The good things we eat

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Many years ago, my sister, Janet, and I were amazed when in Italy to see businessmen at a nearby table luxuriating over an abundance of courses and many bottles of wine during a well over two-hour lunch. They downed course after course but looked trim and fit. We wondered why they weren’t obese. Later we discovered that the traditional Italian breakfast consists of just an espresso and a roll or pastry and dinner might be a chunk of cheese and fruit or an omelet. In short, lunch is the big meal of the day.

Like most Americans, I was used to indulging in a fair-sized breakfast, a decent lunch, and a substantial dinner—my biggest meal of the day. Then Janet and I visited Mexico where lunch is started mid-afternoon and can easily last until 5 p.m. By dinner time, a light bite, such as guacamole and chips or Oaxacan string cheese was all we needed. Avoiding heavy, difficult-to-digest meals shortly before retiring is a healthier way to eat.

Back in the States, we changed our eating habits. We still eat a good-sized breakfast, knowing its importance in starting the day, and dinners now consist of something more akin to a snack or hors d’oeuvres. Lunches are the most lavish, varied and sustaining of the day. Some years ago, I started a food journal to record our meals and to help me maintain a diverse repertoire of food. Below are some excerpts describing the good things we eat:

March 30, 2017: We bought a beautiful wild salmon fillet, and I briefly marinated it in a concoction of lemon and orange zest, brown sugar and salt and pepper. I broiled it and served it on a bed of raw baby spinach dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and citrus champagne vinegar. After zesting the orange, I removed the pith and cut the orange into juicy little cubes. I scattered them around the fish and spinach.

April 5, 2017: I cooked mussels in a sauce of white wine, shallots, fresh thyme, heavy cream, butter and Dijon mustard, garnished with flat-leaf parsley. Despite the rich-sounding ingredients, it was lighter than expected and delicious. I served it with a salad of mixed greens, fresh herbs, dried cranberries and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

April 14, 2017: I marinated chicken wings in soy and hoisin sauces, garlic, fresh ginger, Dijon mustard, sesame oil and Korean hot pepper flakes, then baked them. Alongside, we had cucumbers in a Vietnamese dressing called nuac cham, made with pungent fish sauce.

June 30, 2018: I made seared duck breast. The fat had been scored, allowing it to get crisp. We like it rare. After it rested, I sliced it and napped it with a tasty sauce made with fig jam, madeira wine, chicken broth, shallots and balsamic vinegar. We ate the duck over coconut ginger rice into which I had stirred cilantro, mint and Thai basil.

August 15, 2018: We bought beautiful Diver sea scallops. I seasoned them simply with salt, pepper and a touch of Cajun spices, then pan-seared them on high heat in a mix of butter and extra-virgin olive oil. I drizzled the browned butter and a squeeze of lemon juice over the scallops. I served them over orzo pasta to which I added lemon zest and chopped fresh parsley. On the side we had a salad of arugula, endive and radicchio.

September 5, 2019: I marinated pork tenderloin in soy sauce, honey, sake, hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, grapeseed oil, shallots, fresh ginger, garlic and a few sprigs of cilantro. I grilled the tenderloin until there was still a touch of pink in the center. While it cooked, I boiled down the marinade and poured that over the sliced tenderloin. With it we had a salad of Persian cucumbers in a vinaigrette of citrus champagne vinegar, a drop of olive oil, a squirt of Thai sweet chili sauce and a garnish of fresh mint from the garden.

October 7, 2019: The weather has turned quite chilly and it’s a dismal, rainy day. I bought a beautiful yellow-orange cauliflower at the farmers market and decided to make cream-of-cauliflower and cheddar cheese soup. I don’t like my creamed soups to be without some texture, so I parboiled two cups of tiny florets in chicken broth until crisp-tender and will add them to the pureed soup before serving it. I snipped the last of the chives from the garden to use as a garnish. We had the soup with open-faced tuna fish salad sandwiches made with good Italian tuna in olive oil on toasted brioche rolls. A perfect meal on a grey autumn day.

Cream of Cauliflower
and Cheddar Soup
Serves 4

1 head cauliflower (about 1 ¼ pound), cut into small florets
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 leek (white and pale green part only), chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup half & half
1/4 cup Marsala or sherry
3 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons minced chives or parsley for garnish (optional)

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Blanch 1 1/2 cups of the smallest cauliflower florets until just crisp-tender, about two minutes. Remove to a small bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn heat off under broth. Melt butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, leek, celery and remaining cauliflower. Cover and cook until onion is tender but not brown, stirring occasionally, about eight minutes. Add flour and stir two minutes. Gradually stir in chicken broth. Add half and half and Marsala or sherry. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover partially and simmer until vegetables are tender and soup thickens, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Using a hand-held emersion blender (or a traditional blender), puree soup until smooth. Bring soup back to a low simmer and gradually add cheddar, stirring until melted. Add reserved cooked cauliflower florets and stir to heat through. Ladle soup into bowls and serve.

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