Monday, April 23, 2007

Roll Out the Vertical Stripes

The diet is over.

On January 8th I began dieting in preparation of a photographer flying in from New York to shoot my next book. My goal was to lose 30 pounds in four months.

The time has come. The photographer is here. I hit just above 50% of my goal. I lost 16 pounds.

Looking back it might have been the visit to the cheesecake factory in the first week of my diet that led to a bad start. Though, if you have never toured a cheesecake factory, I suggest you do so immediately.

The Jubilations Cheesecake facility in Columbus, Miss. is a wonderful place to spend the better part of a morning. From the second I walked into the door and smelled the aroma of freshly baked cheesecakes in the air, I knew that the diet was in trouble. There is not much in this world that smells better than a cheesecake factory after one has been surviving on chicken breasts, broccoli, and oatmeal for an entire week.

It’s almost as if they piped in the aroma to tempt me.

Here’s a million-dollar idea: Someone should make an air freshener or candle that smells like a cheesecake manufacturing plant.

It could have been the 12-course meal at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. when I was in San Francisco in February. Or it could have been the new rib place I discovered later that month. Either way, I gave in to temptation more times than not.

Cookbook recipe testing is not conducive to dieting. I have developed, tested, and tasted over 200 new recipes for two new cookbooks over the course of the last three months. Some recipes had to be prepared again and again until we got them right. Some had to be prepared again and again because we got them right and we wanted second helpings.

I was on a roll for a few weeks, and then I hit a plateau. I have been stuck at this weight for the last two months.

More than likely it was the French Bakery that opened across the street from my office in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. that did me in. It’s not the bakery’s fault. It’s my love of food mixed with my fondness for bread that keeps me going back. I can do without sweets, but freshly baked breads and pastries in the hands of an experienced French baker is a temptation that is too tough for me to resist.

Januz, the French/Polish baker, is said to love Polish techno music, and if one gets to the bakery before it opens, one might catch him dancing around the small shop with music blaring.

A friend of mine walked in the bakery early the other day and reported that Januz did, indeed, have Polish techno music blaring from the small stereo and was dancing with abandon throughout the store. I love that. That is exactly what I want in a baker: innate skill, a yeoman’s work-ethic, and a well-formed sense of rhythm.

I have yet to catch Januz dancing through the bakery, but I always look through the windows at 6 a.m. when I am on my way to the gym.

Maybe I should go across the street before I go to the gym and dance around the bakery while holding one of those custard-raisin croissant things to burn off a few calories. It would be the world’s first— and only— French-Polish Cardio-Bakery.

I never read the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” but maybe the reason they don’t get fat is because they dance more than we do. I quit dancing around the time I stopped drinking. When I sobered up— almost 24 years ago— I realized that my dancing didn’t look quite as cool as I thought while I was drinking. Maybe I should start dancing again.

French women might not get fat, but Southern men sure do. So crank up the Polish techno music, and say, “cheese.”

Creamed Corn Cornbread

1 cup Flour, all-purpose, unbleached
1 cup Cornmeal
2 tsp. Baking powder
1 Tbl Salt
1 cup Creamed corn
1 Egg, large
3 /4 cup Milk
2 Tbl. Butter, unsalted and melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Grease an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Sift flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir mixture briefly.

Separately, whisk together creamed corn, egg, milk, honey and butter until honey is dissolved. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not over work batter.

Pour batter into pan and bake 20-26 minutes, or until golden. Yield: 9-12 pieces

Creamed Corn

8 ears Silverqueen corn, shucked and scraped to remove milk
2 cups Water
1 stick Butter
1 1 /2 tsp Salt
1 /2 tsp Pepper
2 Tbl Half and half
2 tsp Cornstarch

Break two of the shucked corncobs in half. Place in a small sauce pot with two cups of water. Simmer for 10 minutes to make a corn stock.

Melt butter in a medium sized skillet over a medium heat and add corn and 1 /2 cup of the corn stock, salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat 10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in the Half and Half and stir into the simmering corn mixture. Return to a simmer. Serve hot. Yield: six to eight servings

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