artistic expression, for love — leads to deep satisfaction. When we're hungry, we have an edge, like a sharpened blade. It's not a bad feeling at all, especially when we learn to harness it effectively. Personally, I love being hungry.
The other omission that I find so surprising is that so-called diet experts never point out the most obvious way to eat more slowly: Eat with others. This is how our species evolved. We huddled for warmth and safety, we shared a carcass or food from a common pot over a common fire. We talked to each other, which is as natural a way to eat more slowly as I can imagine.
It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to fully interpret the signals of satiation it is sent from the stomach. If you're alone with, say, a pizza, it is not all that difficult to eat the entire pie before the brain says, “Wait! I'm stuffed!” Then we get that awful too-full feeling, wonder how we ate so much and then forget, only to do it again with our next solo meal.
When we're around a table with family and friends, we laugh, we think, we argue and we talk, with bites and nibbles interspersed here and there. Suddenly, 20 or 30 minutes have passed, we feel pleasantly full and, if we're lucky, we continue to chat. In such environments, portions tend to take care of themselves.
Of course, even if we shared every meal every day with a group of happy companions, there would still be overeaters and still be obesity. But I don't believe it would be problematic to the degree that it is today. We're all so busy, or think we are. We eat in the car or walking down the street, families sit down to a meal together with much less frequency than a generation ago, parents encourage kids to hurry up because there's an appointment to keep and, besides, isn't it time for a favorite TV show?
But life is better when we share it with others, and eating together is one of the best ways to share this precarious business of living. If we took more time for dinner together, a lot of things — including eating too quickly — would take care of themselves and we'd all be the better, and the thinner, for it.
Frico is fried grated cheese and it can be shaped into small cups or bowls that can be filled with little salads, roasted asparagus tips, fresh blanched fava beans, sauteed mushrooms or tuna or salmon tartar. And most kids love frico; they like the taste and the shape delights them.
Little Salads in Frico Cups
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound Vella Mezzo Secco cheese, grated on a large blade
1 to 2 teaspoons powdered porcini mushrooms, optional
2 cups thinly sliced lettuce or very small salad mix
— Kosher salt
— Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon or lime
1 tablespoon minced red onion
5 or 6 radishes thinly sliced
½ avocado, in cubes
— Black pepper in a mill
Divide the cheese into 4 to 6 equal piles.
Set a nonstick skillet over medium heat and when it is hot, sprinkle one pile of cheese over a circle-shaped area about 4½-inches across. Shake the pan gently, sprinkle a little mushroom powder over the cheese, if using, and cook until the cheese is completely melted and the edges have begun to turn crispy and golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a spatula to press down on the cheese occasionally as it cooks. Turn the disk over gently and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until golden brown.
Transfer the frico to a small inverted bowl so that it cools into a bowl-shaped cup.
When all of the frico cups have been made, put the lettuce into a small bowl, season with salt and drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat the lettuce. Toss and drizzle with a couple of squeezes of citrus juice.
Add the onion, radishes and avocado and toss again. Season with black pepper, a bit more lemon or lime juice and a bit more salt.
Set the frico cups on small individual plates and fill each one with some of the salad.
Writer M.F.K. Fisher made tangerines toasted on a hot radiator famous when she wrote about them in her extraordinary memoir, “The Gastronomical Me” (Duell, Sloan and Pierce, 1943). They are very easy to make and you can do it on almost any source of heat, provided there is a clean surface. I've used my wood stove to make them a couple of times.
Toasted Clementines, The Easiest Appetizer Ever
Serves 4 to 6, easily doubled or tripled
6 clementines or other small sweet citrus (honey tangerines, for example), peeled, segments separated
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Set the citrus wedges on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until the top of the skins have turned crisp, about 15 minutes, turn and bake another few minutes, until the other side of the skins are also crisp.
Remove from the oven, cool slightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Serve neat, in a single bowl or little bowls.
Season lightly with black pepper before toasting.
Serve with chocolate sauce or chocolate fondue, as dessert.
Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.
E-mail Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com