Saturday, January 1, 2011

2nd-to-Last Bite

Vegetable sushi wrapped in vegetables  © Sooooo exciting!
Ok, we all know that there are some people who eat to live, and there are others who live to eat.  I am definitely in that second group.  

Food is so much more than just physical nourishment.  If done right, it is a pleasurable experience that is best when shared with good friends.  It must be taken in slowly, so that we can thoroughly enjoy it with all of our senses.  The ideal meal includes a variety of colors, textures, flavors, scents.  Each bite must be savored, so we can feel the individual ingredients as they come together in our mouths: the creamy sauce over the crunchy vegetables, the chewy grain with the crispy edge ... the sweet, the salty, the savory ... a perfect chorus of tastes that manages to create harmony while still allowing each individual voice to shine. 

©acorn squash stuffed with wild rice,
raisins, walnuts and cinnamon©
You may have missed it from the description, but that's actually how I enjoy healthy food all (OK, most) of the time.  When prepared properly (even simply), even a salad can be exciting.  This is important, because if we want to be healthy, we've got to eat healthy more often than not.  But if we don't want to be bored and miserable every time we eat, we've got to find ways to make that healthy food .. well, ... not boring and miserable!  Combining textures, flavors and colors, and incorporating new foods every once in a while is a great way to do that on a regular basis.

Still, there are those other foods that we don't want to give up completely.  The breads, the desserts, the ooey gooey goodness of melted cheese pouring out of a pocket of deliciousness.  These are the things that make us drool, but then make us lose control.  We stop actually enjoying them somewhere along the way, but we keep eating until we feel sick.  And then we keep eating until it's all gone.  Obviously, this method isn't working so well for us either.  So we've got to find a compromise. 

I have a theory.  When it comes to rich, decadent, delicious (and usually unhealthy) food, there are two absolutely perfect bites: the first bite, and the last bite.  Think about it: if you go out with a bunch of friends, you're perfectly willing to share any bite in between.  But the first and last bites?  Those are all yours.  The same works in reverse: you wouldn't dream of taking your friend's first or last bite, but the others are up for grabs.  I use this to my advantage whenever possible.  

Let's say, for instance, I go to a baseball game.  I'm not much of a meat eater in general, but there's just something about a hot dog at a ball park that is ... simply irresistible.  Years ago when I only went to one or two games a year, that was not a problem.  It was a rare enough occurrence that a twice-a-year hot dog wouldn't really affect my health or my weight.  For the past several years, though, I've gotten season tickets (partial season, but still).  I go to about 15 baseball games per year, more when the Yankees make the playoffs.  Add in a couple of football games in a good year, and we could be talking 20+ hot dogs (sometimes 2-3 within a week).  This would surely have a much bigger impact on me, both physically and mentally.  Aside from the excess fat, calories, and chemicals, the sheer frequency would make the hot dogs less ... special.  And if they're not as special,  I wouldn't enjoy them anywhere near as much as I do when I only have them 1-2 times a year.  

My solution: the second-to-last bite.  I now go to a game stocked with healthy snacks to get me through the evening: veggies with hummus (or hommos, as one of my friends always corrects me), fruit, nuts, maybe a nutrition bar.  Surely there's more than enough variety and taste to keep me satisfied.  But then I smell the hot dogs.  So ... my husband gets one, and I have the second-to-last bite.  He always offers to get me my own, and when I say no thanks, he offers as much as I want of his.  I don't need a whole hot dog; I don't even need most of it.  What I need is that one perfect bite.  I won't have the first bite: that's his, and he deserves it.  I won't have the second (or third) bite, as those might lead to a few more unnecessary bites.  I won't have the last bite: even though he can get another dog, I would never take his last bite.  So that leaves me with the second-to-last bite.  For me, it is the absolutely perfect bite: it is both my first bite and my last bite.  It has the bun, the dog, the toppings ... the smells, the tastes, the textures, the colors.  And there's no chance of overdoing it, because there's only my husband's last bite left.

First cannoli in 6 months ... sooooo good!
Once in a while, I'll have more than just a few bites.  Whether it's the hot dog, the burrito, the jalapeño popper (that one really surprised my friends on my birthday!), or the cannoli, it's the thing that I really want, that I haven't had in sooooo long.  That's part of what makes it special: the rarity.  So it must be treated as special and rare.  It cannot be devoured; it must be savored slowly and thoroughly, so the experience will last.  The memory is so vivid that I can revisit it again on command.  I close my eyes, and I can feel the cream and crunch.  I look at the picture, and I can taste it.  I see the look on my husbands face, and I can thoroughly enjoy that moment with him over and over again ... even when there is no other dessert in sight.

In the mean time, I wish you all the enjoyment of the perfect second-to-last bite.

**If you like what you read, tell a friend.  In fact, tell me too - post a comment below!!  If not, well, I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!