Just when I thought I was making a little progress with my husband in the food department, we suffered An Episode.
I asked my husband if he would have time to go to the grocery store for me this weekend. There was a short list of things I needed--just four items--so that I could finish a recipe I was testing. "Sure," he said, "I'll be right back."
Wait. Before you jump to the conclusion that the point of this whole story is to tell you that my husband never comes home with what's on my list, I want to say right here and now that your conclusion would be false. He's a great shopper, accurate and usually efficient in every way. Usually.
Almost an hour later (it takes 10 minutes to get to the HEB), he arrives with several bags. I later discover that he has left three bags in the garage on top of the chest freezer. But more on that in a minute. Of course, everything I had on the list is in one of the bags. My jaw drops when I see what he is removing from the other two. There is a large bag of snack-size Kit Kat bars and a quart of ice cream. In the other bag are a large box of sugar-coated cereal, a package of chocolate-chip cookies and a bag of some kind of fried snack food that leaves neon orange residue everywhere.
My husband does not make eye contact. Instead, he removes a spoon from the silverware drawer in a leisurely way and sits down with his quart of ice cream in front of the TV. He has also carried with him his bag of Kit Kat bars, which I now see has been opened. A number of them are gone. The number of candy bars missing, I determine, is significant in a statistical way. It is then that I notice that there is a candy wrapper on the floor in front of the door leading to the garage. I decide to open the door.
This is the point past which most judicious and sensible people would not go. But by now, most of you know that I possess neither of those virtues.
I open the door and there is literally a trail of candy wrappers from the garage to the driveway. OK, well, I'm being a bit of a drama queen here (something I'm quite good at, you know, along with the hyperbole).
So, to be perfectly honest, there's not really a trail. I see just two wrappers, but they seem to be lined up and pointing in the direction of my husband's car. They do not, I tell you, point in the general direction of Divine Providence, but rather, point straight to Hell. You know the old adage: the road to Hell is paved with candy wrappers.
My mind is reeling. I'm about to go down that rabbit hole over whether or not there might be a lot of dentists in Hell as I walk to my husband's car. But I decide to abandon that frivolous exercise in actuarial science and now, part of me is thinking, "Is this really any of your business?" Another part of me is thinking, "If I leave him in the house too long unattended, he'll probably go into a sugar coma."
It is raining. Hard. I stand in the rain, peering inside my husband's car. The front seat is littered with several candy wrappers. And a mostly empty bag of hot fries, among the other detritus. I turn slowly back toward the garage, a sense of demoralization about to sucker-punch me, and as I pass the chest freezer, it is there that I see an additional three grocery bags lying on top. Inside the bags are cans of soda. Twenty cans of soda in all, in assorted flavors. AY YAY YAY!
This is the time to note that my husband is not a large man. He has almost no body fat whatsoever. He can afford to eat almost anything he wants and not gain a pound (unlike his wife, who once, in her beloved mother's kitchen at Christmastime, inhaled the intoxicating aroma of baking Polish nut bread and immediately gained 5 lbs). My husband is very active, very strong and, at least for now, very healthy. He's never sick a day in his life. So not fair!
But let's face facts: the man is a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool, hard-core Sugar Addict. He is the Jesse Pinkman of high fructose corn syrup. You could say he uses frequently when he's not at the lab with his frenemy, Walter White. He is currently Under The Influence and, what's more, has been Driving Under the Influence. And I am concerned about how much high fructose corn syrup is actually in our house at this moment. I am also concerned about how much of it he consumes on a regular basis.
Today is a day that qualifies for both Off The Freakin' Charts and a write-up in The Annals of Metabolic Disasters. And I am concerned about getting busted by the Sugar Police.
Oh, wait. I'm the Sugar Police.
By now, I'm inside the house again and I notice he has made his way through most of the ice cream. "How about some lunch?" I suggest. It's almost 2 p.m. and I'm feeling a little hungry myself. I'm thinking that my husband probably needs a little protein, some veggies. Some real food from real ingredients not manufactured in a lab. I'm recalling the food labels I've read that had 37-letter names. With hyphens. They required a PhD. in inorganic chemistry to understand what a person was about to consume.
"Um, well, I think I'm pretty full right now," he pats his belly and then resumes eating the rest of his ice cream. He seems content and at peace with himself. This vexes me to no end. The bag of Kit Kats lies on the table next to him, waiting patiently for the next stage of his odyssey: Active Tooth Decay and Gingivitis.
"I saw the soda in the garage," I say, timorously. He laughs. "Yeah, well, that..."
"You know, maybe I'm being a little bit naggy here, but I'm concerned about how much sugar you eat. You have to have something sweet every day. That worries me." I'm being very serious. "I never know when I'm going to walk in here and find you in a sugar coma. I have visions of you sitting in the HEB parking lot, inhaling half a bag of Kit Kats before you even start your car."
He laughs. HE LAUGHS!!
"I can burn it off," he protests.
"Yes, I know, but that's not the point. I'm not worried about your weight. I'm worried about your renal system," I tell him.
"I'm the Beast Master!" he asserts. Which is what he says about every threat to life and limb. And this is where I decide to give up.
Things could be so much worse. My husband could be an alcoholic (but he doesn't drink). He could be getting high every day (but he doesn't use drugs--won't even take ibuprofen or aspirin). He could have other compulsive habits (well, he is a golfer), be abusive, or absent, or just uncaring. But he is none of these things. He smokes--that's just about his only vice. Aside from Demon Sugar. So I feel ridiculous complaining about his sugar binges. I'm not his mother, he reminds me.
But I feel deflated. I thought we had been making progress in the food department. This is the man who came home from work one day last summer and told me that he couldn't finish a fast-food burger because "it just didn't taste very good." This is the man who will now eat asparagus (but only if bacon is wrapped around it). This is the man who recently suggested--with no prompting from me, mind you--that he take a picture of his, and I quote, "too beautiful to eat" salad in Las Vegas. This is the man who told me that the prime rib he'd had recently at a nearly 5-star restaurant was "not seasoned very well and a little tough." Sheesh.
I don't take this latest sugar binge personally, I just feel defeated. I don't think that there is a way to win this battle. Left to his own devices, my husband will make poor food choices and stimulate his dopamine receptors with simple carbohydrates instead of nourishing his body with whole, lovingly prepared foods.
But I cannot judge this. After all, I have made poor food choices many times in my life and I'm sure I will continue to do so. Don't we all? Why, just several days ago, I was contemplating how to manage a sugar binge over my intense, albeit truncated, love affair with macarons while in Las Vegas. What I am most worried about now, where my husband is concerned, is the sugar-induced stupor that will follow the consumption of so much in one sitting. I've witnessed it before. And I fear my husband indulges more than I know.
I obviously need some sort of 12-step meeting. Right now, I should be calling my sponsor. "Keep calm and carry on," I tell myself. The old Stiff Upper Lip. So, sighing heavily, I do the next thing that needs to be done. Like my mentor Eleanor Roosevelt, I do the thing that I think I cannot do: I wait a few hours. Then I pour a glass of wine and I start to make dinner.
I had some thin boneless pork chops that I had purchased yesterday. I wanted something really special for dinner and had been thinking about how I'd treat these pork chops to make them conform to my fantasies. Whip them? Chain them to the bed? Make them roll over and bark like a dog? Oops, wrong fantasy.
How about making a kind of schnitzel with a disgustingly rich and flavorful cream sauce? And so you see, this is where the pot calls the kettle black. Because my penchant for "a disgustingly rich and flavorful cream sauce" is, I suppose, no different than my husband's penchant for sugar. I'd like to believe, piously, that I'm at least getting some nutritional value for my efforts, and that the sheer act of cooking in a conscious way would negate the frying and extra calories in the sauce. Surely it would! How righteous I could feel if it would!
But would it? I have to humble myself, realizing the error of my own ways. If thy schnitzel offend thee, then throw it out. But like the sinner who knows that confession is readily available, I pursue my original plan for the pork chops. In a disgustingly rich and flavorful cream sauce.
I did a little research and percolated some ideas. I found a basic recipe whose flavor profile I liked. But I wanted more. I wanted a salty component in the sauce, and I wanted a little more punch on the plate. I substituted full fat Greek yogurt, thinned down with chicken broth, for the heavy cream called for in the original recipe. I deglazed the pan with vodka, added capers, sage, and a final flourish of chiffonade of sorrel leaves.
Pounded thin, lightly dusted in flour, fried and served with plenty of pan sauce, the final result was delectable. I've decided a great addition to the sauce would have also been some mushrooms browned in butter. To accompany the pork, we had wild rice that I had cooked in a little chicken broth with butter, onion and garlic, and also Roasted Haricot Verts with Shallot, Toasted Garlic, Gremolata Breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Absolutely killer. You can find the recipes for the pork and the haricot verts below.
The wine: I had two open bottles of wine in the fridge that I had sampled on previous evenings, both of which were lovely choices with this dinner. My friend Bill The Wine Guy recently turned me on to McPherson Cellars and winemaker Kim McPherson of Lubbock, Texas. Normally, I am unimpressed with Texas wines, but McPherson products are an exception. I've sampled enough of them to know that they can hold their own against other great domestic wines. McPherson Reserve Roussanne 2010 (Texas) was the kind of wine I prefer: dry, aromatic, and a good interplay of mineral and citrusy acid. Notes from the McPherson Cellars website describe this wine as "candy lemon drop flavors and a delicate, herbaceous, tea-like aroma. Made with grapes from Bingham Vineyards, in the Texas High Plains, this wine is truly distinctive." No lie!
Another wine recommendation is also one Bill introduced me to: Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Rose 2009 (France). It tastes like a rose from Provence should taste: herbal, crisp, a great balance of acid and mineral. You'll taste a bit of red stone fruit and some floral notes such as lavender and violet. It's dry and refreshingly welcome in warmer weather. This wine has been so popular, however, that it's going to be hard to find locally. Bill told me he couldn't keep it in stock. Sorry, you'll have to come to my house.
Pork Scallopini with Vodka Mustard Cream
Sauce, Capers and Sorrel
I grow sorrel, which has a pleasing peppery tartness, mostly for salads and garnishes. If you can't find it, substitute arugula.
1 lb. thin boneless pork chops, trimmed of fat and pounded thin with a mallet (you can buy pork scallopini already prepared in the meat case or have your meat cutter or butcher do it for you)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. lemon juice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. capers, drained
1 tsp. dried rubbed sage, or 2 large fresh sage leaves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
3 Tbs. coarse-grained mustard, preferably Dijon
1 cup sorrel or arugula leaves, in chiffonade
1.) Season the pork with salt and pepper on both sides.
2.) Put the flour on a plate or in a pie pan and coat each piece of pork on both sides, shaking off excess.
3.). Heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet until rippling.
4.). Cook the scallopini in the hot skillet on both sides, browning well and reducing heat if necessary so they don't burn.
5.). Drain on paper towels and keep warm while you make the sauce.
6,) Turn the heat up to medium-high again, using the same skillet you cooked the pork scallopini in.
7.) Add vodka and allow to reduce by one half.
8.) Add lemon juice, garlic, capers and sage; stir well.
9.) Add chicken broth, Greek yogurt and mustard, blending well.
10.) Let the sauce simmer, reducing heat if it boils too fast.
11.) Reduce sauce by one third.
12.) Return pork scallopini to skillet, to reheat briefly.
13.) To serve, divide scallopini among plates, spoon sauce over the top and garnish with sorrel or arugula. Serves 4.
Roasted Haricot Verts with Shallot, Toasted Garlic, Gremolata Breadcrumbs and Parmesan
Don't be alarmed by the quantity of gremolata breadcrumbs the recipe makes. You'll be using
the leftovers (which can be stored in the freezer for several months) on everything from asparagus to broccoli.
1 cup soft breadcrumbs (make your own from day-old bread)
1 Tbs. lemon zest
1 Tbs. minced parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder
Mix all ingredients together and store airtight in the freezer until ready to use.
Roasted Haricot Verts:
1/2 lb. fresh or frozen haricot verts
1 medium shallot, minced
olive oil, for drizzling
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. toasted minced garlic, such as Penzey's or The Spice House's
1/4 cup Gremolata Breadcrumbs
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.) Lay haricot verts on a baking sheet in a single layer.
3.) Sprinkle minced shallot over the haricot verts.
4.) Drizzle generously with olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper.
5.) Sprinkle with toasted garlic.
6.) Roast for about 10 minutes, tossing with tongs from time to time to evenly distribute seasonings.
7.) Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese.
8.) Return pan to oven and turn on broiling element.
9.) Roast, watching carefully, until breadcrumbs and Parmesan are toasted. Serve immediately. Serves 2 generously.