Friday, April 25, 2014

It more than made up for the completely nondescript gazebo

When I was growing up, one of the many signs of Easter was watching The Sound of Music on TV.  My sister and I would sit, entranced, gazing up at the screen.  We'd giggle like crazy at the dinner table scene, scowl at the selfish Baroness, yodel along with the lonely goatherd, imitate Gretel on our own stairs (lisping "The Sun. Has Gone. To bed and so must AYE-aye!" at the top of our lungs for weeks afterward), and cheer when the nuns say, "Reverend Mother, I have sinned".

Yep. We wanted nothing more than to help our dad push a car all the way to Switzerland and have a boy to dance around a gazebo in the rain with, even if he did turn out to be a Nazi rat later.

So of course, the minute I set foot in Europe for the first time, I couldn't wait to go to Salzburg and run singing through the streets.

I was not alone.

My friends and I signed up for one of the many "official" Sound of Music tours, packed in with zillions of other tourists with guide maps, cameras, and visions of Julie Andrews and the gang hanging from trees in colorful curtains.  Yes, we did see the convent yard where they crouched behind the gravestones, and the actual gazebo (relocated to a convenient in-town location), but the whole experience was vaguely disappointing and made us a little sad*.

On the plus side, there was Linzer Torte.

Cherry Linzer Torte

That made us feel better.  As in, very, very happy.
And being able to bake my own is one of my new favorite things**.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Soccer Mom

Way back when, when my husband and I were barely married, we went to visit friends in San Francisco for brunch.  Their house was full of toys and crayons and tow-headed toddlers, and we feasted on deliciously lumpy pancakes, strong coffee, and orange juice. Sunshine poured through a huge bay window into a living room full of comfy furniture and well-worn children's books.  I was utterly charmed by the whole situation.

Looking up at the clock, our hosts suddenly brought the cozy morning to a halt, and began scooping up  strollers and hurtling around closets rooting for socks.  The oldest child donned a shiny uniform and tiny cleats, and had the maple syrup unceremoniously wiped from his ruddy cheeks by his mom.

"It's picture day."

This meant nothing to us. But we piled down the steps and followed our friends. Outside it was bright and breezy, one of those rare, gorgeous, peaceful San Francisco mornings.  As we turned a corner, we were hit by a high-pitched roar of noise.  Then, slowly, we walked into an alien sea, a veritable ocean, of what seemed like thousands of five year olds and their parents, crammed into a fenced patch of grass covering most of a city block.  All of the children were randomly running and screaming.  Parents were chatting and laughing and yelling at the running children.  Everyone had coolers, cameras, umbrellas and folding chairs.  It was utter chaos, and it terrified me to the bone.

"We have to get out of here," I said to my husband. "Now."
Best form of birth control, ever.

It didn't last.
Soon enough, it was picture day on our own patch of grass.

Not only was I no longer petrified, I was somehow coaching the team.  I had zero experience, but if you signed up to coach, you got to pick your practice time.  As a working parent, schedule trumped competence in my book.

It was a trial and error process.  Once, I brought a white board and dry erase markers to practice, intending to diagram plays, or at least try to communicate the idea of whose goal was whose.

"Oh, yay! Coloring!!! Pass the purple!!"
Needless to say, it didn't go well*.

Finally, I developed a strategy of giving big hugs for each goal, and that seemed to work just fine.

My coaching days are long over, but a decade later, there I am on that patch of grass with my folding chair and camera, chatting and laughing.  Perfectly at home in that veritable sea, the warm, friendly, comfortable ocean of parents like me.

Cheering at the top of my lungs for my amazing daughter and her team.

Soccer Mom.
Best clichéd stereotype, ever.

Oh, and even after all these years?  Snack is still the best part of the game.

Chewy Fruit & Nut Granola Bars

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Going public

“I thought of you right away,” my friend said, calling on her way home from the launch of a charity cookbook. “I’m kicking myself for not bringing you. After all, food is such a big part of your life!”

She has no idea.

“Sharon, what’s the best place for a burger on the Westside?” 
“Can I have the recipe for those little pecan tarts?”  
“Will you teach a bread class for the fundraiser?*" 
"I have to take clients to dinner in Studio City.  Where should we go?" 
"Will you bring your pie to book group?" 
“Have you thought about opening a restaurant?” 

I’m that person. The food friend.

It is a mantle that I wear proudly in the world.

I’m a regular at a great sushi bar. If you ask me about the new place in Los Feliz, I’ll tell you whether the review in The Weekly was on point or not. I go out of my way for the fried egg sandwich at Huckleberry and the cheese pastries at Porto’s. I spend hours cross-referencing Chowhound and Yelp before booking dinner reservations in a new town. The language of menus is meaningful to me.

I subscribe to the magazines, and dog-ear the pages. I troll favorite blogs, pinning like mad. My cookbook collection has spilled out of the kitchen and into the den, with more being dropped at my doorstep each week. At times, I’ve used every single one of the mixing bowls stacked in my cupboard at once. I own a cherry pitter for a reason.

Food fills my conversations. We are eating one meal, dissecting the last, and planning the next. The combination of remembered enjoyment and anticipated pleasure somehow makes each bite in between that much more remarkable, particularly when the experience is shared.

“They ate well.”

My husband declared this would be set in stone on our graves one night. “That’s how we’ll be remembered,” he stated with rueful satisfaction. We’d just finished a tremendous steak dinner and most of an expensive bottle of wine. I lifted my own glass, echoed the idea back to him and meant it. “Yes. They ate well! “ I toasted back.

“To eating well!”

But of course, it's not that simple. There is a flip side to all this warm and fuzzy feel-good foodiness.

I graze the pantry at night, shoveling handfuls of kettle corn into my mouth almost without thinking. I reach past the fruit for the brick of cheese to slice hurriedly into wedges on my way out the door. The basket of warm rolls on the table is decimated before the waiter brings our salads. I have seconds on pizza, slather butter on toast, dip into the jar of pretzels on the counter several times in the course of an hour. I choose fries and not salad on the side. I shop hungry on purpose.

I have stashes of food in the car. Hell, I have stashes of food all over my body. On my hips. In my belly. Under my arms. In a butt that barely fits into the seat of an airplane now. An airplane, by the way, that I will board with a full picnic including dessert and a snack to be consumed with a tinge of guilt from my tray table while my fellow fliers look on enviously.

I am this person, too. The fat, undisciplined friend.

I do not blog about this. Or talk about it. Or toast to it with my husband over a bottle of wine. I live with it, privately.

A trained therapist, if I had one, would help me trace the roots of my pathological fear of starving back to my childhood. To memories that tie food to pure and vivid joy that I am trying desperately to relive. We’d discuss my mother, the source of this starvation phobia, who bred her own fear into me by example. My mother, who proceeded to starve herself to death in front of my eyes.

I quietly let myself off the hook. I cannot, after all that, be blamed for the doughnuts and the Doritos. I’m fucked up about food from way back.

From time to time, I exert myself to change. To slow down, eat less, skip dairy. I go to the gym, come out surprisingly refreshed and vow to go back. Intellectually, in the same way I know the proportions of a good vinaigrette, I know the formula for taking off the pounds that have been piling up:

  • Write down what you eat. 
  • Work out with weights one day, and run wind sprints the next. 
  • Don’t have dinner after 7 pm. 
  • Drink eight glasses of water a day. 
  • Chew each bite 20 times. 
  • Leave food on the plate. 
  • Live on kale and quinoa and squash and carrots, preferably all together in a cold-pressed bottle of juice
  • Give up cocktails. 
  • Take up raw nuts. 

I make a deal with myself to try these things, and it lasts a week. Sometimes a month. Sometimes not even the day. I am an unreliable counter-party, growing larger and more unstable all the time. It’s almost as though I am punishing myself with food privately for the pleasure eating brings me in the open aspects of my life. When I look in the mirror, I am close to despair.

I’m slowly losing this battle because I’ve been struggling alone. No more. As of now, I’m putting the whole sloppy, complicated, emotional mess of my relationship with eating out there. The feelings of discovery and accomplishment and validation that I soak up by pursuing this passion have to be tempered by accountability and moderation and measurable milestones in taking care of myself. I will say the words out loud* to make them real and true, and make sure someone hears me say them:

My life will be better if I am healthy.
Food is a big part of what makes life good, but my life is full of other joys, too.
I owe it to myself to finally do this right.

I’m taking the first step by going public.
Come with me**.

* Or do the blogging equivalent and posting them online.
** Follow the 50x50 Project here, or via the tab at the top of the blog.  Don't worry, I'll still be eating well.  Just cutting back on the midnight kettle corn.