Cooking to Buff

August 19, 2018

It’s unseemly, my grandmother would have said, to be obsessed about body weight – although she certainly was obsessed with hers.  It’s true; it is unseemly, especially for someone of my age.  But I am.

As I have spent much of the summer alone in Hardwick, Vermont working on a book, and as I know no one here and eat alone, it seemed like a good time to get buff, really an objective unachievable but an imagined objective somehow more appealing to me than a simple weight-reduction diet.

I know that it is fashionable for people to diet by giving up all carbohydrates, or all white foods, or all foods people started consuming only after the Ice Age, or all sweets or alcohol or all of something. My way of dieting this summer is just less-ness, eating pretty freely foods I like but very small quantities of them.  As it is summer even in Vermont (and that means the temperature is 69 degrees) I have taken advantage of fresh produce and have eaten a lot of vegetables and fruits. But I have tried most of all just to eat less all the time.


I bought a chicken at the beginning of my stay here, in the second week of July.  I trimmed it and made a stock of those parts.  Then I cut up the chicken and froze those parts individually wrapped.  I portioned the stock and froze it too in portions. I still now after five weeks have most of the stock and half of the chicken.  I will try to do something with them by the coming weekend when I return to Washington.

I brought with me from Washington some very good dried beans and some very good pasta.  They are filling and not highly caloric if eaten in small quantities.  I have teamed them with vegetables through my stay here.

Fruit is pretty good in Vermont; that’s because most of it comes from Pennsylvania.  Still I have been able to pick berries around here and they taste very good.  And when accompanied by the best chocolate I know, Recchiuti ordered from San Francisco, peaches and berries make a very good dessert. A bit of chocolate after that is all I need to raise my blood sugar after dinner.



I have an advantage and I have said this before:  I like to cook even if only for myself.  I assume that everyone who thinks about food and writes about food also likes to cook.  So I was jarred a few weeks ago when one of my favorite Websites, Serious Eats, published this

       After a busy day, the last thing you want to do is spend hours in the kitchen pulling dinner together.  Luckily, we have wealth of delicious weeknight meals that will have you in and out of the kitchen in one hour or less.

I think it is pretty bizarre for a Website that devotes itself to the joys and intricacies of cooking to concern itself with time in the kitchen.  Certainly I don’t spend hours in the kitchen, but what I most look forward to after a day of work is cooking for myself.  I have had fun this summer doing that especially since all the ingredients I have wanted are available on Friday afternoons at the Hardwick famers’ market and on Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market in the picture-perfect common of Craftsbury where I am able to buy very good local cheese from Bonnieview Farm, raw milk, and organic eggs with bright orange yolks.


My diet, I admit it, is very different here than at home where all the temptations reside.  My greatest temptations in Washington are in restaurants and I don’t go to restaurants here although I intend to go once this week, my last week, to eat fried clams.

My biggest dietary problem is that I seem unable to resist eating all of a dish served at restaurants like Kinship and Bibiana.  it seems like such a shame to me to waste good food and it’s embarrassing to me to ask, “Will you pack that for me?”  And it all tastes so irresistibly good that I am unable to control the portions I eat when I am in restaurants.  If I go this week to The Scale House, a new seafood restaurant in downtown (so to speak) Hardwick, for fried clams, can I really send half the plate back to the dish room?   Perhaps I can buy an appetizer portion.

But I have not gone to restaurants here.  Instead, I have eaten in the little house I rent.   Breakfast, when I eat anything at all, has been a piece of toast with a schmear of peanut butter.  The Buffalo Co-op in Hardwick sells a delicious brand called Once Again.

Lunches have been an egg poached in a spicy sauce of fresh tomatoes, a poor man’s shakshuka, or a fruit salad or sliced tomatoes with onions and anchovies.  Or tomatoes mixed with little pieces of old bread.

I have started dinner perhaps four out of seven days with an ear of corn steamed for five minutes although corn hadn’t yet appeared at market during the first weeks I was here; but it’s here now.  After my ear of corn I have eaten a variety of vegetable concoctions made with tomatoes, corn, cauliflower, green beans, peas, local potatoes, made with very small quantities of olive oil but larger ones of lemon juice, herbs, and onions and garlic.


As for bread, I can’t give it up.  I am sure you understand.  But I have tried to limit myself to one slice at breakfast of the best whole grain breads I can find at the Co-op here and at the far larger one in Montpelier.  Those come from Red Hen Bakery (please, please don’t tell Sarah Saunders) and Elmore Mountain Breads.

All the while during these weeks, my fantasies of a cheeseburger have grown to the point that Mintwood Place has become an imagined paradise.

I return to Washington this weekend with a new resolve.  When I go to restaurants I will try to eat only a few ounces of particularly wonderful foods and then when the server isn’t looking I will, doubtless with an embarrassed look toward my dinner companion, slip leftovers into a couple of sheets of aluminum foil and plastic bags I will have carried discretely with me.

  1. Olga Boikess says:

    Hello Mark

    You are not alone. I have been slipping part of my restaurant meal in plastic bags etc for quite some time. Best Olga Boikess

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Paul Boudreau says:

    One of the nice things about the now-gone Bar Civita in Woodley Park was that they offered half-portions of many things, something I remember from my time in Italy. I wish the custom were more widespread but maybe it’s too much trouble or less lucrative.

  3. Barbara Kerne says:

    I’m vain, no apologies…When clothing gets tight food intake must diminish. Your corn rye is an addiction that needs constant attention….but,, c’est la vie.

  4. marybrigid says:

    But I’m left wondering whether this “less is just enough” diet had an impact? Did you lose weight or notice looser clothing?

  5. Yes, I have been losing weight and girth, not enough of either yet.

  6. Jo-Ann Neuhaus says:

    My most successful diet that was not unintentionally induced was to eliminate starches and, like you, eat smaller quantities of protein, vegetables, and fruits with limited amounts of olive oil or home made vinaigrette. When eating out, I stuck with salads or proteins.

    More difficult for me was keeping the weight loss off – becoming increasingly difficult as I aged. It creeps back on me an eighth of a pound at a time and takes years to return, but it does. (You might consider this my warning to you.) I love pastries, bread, and pasta (and they love me even more than I they given they seem to remain a part of me forever). If I could only stick to two raw fish sushi rolls (a diabetic friend told me that rice digests at the rate of protein so he could eat it in limited quantities), tapas that aren’t coated or fried, and appetizers like tuna or salmon tartare, steamed mussels, or raw oysters in lieu of other appetizers, entrees, and desserts, I would keep the pounds off. But the items I like creep back into the diet a bite here and a taste there (another warning). I hope you have better luck over the long haul than I have had. .

  7. Ah, but the fried clams!! It’s hard

  8. Lynnie Raybuck says:

    what a lovely vacay. and sane eating tips. almost welcome home.

  9. Just read the whole thing out loud to Ragan in the car on the way to Kentucky. It’s like having you in the car with us. So much fun.

    Sent from my iPhone


  10. […] via Cooking to Buff — Bread Furst […]

  11. Ellen Offner says:

    Thanks for your delightful, inspiring blog, Mark.

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