Kev’s doing a 34-day fitness program, which includes changing up your macros, your carb intake. I’ve been a little grumpy about it all. Mostly because I’ve had to change my cooking habits. Let me clarify. I didn’t have to change a thing. “Mel, you don’t have to change a thing. I can eat around what you serve,” he said. But I’m the dinner maker around these parts. He does the laundry. Dinner is my job. And dinner is communal. And we sit together at the table to eat, eating mostly the same thing. I can change my dinner-making rhythm for 34 days, for Kev, I told myself. It hasn’t been without a grumble or two.
Mostly because diets make me a little grumpy. I’ve done my fair share. And they work until they don’t. Or until I hop off because the lifestyle isn’t conducive to my lifestyle. And then I’m on to the next one. I’m talking about my late teens and early 20s here when my weight yoyoed. And yoyoed. And yoyoed until I eventually put down the yoyo. That’s when I started making long-term decisions for myself. Can I eat like this 2 years from now? Does this food give me energy or take away energy? Am I trying to maintain an unrealistic weight? Can I still be social and eat over at friends houses or out at a restaurant? This way of thinking, of long-term decision making, seems to work for me.
In saying all this, I don’t want to villainize diets. Each one has shaped the way I eat now. Because how else do you learn how to feed your body well? I learned over trial and error, over this diet and that one, over this success and that failure, and, currently, over Kev’s 34-day program.
Which has me thinking—we can always add more vegetables. Can that ever be a bad thing? This came up last week over dinner, where we ate this Spicy Zucchini Spaghetti from Maggie Battista‘s new book, A New Way to Food. Kev wondered, “Gosh, can it be good to eat a huge plate of vegetables?” His plate: zucchini, noodled (to keep his carbs on track). My plate: a mix of zucchini and old fashioned noodles. Hal’s plate: much like mine, though she’s adept at picking out fraudulent noodles. (Everything is a stage. Right?) Kev looked over at our plates and laughed out loud at his question. “Why do we not question the big plate of pasta, but we question the big plate of vegetables?” I laughed too. He has a point.
All of this leads me back to the idea of Clean-er, a place I keep coming back to. The place of making tiny little changes that add up to the big ones. Diets, for me, were always too extreme. Doable for a second, but not for a lifetime. They promised quick results, which could be undone even faster after I hopped off. As a designer, my job is to solve dynamic problems. And my favorite solutions are usually the ones that are sitting right next to the obvious answer. In the case of pasta, the obvious answer is to take it off the menu. Get rid of it. But sitting to the left is another, less obvious solution. Adjust the ratio. Keep the pasta, serve a little less, and add a lot more vegetables. In the form of zucchini noodles or roasted vegetables or a salad on top or on the side. It can’t be bad to add more vegetables. Can it?
PS—Here’s my favorite vegetable-manipulating tool again in action. I don’t keep a zoodler around anymore. The julienne insert works just fine. Note: I always handwash this tool. Mostly because I use it daily, and secondly, because I don’t want to chance the dishwasher dulling the blade or altering the shape of the inserts.
Enough about my food story. We all have one, and I have loved reading Maggie’s story in her book, A New Way to Food, one part cookbook, one part food story. I hear so much of my story in hers, and I think it will make you think of yours, too. I get to teach a class on blogging locally. And in it I say, in order to know your story, it’s helpful to write it, so you can see it, read it, wrestle with it, change it, own it, tell it. There is so much power in knowing your story. Only then can you begin to advocate for it. Maggie does that, so beautifully, so raw and honest. She also does another thing so well in this book. She gives recipes and words and practical solutions to the idea of balance, going so far as to tell you how often she eats a recipe, from every week to once a year on a special occasion. This book is dynamic. It’s a celebration of food done well, done cleaner. At a minimum, I hope you check it out from the library. At a minimum, I hope you try this simple, doable recipe that Maggie’s let me share from her new book—Spicy Zucchini Spaghetti with a mix of old fashioned noodles and zucchini noodles. The ratio, well that is up to you.
Here’s to loving food and yourself, to making tiny changes in place of drastic ones, and to looking for answers off to the left. They’re there. I’m not sure when I started toasting at the end of every post, but, here here.
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for pasta water and seasoning 8 ounces (227 g) semolina-flour or gluten-free spaghetti 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 2 small zucchini, shredded
Heat 4 quarts of water in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add in a big handful of sea salt (at least 3 tablespoons). Add the pasta and cook according to your pasta package directions. Cook the pasta about 1 minute less than recommended, as it will finish cooking in the sauce. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Don’t begin making the sauce until the pasta is well on its way to done.
Heat the oil in a shallow wide pan over medium heat. Add the whole garlic cloves and sauté until the garlic is golden (but not burned) on all sides, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool. Add the pepper flakes and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the shredded zucchini and salt, and toss around in the oil until slightly wilted. Add the pasta and 2 tablespoons of pasta water, or more, if needed, to bring a whisper of a sauce together that just coats the pasta with silkiness. Thinly slice the garlic, if you like garlic, and toss it into the pasta. Sprinkle with a bit more salt, to taste, and serve immediately.
This recipe is so versatile. Here are my alterations: Add a large handful of halved juicy, ripe cherry tomatoes (or similar size) to the pan while the red pepper flakes cook. If you want something more saucy, add a half can of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes to the mix at the same time. You might need to also add a short drizzle of honey to help cut the acidity. Tip: If you have trouble remembering to reserve that salty, starchy pasta sauce, add a measuring cup to the strainer so you don’t forget. It’s bound to catch that water for you. Top with basil from the garden or shaved parm and serve with a side salad. Can you ever have too many vegetables?
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