Cabbage Patch Chef
Thursday, January 28, 1999
Two-sevenths of my way through the "7-Day Cabbage Soup Diet," I am severing all ties with a vegetable that I formerly regarded fondly. Convinced that one more bowl of the stuff would spell my mental undoing, I have decided to avoid cabbages indefinitely, and the remaining 2-1/2 gallons of this dreck has been committed to the compost heap in a symbolic tribute to all such ill-hatched schemes.
The plan was likely doomed from the start when, nobly rejecting my better instincts, I humbly resolved to follow the recipe. (After all, it''s only for a week, I reasoned. You can eat anything for a week. Your parents survived the Great Depression, didn''t they?) The list of ingredients was inoffensive enough: a large head of cabbage, two bell peppers, a parsnip, half a dozen stalks of celery, a big can of stewed tomatoes, and good God, six medium onions. Drowned in two gallons of water and boiled, the resulting soup would be my steadfast companion and would deliver me downsized by at least 10 pounds in seven short days, if I was good.
The recipe even generously allowed a couple of variations that included a choice of flavored ramen soup mixes or bouillon cubes to punch things up. However, the first deadly shadow of doubt crept in at the brusque, haphazard way the soup was assembled. Peel, chop, throw in the pot, immerse, boil and eat. You couldn''t just have a little bit of olive oil to first gently sweat the mountain of onions? Wouldn''t some real chicken stock make the whole thing just a bit more bearable, a fistful of fresh chopped basil, a smattering of Parmesan, a crouton for chrissake?
Debauched, but iron-willed, I winced, followed the recipe and laid in a supply of sugar-free bubble gum as my reward. Soul-sickened further after a couple of hours of examining the latest diet books, and with six days to go, I cast aside the latest chest-beating testimonials to thinness in favor of a copy of Jeffrey Steingarten''s The Man Who Ate Everything. The long-time food critic for Vogue magazine, this collection of his articles is deeply grounded in a sincere, abiding interest in food that is unafraid of taking on the sacred cows of real and would-be culinarians. Richly sauced with humor, it was just the inspiration I needed to pay a midnight visit to the compost heap.
Which is exactly where the glut of newfangled weight loss psychobabble literature also belongs. Read this book, fellow Americans, and laugh the pounds away as Steingarten punishes diet gurus like Dean Ornish, author of Eat More, Weigh Less. And Steingarten''s sub-title for Butter Busters, another bestseller on a rampage against consuming any fat, is How To Shop for and Throw Together the Trashiest Food on Your Supermarket Shelves into a Low-Fat, Low-Sodium, and Low-Sugar Imitation of High-Fat Junk Food.
My new weight-loss plan is simple: a renewed commitment to cooking more and better, and a good pair of running shoes. This seems to work for a whole class of people known as chefs, who as far as I can tell, still obsess about food without ever sitting down to eat. To keep the weight down in an occupation that requires tasting food all day long, Brandon Miller of Stokes Adobe advises not to eat anything after 5 or 6 o''clock. Steve Schultz at The Oaks goes along with that, too, and says he tries to stay aware of what and how much he consumes. And Vanessa Jager at Duffy''s loves burgers, and walks the dog a lot. No one I talked with mentioned anything about cabbage soup. cw