I was fiddling through the shelves of the cooking section in a large bookstore that regularly sends me coupons, looking for cookbooks with calorie counts, when I came across the Hungry Girl phenomenon for the first time.
I am aware that this opening sentence is disturbingly revelatory, so I suppose I should just throw privacy to the winds now and come out with the whole story of why I set myself up to lay hands on a cookbook by a woman who calls herself girl, and has a cookbook of 200 recipes that are under 200 calories, which are made with ingredients like low-calorie tortillas and fat-free Velveeta.
For over a decade, I had an autoimmune disease that caused the lining of a particular part of my intestines to shred, which made eating anything other than bread painful. Then I had surgery in 2007, to take the shredded part out, which effectively cured the illness, for the time being anyway. In celebration, I ate and ate—anything from carrots to french fries, though I erred on the side of frits, washed down with beer: Belgian, preferably.
The results weren’t as bad as you might think, because I was also reveling in exercise after being basically bed-ridden for a few months. Still, I packed on a solid extra 15 pounds over the next year, and lost half by mostly skipping my newly beloved greased-up potatoes, then realized I would never lose the other half if I did not count and moderate my daily intake of calories for a few weeks (a diet, I believe this is typically called).
I have two great cookbooks with nutritional information (The Working Cook and The Whole Foods Cookbook). I wanted to buy a third, which I how I ended up in the bookstore, coupon and Velveeta-based cookbook in hand, horrified with myself, then horrified with my horror.
The only people I dislike more that the organic-food privileged people who populate the Bay Area and fust over which boxed cereal to feed their broods are the botoxed, unnaturally thin women of Los Angeles, who I imagine have processed cheese quesadilla delivered to their doorsteps on a regular basis. Was living in California for five years finally catching up with me?
I hate ideology, especially when it interferes so with basic pleasures: book browsing, cooking, eating, a body that finally works as it should.
Rather than buying a cookbook, I played around with a few recipes of my own, like Mark Bittman, a good New Yorker who thinks that a broiler is deserving of the name “kitchen appliance,” always says that you should. I came up with a few nice ones; here is my favorite:
Lazy Strawberry Parfait
Zest a lemon into a bowl; set aside. Slice 1 pint of strawberries and combine with the juice of 1/3 of the lemon, a tiny dash of vanilla, and a few tsp. of sugar in another bowl; set aside. Squeeze the rest of the lemon into the bowl with the zest, then add a small container (about 1.5 cups) of fresh ricotta and mix with 3 tbs. of sugar. Let the strawberries and the ricotta mixture sit for an hour, then divide the berry mixture into four bowls and top with the ricotta mix. Sprinkle each bowl with toasted almonds, crushed amaretti cookies, or both, and eat right away.
Take that, ideology.